1.5 C requires turning around now, embracing the “signs of the times”, need for and opportunity of clean energy for all

December 1, 2015

The Global Catholic Climate Movement and scientists from several leading institutes and agencies worldwide recently reviewed global warming trajectories, the INDCs submitted for COP-21, and the prospects for staying below 1.5°C and returning to safe levels of CO2eq gases in the atmosphere.  The purpose was to more clearly state the situation and implications, including the next steps needed, especially considering recent negotiations and requests relating to 2 C.

The science clearly indicates that atmospheric composition is already into the dangerous zone.  Further, the danger is compounded by our delay in responding and the 30-40 year delay between emissions and warming and weather impacts.  Emissions must turn around (stop increasing; start decreasing) very soon.

Achieving 350 ppm and 1.5°C is “clearly technically and economically feasible.”[1]  The technologies and knowledge for limiting warming to below 1.5°C exist and are practicable.  Saving our common home does not depend on yet to be developed or tested technologies.  Clean, fossil free energy sources exist now and are being implemented; they just need to be implemented much more quickly.  As scientists advising the UN reported out of the Structured Expert Dialogue, limiting warming to 2°C does not prevent dangerous climate change; an upper bound on temperatures should be as low as possible (1 C average currently).

The urgency to act is high.  As dangerous climate change is already occurring, prompt action is needed to preserve life.  The longer we wait, the more costly mitigation will become, the more species will be driven to extinction, and the more suffering there will be.  Continuing to delay serious, economy-wide transition off fossil fuels is both very dangerous and immoral.  To re-attain safe levels of carbon in the atmosphere and stay below 1.5°C, zero carbon technologies must be deployed faster than a 2°C scenario and much, much faster than the current set of INDCs would achieve.  We must transition off fossil fuels “without delay”(Laudato Si’ #165).

Catholics worldwide have been calling for climate action that ensures a 1.5° C maximum for global warming, favored by over 100 countries, the African Union, popular movements, the pope and many bishops, cardinals, and people around the world.  Scientists prefer to stress the need to return to 350 ppm CO2.  In either case, only a rapid shift will result in a reasonable possibility of reattaining these levels this century.  Lives are at stake.  Quality of life is at risk for billions of people.  All countries will be affected.  Our economies and political leaders must face the limits imposed by our natural world, so that our health, security, food, water, and life support systems are not further endangered by climate change.

As Catholics and as members of the peer-reviewed scientific community, we urge all to embrace the needed, life-preserving rapid shift:

  • CO2 emissions growth must stop immediately. Swift action is necessary to stop the growth of carbon emissions and then decrease emissions levels rapidly. Having delayed global reductions this long, the world already faces the need to go beyond decarbonized electricity generation and transport to try to become carbon negative (clean energy fully implemented and more trees or sequestration to process or bury further carbon) to return to safe levels (around 350 ppm) this century.  Around 70-80% of known fossil fuels reserves need to be kept in the ground, and diverting investments towards low-carbon technologies in the coming decade is critical.[2]
  • To stop emissions growth, growth in fossil fuel production must cease. Continuing to discuss and plan the development of fossil-fuel dependent infrastructure has led to delay of the necessary shift, both in the global north and the global south. The first step in stopping emissions growth is ceasing development of fossil-fired (coal or natural gas) electricity generating power plants.  Economic substitutes are available, and increased electrification is the key to further emissions reductions.
  • Equitable sharing of the mitigation burden requires financial transfers to support fossil-fuel-free development for the poorest countries and perhaps on a more widespread basis. Many countries are still locked in energy poverty, and responding to the need for electrification for all is an opportunity for sharing and collaboration in the development of renewable energy, a better path more respectful of life and well-being.
Jacobson graph

