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Coal Phase-Out, Electric Vehicles Lead Options for Hitting 1.5°C Target

Tennen-Gas/Wikimedia Commons
Tennen-Gas/Wikimedia Commons

Phasing out coal, electrifying transportation, and shifting to zero-energy buildings lead the list of steps humanity must take over the next decade to limit average global warming to 1.5°C over the longer term, climate analysts Bill Hare and Niklas Höhne argue this week in a post on The Conversation.

While the long-term focus is on 2050 or 2100, what matters now is the next ten years,” they write. “If we miss bending the rising emissions curve downward by around 2020, we may well miss the chance to avoid the worst climate damage.

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But “here’s the good news: for all areas, we show signs that a transition of this magnitude is possible. In many cases, it’s already happening.

Science shows that “the most important, fastest, and cheapest step” in getting climate change under control is to decarbonize electricity generation. And with the plummeting cost and rapid introduction of renewable generation, it looks feasible to eliminate the power sector’s CO2 emissions by mid-century. “If we continue the growth rate of wind and solar we’ve seen in the past few years for the next decade globally,” they write, “we will be well on the way to achieving this goal.

A coal phase-out is a must, they add, “but that is already happening—and we will need to cancel any new coal capacity in the world.”

Electrifying transportation begins with electric vehicles, which received a boost just before the Marrakech climate conference when China announced EV quotas. “This was a shock for German and other European car manufacturers, who anticipated their future as being based on old fossil fuel technologies,” Hare and Höhne write. “One can only hope that these manufacturers will now rush into electric mobility. We calculate that the last fossil fuel car has to be sold before 2035 to be in line with holding warming to 1.5°C.

They add that efforts to date to control emissions in aviation and shippingdon’t have the teeth to really make a difference in this sector. There’s also a risk that these measures could obscure the need for much deeper and further-reaching changes.

Net-zero buildings, carbon controls in forestry and agriculture, and carbon removal from the atmosphere round out Hare and Höhne’s list of the measures that will bring the 1.5°C long-term target within reach. “Technology that removes CO2 from the atmosphere will need to be deployed 30 years from now, to hold warming below 2°C, let alone limit warming to 1.5°C,” they write. “If we are successful and throw everything at the problem, plus the proverbial kitchen sink, we still need to be preparing to deploy negative emissions technologies from the 2040s onward.

“About the only good news from this is that we have time to research this, test it, and work out the most sustainable way of doing it.