A rapid shift to 100% renewable energy by 2050, combined with land restoration efforts to boost the resilience of natural ecosystems on every continent, would be enough to hold average global warming below 1.5°C without resorting to unproven and potentially dangerous “negative emissions” techniques, according to a two-year modelling effort conducted by 17 leading scientists and funded by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.
“With the pace of urgent climate warnings now increasing, it’s clear that our planet cannot wait for meaningful action,” DiCaprio said in a release. “This ambitious and necessary pathway shows that a transition to 100% renewable energy and strong measures to protect and restore our natural ecosystems, taken together, can deliver a more stable climate within a single generation.”
The report lays out five key components of a renewable energy transition:
• Increasing renewable generation capacity, mostly solar and wind;
• Relying more heavily on battery and pumped storage capacity;
• Boosting energy efficiency;
• Repurposing existing natural gas storage and pipeline systems to carry hydrogen produced from renewable sources;
• Gradually retraining the energy work force to participate in the “burgeoning” green economy.
“Up until now, it was assumed to be difficult if not impossible to achieve the carbon budget required to stay below 1.5˚C—equivalent to approximately 320 billion tonnes (Gt) of net carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) above early 2018 levels,” writes Karl Burkart, the foundation’s director of innovation, media and technology.
“The One Earth climate model is groundbreaking in that it shows the 1.5°C can be achieved through a rapid transition to 100% renewables by 2050, alongside land restoration efforts on every continent that increase the resilience of natural ecosystems and help to ensure greater food security,” he explains. “These restoration efforts pull carbon out of the atmosphere and store that carbon in forests and in the soil, creating approximately 400 GtCO2 of what scientists call ‘negative emissions,’” sufficient to keep average warming below the 1.5°C threshold.
“While many scientists have modeled 1.5°C climate mitigation pathways, to date almost all of them require the use of unproven and potentially dangerous geoengineering strategies like Solar Radiation Management (SRM) or Bio-energy with Carbon Capture & Storage (BECCS),” Burkart adds.
“Scientists cannot fully predict the future, but advanced modeling allows us to map the best scenarios for creating a global energy system fit for the 21st century,” said lead author Sven Teske, research director at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney. “With momentum around the Paris Agreement lagging, it’s crucial that decision-makers around the world can see that we can, in fact, meet global energy demand at a lower cost with clean renewables.”
To assess whether a global 100% RE target is feasible, the research team modelled the world’s existing electricity grids and added “a comprehensive assessment of available renewable resources like wind and solar, minerals required for manufacturing of components, and configurations for meeting projected energy demand and storage most efficiently for all sectors over the next 30 years,” Burkart explains. “The result of the modeling effort shows that not only is it possible to switch to 100% renewables for all energy uses, but it will cost no more to operate than today’s energy system.”
On the contrary, it’ll eliminate the human and economic costs of a fossil-driven electricity system that is the primary cause of an estimated nine million premature deaths per year. “The renewable energy transition will not only improve public health worldwide, it will also drive economic development, providing the 30 million people currently working in the energy sector with permanent, well-paying jobs and creating an additional 12 million new jobs.”
The transition would cost US$1.7 trillion per year—a fraction of the $5 trillion per year that countries pour into fossil fuel subsidies, according to the latest estimate from the International Monetary Fund.
“Taxpayers are unwittingly funding the climate crisis, and that needs to stop,” Burkart writes. “The research tells us that we could be creating the clean energy future we so desperately need for less than one-third of what we’re spending now, and in so doing improve energy access in the developing world.”
Just a week after the DiCaprio Foundation release, the Natural Resources Defense Council and NewClimate Institute came out with their own study showing that “actions such as accelerating renewable energy and electric vehicle deployment, turning away from coal power, boosting energy efficiency, as well as eating less meat and decarbonizing clothing production in the apparel industry, can help meet the Paris agreement’s initial goal to limit warming to below 2.0°C/3.6°F, and get closer to reaching its goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C/2.7°F,” NRDC reports.
“We have real-world solutions that can sharply cut greenhouse gas emissions, create new economic opportunity in clean energy, and leave our children a stable and safe climate. We just need the will to get the job done,” said Jake Schmidt, managing director of NRDC’s International Program. “Political and business leaders need to step up and take stronger, broader, and more collective action now in the fight against global climate change, before it’s too late.”
“This is a clear, achievable roadmap to help solve the climate crisis,” said co-author Dr. Takeshi Kuramochi of NewClimate Institute. “Continuing what we do well today and scaling up what some have achieved already to date would bring us close to what is needed for a 2.0°C world.”
This week, as well, the World Resources Institute published an assessment of countries’ progress toward the six carbon reduction objectives laid out by Mission 2020, a campaign led by former UN climate secretary Christiana Figueres. “WRI found progress in some areas, but we’ll need faster action in order to achieve the 2020 turning point,” the organization states.