From Jacobson et al. Nov. 2015

  • Starting with each planned coal-powered plant, alternative strategies will need to be developed and financed.  The same will ultimately be needed for all fossil-fuel infrastructure.  Serious transition plans are necessary.  We are convinced that any investment in fossil-fuel energy technologies is shortsighted and misguided, and that any recommendations to do so are often driven by what is best for fossil-fuel companies and political leaders supported by them, not the common good.
  • Suffering countries will also need assistance recovering from the various climate-related disasters that are already occurring. Pro-active adaptation will be needed too, but the most cost-effective and compassionate action is to avoid climate change now by stopping emissions growth and fossil fuel use and investing in clean energy for all.
  • Global carbon emissions should be near zero by 2050. A rapid transition to clean energy sources can be achieved in a cost-effective manner.  Transition plans that rely exclusively upon renewable energy sources (wind, water, and solar) are now available for 139 countries that achieve 100 percent renewable energy generation by 2050 at a cost no greater than current energy costs.  In addition to saving health, lives, and our natural systems, these plans would reduce expected 2050 power demand by almost a third due to the efficiency of electricity over combustion and create a net 22 million additional jobs.  These plans would eliminate 4.6 million premature air pollution mortalities per year today, not to mention health costs and the suffering of illness, inability to work, and premature deaths.[3]  A renewable energy transition would stabilize energy prices for all (fuel costs would be zero), reduce energy poverty and international conflict over energy as countries become energy independent, and reduce risks of large-scale system disruptions through significant decentralization of power production.  Life, improved well-being and employment would come with caring for our common home this way.

The transition off of fossil fuels is a race, with the long-term economic, social, and technological rewards to the swiftest.  Opportunities abound.  Not least is sharing the technical knowledge and financing to scale up clean, renewable energy, for the benefit of all and the preservation of our common home.  A price on carbon should be implemented to support the necessary changes.  We must act to re-gain a safe atmospheric composition without delay.  It is technically and economically feasible and entirely desirable to change course; now it is a matter of priorities and values.  As Jean-Pascal van Ypersele de Strihou, former vice-chair of the IPCC said in late October, the science has outlined the potential scenarios but “ultimately, it comes to a value judgment: are the lives…worth saving or not?”  We affirm that their lives, and all of our lives, are.

References:

Climate Analytics, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, data provided on INDCs and ability to reach 1.5 and 2 C under various scenarios, Nov. 2015.

Creutzig, F. et al. (2015) Bioenergy and climate change mitigation: an assessment. GCB Bioenergy Volume 7, Issue 5. doi: 10.1111/gcbb.12205

DARA, “Climate Vulnerability Monitor. A guide to the cold calculus of a hot planet”, 2012, Executive Summary pp2-3. DARA report quoted by Reuters, ”100 million to die by 2030 if world fails to act on climate”, 28 September 2012. – See more at: http://mwcnews.net/focus/analysis/53226-pope-decree.html#sthash.6SkjQoLN.dpuf

IPCC WG2 chapter 7: Porter, J.R., L. Xie, A.J. Challinor, K. Cochrane, S.M. Howden, M.M. Iqbal, D.B. Lobell, and M.I. Travasso, 2014: Food security and food production systems. In: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Field, C.B., V.R. Barros, D.J. Dokken, K.J. Mach, M.D. Mastrandrea, T.E. Bilir, M. Chatterjee, K.L. Ebi, Y.O. Estrada, R.C. Genova, B. Girma, E.S. Kissel, A.N. Levy, S. MacCracken, P.R. Mastrandrea, and L.L. White (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp. 485-533.

IPCC WG2 chapter 11: Smith, K.R., A. Woodward, D. Campbell-Lendrum, D.D. Chadee, Y. Honda, Q. Liu, J.M. Olwoch, B. Revich, and R. Sauerborn, 2014: Human health: impacts, adaptation, and co-benefits. In: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Field, C.B., V.R. Barros, D.J. Dokken, K.J. Mach, M.D. Mastrandrea, T.E. Bilir, M. Chatterjee, K.L. Ebi, Y.O. Estrada, R.C. Genova, B. Girma, E.S. Kissel, A.N. Levy, S. MacCracken, P.R. Mastrandrea, and L.L. White (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp. 709-754.

