We need to stop building fossil fuel infrastructure now to have a 50% chance of keeping below 2 C, says peer-reviewed science

April 24, 2016

An important paper confirming the work of Fatih Birol of IEA, published in 2011, was reconfirmed this year.  We will soon reach the point that at least 2 decrees Celsius temperature rise since records began in 1880 is locked in, if the existing infrastructure or capital stock developed is used for its regular lifetime.

Paper highlights:

  • Defines ‘2°C capital stock’ as infrastructure that gives a 50% chance of 2°C warming.
  • The ‘2°C capital stock’ for electricity generation will be reached by 2017 on current trends.
  • New electricity generation assets globally must then be zero carbon to avoid stranding, CCS or CDR.
  • Risk of stranded assets is relevant to investors and policy makers.

This paper defines the ‘2°C capital stock’ as the global stock of infrastructure which, if operated to the end of its normal economic life, implies global mean temperature increases of 2°C or more (with 50% probability). Using IPCC carbon budgets and the IPCC’s AR5 scenario database, and assuming future emissions from other sectors are compatible with a 2°C pathway, we calculate that the 2°C capital stock for electricity will be reached by 2017 based on current trends. In other words, even under the very optimistic assumption that other sectors reduce emissions in line with a 2°C target, no new emitting electricity infrastructure can be built after 2017 for this target to be met, unless other electricity infrastructure is retired early or retrofitted with carbon capture technologies. Policymakers and investors should question the economics of new long-lived energy infrastructure involving positive net emissions.