Despite the avoidance of millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions through use of renewable energy, increased efficiency and conservation efforts, the rate of increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere remains high. According to a University of Washington study, there is a 90% probability that temperatures will rise between 2 degree Celsius and 4.9 degree Celsius by 2100 and will cause around 60,000 deaths by 2030 and 2,60,000 deaths by 2100. Earth has already reached the 1℃ threshold. The International 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, has set limit of the global surface average air temperature to 2 degrees Celsius, compared to preindustrial times. There is a further commitment to stay under 1.5℃ of set target.
Until now the proposed approach to the above set limit of 1.5 degree Celsius was reached by relying on negative emission technologies and bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). Whereas negative emission technologies (NETs) can be best described as the various methods that remove CO2 from the air and store it in land or oceans, BECCS involves burning biomass, such as trees and crops, to generate energy, which can be then used for various processes. The resulting CO2 emission can then be tackled by capturing and burying it in the ground.
A new study published in Nature Energy however shows a contrasting perspective involving reaching UN sustainable development goals without relying on controversial NETs and BECCS. The research, led by an international team led by Arnulf Grubler at the Tyndall Centre at the University of East Anglia, reveals that improved living standards for all need not come with a proportionate increase in energy demand at the expense of the environment. That magnificent 2050 future can be achieved by just changing our lifestyles. The study emphasizes at improving standard of living, reaching world’s sustainable development goals, improving energy utilization and reduce the loss of energy as heat in various processes. The study found that this new approach can curb global energy demand by 40% in 2050.
Low energy future
In their paper, the researchers present an alternative future where global warming can be limited to 1.5°C by improvements in the energy efficiency of everyday activities and by suggesting speculative changes in energy use.
The new approach suggests using smart phones as an alternate to camera, radio, alarm clock, GPS navigator, and even a TV. Major improvements can be made if our economies transition to a subscription based model instead of ownership based model. This would still be only 15% of global energy demand by 2050. By reducing waste and losses, the energy usage would decrease sizeably, thus increasing industrial efficiency. The approach suggests that by obtaining a little more value from things we produce industries will need 20% less energy compared to the present scenario. By increasing dependence on shared mobility’s, improving use of public transport, reducing private cars on the road and by using electric vehicles can reduce energy usage in the transportation sector by up to 60%. Renovations of existing buildings can reduce energy demand from heating and cooling by 75%. It is estimated that global population will grow by 20% by 2050. The SUD’s motto of ‘food for all’ can be reached by discouraging use of land for growing biofuel crops which fix the atmospheric CO2 to land as suggested in previous NET and BECCS models. Instead the same land can be used for the purpose of growing food crops and reforestation. In addition, shifting to a healthier diet with less meat but similar calorific intake can significantly reduce emissions from agriculture.
Of course achieving this will not be easy. Consumers are averse to changing their lifestyles. It would also take serious amount of political will to make something like this possible. However, taking these simple steps can help us leave a beautiful planet for the future children of Earth.
To the People, to Governments, to Businesses…
It is up to you!
‘A Low Energy Demand Scenario for Meeting the 1.5°C Target and Sustainable Development Goals without Negative Emission Technologies’ is published in Nature Energy on June 4, 2018.