The latest report on the world’s environmental crisis, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), does not mince words about the urgency of the problem.. Even though the world has acknowledged the problem of greenhouse gas emissions, and adopted a growing number of GHG emissions mitigation policies, the amount of emissions is still increasing. Most of the emissions (78 per cent) come from fossil fuel combustion. Economic and population growth are the most important drivers of increases in CO2 emissions. Climate change mitigation is needed to ensure sustainable development, but it can’t be done if “individual agents” put their own interests ahead of those of the global community.
The warning, which US Secretary of State John Kerry called a “wake-up call about global economic opportunity,” is that collectively we are failing. “Without additional efforts to reduce GHG emissions beyond those in place today,” the report states, “emissions growth is expected to persist driven by growth in global population and economic activities.”
The opportunity Kerry sees lies in exploiting the many different “mitigation pathways,” which include technological solutions, that the IPCC identifies as necessary to limit global temperature increase to 2°C. As Kerry points out, many of the technologies are cheaper and more readily available now than they were when the IPCC issued its last assessment of the state of global warming.
Attempting to emphasize the economic opportunities the crisis presents, Kerry said that “focusing only on grim realities misses promising realities staring us right in the face.”
Some of the mitigation scenarios involve now-familiar concepts. Replacing coal-fired power plants with natural gas-powered plants, or nuclear power is one. Implementing carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) technologies is another, though the report notes that to date CCS has not been applied to a commercially scaled power plant. Relying more on bioenergy with CCS is another—growing plants to take carbon dioxide from the air, then using those plants to fire electricity generation, while capturing the CO2 and removing it permanently from the environment.
In fact, the world already derives 30 per cent of its electricity from low-carbon sources, mainly hydro and nuclear power. That low-carbon generation must rise to 80 per cent, by 2050. Solar and wind power will play a leading role in the increase. Annual investment in fossil fuel-powered electrical power plants will have to decline by 20 per cent over the next twenty years.