Keeping average global warming below 2°C is both possible and practical given the rapidly falling cost of renewable energy, the Rocky Mountain Institute concludes in a new analysis.
Hitting the target will depend not only an accelerating the adoption of renewable energy, but on “the transformation of our energy and transportation system, and improved management of agriculture, forestry, and other land uses,” PV Magazine reports.
“The global community has all the tools to achieve the rapid transitions in energy and other sectors necessary to limit climate change,” said RMI CEO Jules Kortenhorst. “However, the rapid energy transition described in this analysis relies on massively accelerating the deployment of business-led, market-driven solutions that can deliver huge benefits to economies and societies globally.”
Although the sum total of countries’ commitments under the Paris agreement would still lead to average warming of 2.9 to 3.4°C, RMI’s Positive Disruption reports concludes that a focus on the emissions gap is “both dangerous and wrong—dangerous because despair undercuts the will to act, and wrong because this view does not take into account events already taking place that indicate a possible pathway to a rapid energy transition.”
The five scenarios in the report show a steady path to average warming of 1.47° to 1.77°C by 2100—without the overshoot and subsequent drawdown that even the most optimistic analysis and reporting has treated as a given since Paris.
The guiding assumptions behind the report are that exponential growth in the adoption of solar and wind technologies will continue—and that most modelling and analysis will miss the trend.
The report recalls how telecom giant AT&T “commissioned McKinsey & Company in 1980 to predict cell phone usage over the [subsequent] 20 years. McKinsey estimated that only 900,000 people in the U.S. would have a cell phone in 2000,” PV Magazine notes, less than 1% of the 109 million who had actually purchased the devices by the turn of the century.
“In the same way, organizations like the International Energy Agency (IEA) and U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Agency (EIA) have consistently underestimated future growth in wind and solar adoption,” even though they routinely revise their past projections to catch up with the new reality.
“In periods of fundamental change, transitions always occur faster than either the incumbents or industry experts think is possible,” said RMI Managing Director James Newcomb. “The cost reductions we now anticipate in batteries and solar photovoltaic technologies alone are enough to drive system-wide changes in electricity and transportation. These changes are triggering shifts across the entire economy at a global scale.”
The report also projects the results of system-wide improvements in energy efficiency, plus adoption of improved agriculture and forestry techniques to turn land use into a net carbon sink by mid-century. Specific measures include increased forest cover, integrating trees with farming, zero-tillage farming, adoption of permaculture techniques, better wetland management, and using rotational grazing to boost soil carbon sequestration.