Pathway to zero
8 February 2015
Career coaches assert that in order to be successful, you need to have a clear goal for what you want to achieve, then develop a pathway to get you there.
Today’s negotiations on the long term goal of the Paris agreement are, therefore, critical to help define our ultimate objective. That is: to reduce carbon emissions to zero and achieve a 100% renewable-powered world by 2050.
To have a likely chance to remain within the maximum 2°C warming threshold, the IPCC has provided us with a carbon budget of 1000 gigatonnes (CO2eq). That’s it. It’s all we can spend until we achieve the magic zero by 2050. If current trends continue, we’ll have spent a full third of it by 2020.
A growing number of companies, have endorsed staying within this carbon budget, recognising that the benefits of action far outweigh the costs of climate impacts. Unilever’s CEO is just one of many calling for zero emissions by 2050.
The good news is that economics, as well as climate considerations, are already defining the end of the fossil era. China’s 2014 decline in coal use shows that with political determination and strong targets and measures, the world’s highest emitting country can peak their coal use well before 2020.
The Economist recently reported that Saudi Arabia’s profligate energy consumption means that “the country may have no oil to export by 2030” − a real spur for domestic innovation and diversification.
Clean energy is already the low cost option. In Jamaica, the price of solar power is the same as that of wholesale fossil-fuelled power and in Nicaragua, electricity from wind is half as expensive as power from traditional sources. Renewables are rapidly becoming cheaper all over the world, making the 100% renewable goal ever more attractive, and the decline of fossil fuels an ever-clearer reality.
And back here in Geneva, much of what needs to be in the text for today is already there. A few changes to C3.1 Option b, so that it requires global GHG emissions to fall by 70% (not 50%) and to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050, gets us to where we need to be. Adding a reminder that we need to transform the energy system so that we have “100% sustainable and renewable energy that meets the needs of all” seems like a goal to endorse.
As Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, put it: going for zero emissions by 2050 “will drive innovation, grow jobs, build prosperity and secure a better world. Why would we wait any longer to do that?”