There is a way to avoid the worst of climate change, but a huge effort will be necessary, according to a new study published in Nature Communications on Tuesday.
Climate change has already begun, the time to act and limit its human causes is now, as many studies show. This last report describes what it takes to get there.
The report postulates that if the world were to gradually eliminate its “infrastructure of intensive carbon emissions” at the end of its design life as of the end of 2018, there is a 64% chance that the maximum temperature of the planet will remain below target of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
On top of that, scientists predict that the planet will suffer even more extreme weather events, such as forest fires, droughts, floods, mass animal deaths and food shortages for millions. The planet is already two thirds of the way, with temperatures that have warmed about 1 degree.
To maintain the median of the average temperature within this optimum limit of 1.5 degrees, according to this study, the change should occur in all sectors, not only in the energy sector. Power plants would need to be replaced, but so would gasoline and diesel cars, airplanes, ships and industrial plants. Even cows would have to go, essentially, anything that contributed to global warming.
In this scenario, infrastructure, such as power plants, should not be discarded and replaced by a technology that does not produce carbon emissions, at least not immediately. The researchers are talking about a “design life”. In the case of power plants, the average life time based on historical data is approximately 40 years. According to Consumer Reports, the average life time of a car on the road is more than 11 years, but could last about 200,000 miles or 15 years, according to US estimates. Once they wear out, stop working or die, they will be replaced with technology or products that do not contribute to climate change.
“At first I found it surprising that less than 1.5 degrees could be achieved with all the current infrastructure. It goes a little against conventional wisdom, “said co-author of the report, Chris Smith, a researcher at the Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences at the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds. “But it really makes sense in the context of the remaining ‘carbon budget’, basically, how much we can issue and still be below this limit.”
Smith’s study does not determine if this would be politically or economically feasible, but it does show dozens of scenarios that demonstrate the impact that certain actions could have on the global average temperature. The study proves that time does matter. If the world waits until 2030 to begin eliminating its infrastructure of intensive carbon emissions, the probability that it can reach this 1.5 degree target is less than 50%, even if the rate of fossil fuel withdrawal is accelerated.
“(The study is) motivated to continue to aim for a zero-carbon world shortly after the middle of this century,” Smith said of the results of the research. “Limiting the increase in temperature reduces the risks of irreversible damage.” And he adds: “The sooner we act, the less expensive the transition will be, and the lower the temperature increase, the less climate damage will cost us.”