IPCC Working Group 2 Summary for Policy Makers: IPCC, 2014: Summary for policymakers. In: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Field, C.B., V.R. Barros, D.J. Dokken, K.J. Mach, M.D. Mastrandrea, T.E. Bilir, M. Chatterjee, K.L. Ebi, Y.O. Estrada, R.C. Genova, B. Girma, E.S. Kissel, A.N. Levy, S. MacCracken, P.R. Mastrandrea, and L.L. White (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp. 1-32.

IPCC Working Group 3, chapter 11: Smith P., M. Bustamante, H. Ahammad, H. Clark, H. Dong, E.A. Elsiddig, H. Haberl, R. Harper, J. House, M. Jafari, O. Masera, C. Mbow, N.H. Ravindranath, C.W. Rice, C. Robledo Abad, A. Romanovskaya, F. Sperling, and F. Tubiello, 2014: Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU). In: Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Edenhofer, O., R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, A. Adler, I. Baum, S. Brunner, P. Eickemeier, B. Kriemann, J. Savolainen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow, T. Zwickel and J.C. Minx (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA. 2 References and Annexes Key Points 1.5°C Risks and Feasibility 10

IPCC SRREN Report, Chapter 2: Chum, H., A. Faaij, J. Moreira, G. Berndes, P. Dhamija, H. Dong, B. Gabrielle, A. Goss Eng, W. Lucht, M. Mapako, O. Masera Cerutti, T. McIntyre, T. Minowa, K. Pingoud, 2011: Bioenergy. In IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation [O. Edenhofer, R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, K. Seyboth, P. Matschoss, S. Kadner, T. Zwickel, P. Eickemeier, G. Hansen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow (eds)], Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

Jacobson, MZ, M. Delucchi, Z. Bauer, S. Goodman, W. Chapman, M. Cameron, C. Bozonnat, L. Chobadi, J. Erwin, S. Fobi1, O. Goldstrom, S. Harrison, T. Kwasnik, J. Lo, J. Liu, C. Yi1, S. Morris, K. Moy1, P. O’Neill, S. Redfern, R. Schucker, M. Sontag, J. Wang, E. Weiner, A. Yachanin; 100% Clean and Renewable Wind, Water, and Sunlight (WWS) All Sector Energy Roadmaps for 139 Countries of the World, November 20, 2015, to be published in 2016.

Pope Francis, “Laudato Si’: Care of Our Common Home,” June 2015.

Rogelj et al (2015) “Energy system transformations for limiting end-of-century warming to below 1.5 °C”, Nature Climate Change, doi:10.1038/nclimate2572

Structured Expert Dialogue (SED), Report on the structured expert dialogue on the 2013–2015 review. FCCC/SB/2015/INF.1

World Bank (2013) Turn down the heat 2: Climate extremes, regional impacts and the case for resilience. Washington, DC: World Bank

World Bank (2013) Turn down the heat 3: Confronting the New Climate Normal. Washington, DC: World Bank

[1] (SED) Report on the structured expert dialogue on the 2013–2015 review. FCCC/SB/2015/INF.1.  Also, http://climateanalytics.org/files/1o5_key_points.pdf

[2] Rogelj et al (2015) “Energy system transformations for limiting end-of-century warming to below 1.5 °C”, Nature Climate Change, doi:10.1038/nclimate2572

[3] Mark Z. Jacobson, MZ, M. Delucchi, Z. Bauer, S. Goodman, W. Chapman, M. Cameron, C. Bozonnat, L. Chobadi, J. Erwin, S. Fobi1, O. Goldstrom, S. Harrison, T. Kwasnik, J. Lo, J. Liu, C. Yi1, S. Morris, K. Moy1, P. O’Neill, S. Redfern, R. Schucker, M. Sontag, J. Wang, E. Weiner, A. Yachanin; 100% Clean and Renewable Wind, Water, and Sunlight (WWS) All Sector Energy Roadmaps for 139 Countries of the World, November 20, 2015, in press.