Many politicians, scientists, engineers, and climate activists are trying to convince us that the climate crisis can be quickly solved without any further delay. Lifestyle changes, society or economy.
Advocates suggest that we can switch from fossil fuels to electric vehicles, renewable power, and energy efficiency technologies to make the huge change more manageable. They also suggest adding seaweed to our livestock feed to reduce methane and embrace green hydrogen in heavy industries like steel-making.
There’s just one problem: time. We’re on a very tight timeline to halve emissions within eight years and hit net zero by 2050. While renewables are making major inroads, the world’s overall primary energy use keeps rising. Renewables are now chasing a shrinking target.
My New research shows if the world’s energy consumption grows at the pre-COVID rate, technological change alone will not be enough to halve global CO₂ emissions by 2030. By 2050, we will need to reduce energy consumption by 50-75% and accelerate renewable building. This will require lifestyle changes driven by social policies.
Limitations of technological change
We must confront a hard fact: In the year 2000, fossil fuels supplied 80% of the world’s Total primary energy consumption. They were 81% in 2019.
Given the rapid growth rate of renewable electricity during that period, how is that possible? The world’s energy consumption is growing rapidly, with the exception of a short pause in 2020. Most of the growth so far has been provided by fossil fuels, especially non-electrical heat and transportation. It seems like a huge increase in renewable electricity, but it started with a small base. That’s why it couldn’t catch fossil fuelled electricity’s smaller percentage increase from a large base.
As a researcher on renewable energy, I am certain technological change has reached a point where it is possible to deploy it economically to get to net zero. However, the transition will not happen quickly enough. If we don’t hit our climate goals, it’s likely our planet will cross a Climate tipping pointYou will be plunged into an irreversible downward spiral into more heatwaves.
The only way to ensure a sustainable climate is to convert all transport and heating to electricity. Also, switch all electricity production to renewables. This is not an easy task to accomplish in three decades.
Even at higher rates of renewable growth we will not be capable of replacing all fossil fuels by 2050. This is not due to renewable energy. Other low-carbon energy sources, such as nuclear, would take longer to construct and leave us further behind.
Are there other tools that we could use to buy our time? CO₂ capture is getting a great deal of attention, but it seems unlikely to make a significant contribution. The scenarios I explored in my research assume removing CO₂ from the atmosphere by carbon capture and storage or direct air capture does not occur on a large scale, because these technologies are Speculative, high-risk and extremely expensive.
We can only replace fossil fuels in time if we do something completely different. We can keep global warming under 2℃ if we slash global energy consumption by 50% to 75% by 2050 as well as greatly accelerating the transition to 100% renewables.
Individual behavior change is helpful, but not sufficient.
Let’s be clear: individual behaviour change has some potential for mitigation, but it’s limited. International Energy Agency RecognizeNet zero by 2050 will require behavioral changes and technological changes. It offers modest examples, such as washing clothes in coldwater and drying them on clotheslines.
Scientists warn that global wealth is destroying the planet.
The 2022 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on climate mitigation has taken a step further, acknowledging the importance of collectively reducing energy consumption with a chapter on “Demand, services and social aspects of mitigation”. Government policies are necessary to achieve this effect.
Rich people and rich nations are responsible for far and wide the success of this project. most greenhouse gas emissions. We must also reduce consumption in high income countries and improve human well-being.
We’ll need policies leading to large scale consumption changes
We all know. The technologiesOur climate change toolbox includes renewables, electrification and green hydrogen. They will not cut consumption, but they will drive a rapid transition towards clean energy.
These policies would reduce consumption and smoothen the social transition.
- A carbon tax and additional environmental taxes
- Wealth and inheritance taxes
- To share the work around, a shorter week of work
- You can find more information at Guaranteed job at the basic wage for all adults who want to work and who can’t find a job in the formal economy
- Non-coercive policies are best to stop population growth, especially for high-income countries.
- As part of a shift towards sustainability, increase government spending on poverty reduction, green Infrastructure and public services. Universal Basic Services.
You might look at this list and think it’s impossible. Keep in mind that the federal government funded the economic reaction to the pandemic through the creation of money. These policies could be funded in the same way. As long as the spending is within the country’s productive capacity, there is no problem. Inflation is not at risk.
These policies can lead to major changes. However, climate change is causing major disruptions. Let’s try to shape our civilisation to be resilient in the face of change.