Two-degree pathway won't stunt economic growth, study claims

Madeleine Cuff
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Landmark new study outlines road map for top-emitting countries to deliver 2C world

Even the world's richest countries can make deep cuts to their carbon emissions compatible with limiting global warming to two degrees without compromising maintaining economic growth, according to a new study released today by the Deep Decarbonisation Pathways Project (DDPP).

The project is a collaboration between researchers from the world's 16 highest-emitting countries. The report's authors are today calling for governments to commit to more aggressive action to tackle climate change at the Paris Summit in December, arguing there is now ample evidence deep decarbonisation can be delivered without undermining living standards and economic growth.

The report found that limiting global warming to under two degrees is both technically and economically feasible, even for the world's richest, most highly developed countries. It outlines the various technologies, costs and enabling conditions that could facilitate a "deep decarbonisation pathway", detailing the changes needed to physical infrastructure such as power plants, buildings and vehicles to deliver steep emissions reductions.

"Some have claimed that limiting global warming to 2C is not achievable, that the international community should abandon that quest and aim for a more realistic" target," said project director Jim Williams. "This work shows clearly that 2C is still within reach if countries show some resolve and cooperate in building a low-carbon global economy."

The DDPP project operates as part of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI).

Jeffrey Sachs, director at the SDSN, said the research findings are "highly relevant" to the Paris climate negotiations. "To achieve deep decarbonisation every country needs to start with a deep decarbonisation pathway (DDP) through to 2050," he said. "They will form the basis for framing shorter-term emission-reduction strategies, and they will help align technologies, financial markets, and politics around a sustainable energy transformation at the global scale."

His view chimes with remarks made by French diplomat Laurence Tubiana, who this week called on governments to outline long-term pathways to decarbonisation as part of a UN deal. Speaking to reporters on Monday, Tubiana said governments are being asked to develop carbon reduction plans covering the period to 2050 to avoid global temperature rising above two degrees.

The study could also provide a boost to efforts by a number of countries to ensure any final Paris agreement includes a commitment to delivering full decarbonisation of the global economy during the second half of this century.

The study aims to highlight the social and economic benefits that can come with deep decarbonisation. It claims that decarbonised economies could boast good transport systems, improved housing conditions, and better public amenities.

Teresa Ribera, director of the IDDRI, said the analysis shows that deep decarbonisation is in the interests of each country. "It is possible to deeply decarbonise while improving income distribution, alleviating poverty, and reducing unemployment," she said. 

In addition to the main report, each country's research team looked closely at how deep decarbonisation could impact a specific environmental issue or sector in their country. For example, researchers focusing on India chose to consider how deep decarbonisation could also improve the country's air quality, while the UK researchers considered how decarbonisation efforts could help alleviate fuel poverty.

Read on for a closer look at the researchers' sector-specific decarbonisation recommendations for each country.

UK: Addressing fuel poverty

In 2013, more than 10 per cent of households were deemed to be 'fuel poor', unable to afford to heat their homes adequately. A large part of the problem is the UK's old, draughty housing stock, which energy efficiency measures play a crucial role in addressing. The report recommends that the UK pursues "targeted energy efficiency interventions" and careful policy design to improve housing efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions.

China: Improving industry

China's economic growth is powered by its industrial sector. Although it has vastly improved its energy efficiency since the 1990s, in part to improve the country's notoriously bad air quality, China's industrial sector still accounts for about 70 per cent of its energy-related CO2 emissions. The researchers concluded that to make further emissions reductions across industry the sector will need to adopt more energy-saving technologies such as high-efficiency waste heat recycling and high-efficiency boilers and motors.

Fuel switching was also identified as a crucial strategy for deep decarbonisation. Promoting the transformation of coal-fired boilers to gas-fired boilers could reduce the industrial sector's use of coal from 62 per cent in 2010 to 22 per cent in 2050, the report said. The wide-scale deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is also key - the researchers estimate that by 2050 it will capture around a quarter of industrial emissions under the deep carbonisation pathway.

Germany: Greening the energy supply

In the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster Germany revoked its decision to keep the country's nuclear power plants open for longer than originally planned. So with the phase-out of nuclear power plants underway, the researchers set out to investigate how to decarbonise Germany's energy supply using only renewables.

Renewables account for more than 30 per cent of Germany's electricity share, up from 6.5 per cent in 2000. The researchers concluded it is both technically and economically feasible to increase this share to 80 per cent by 2050, with wind and solar PV accounting for 60 to 70 per cent.

The challenge is in managing the transition. To handle the increase in reliance on fluctuating energy sources, Germany will need to invest in grid extensions, flexibly operating power plants, demand-side management, more storage capacity, and power-to-heat applications.

India: Tackling air pollution

Conventional approaches to tackling air pollution from road transport focus on 'end-of-pipe' solutions such as catalytic convertors or desulfurization equipment. To make significant air quality improvements while also tackling climate change, the researchers recommend reducing end-use demand, for example by investing in public transport infrastructure and alternate technologies such as electric vehicles and energy storage devices.

By employing targeted demand reduction measures such as these, road travel demand in India could be halved by 2050, according to the researchers. In addition, market-based incentives for cleaner fuels such as natural gas and bio-fuels can also deliver sizeable improvements to air quality while reducing CO2 emissions.

This article is part of BusinessGreen's Road to Paris Hub, hosted in association with PwC

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