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‘Deep decarbonisation’ needed to contain global warming: Study

LiveMint logoLiveMint 22-09-2017 Mayank Aggarwal

New Delhi: If the world has to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius in this century, it must move faster towards a low-carbon world, warn experts in a study published in the international journal Science.

The study said that changes in systems of generating electricity and heat, as well as buildings, industry and transport are needed rapidly and must happen all together. The study was conducted by researchers Frank W. Geels, Benjamin K.Sovacool, Tim Schwanen and Steve Sorrell, who are from the universities of Sussex, Manchester and Oxford in the United Kingdom.

As per the International Energy Agency and International Renewable Energy Agency, global energy-related carbon emissions must peak by 2020 and fall by more than 70% in the next 35 years to provide a reasonable (66%) chance of limiting global temperature increases to below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

This means there are huge tasks ahead like tripling of the annual rate of energy efficiency improvement, retrofitting the entire building stock, generating 95% of electricity from low-carbon sources by 2050 and shifting almost entirely to electric cars.

This in-turn would require ‘deep decarbonisation’ of electricity, transport, heat, industrial, forestry and agricultural systems across the world. The study recommends a ‘socio-technical’ framework that explains how the pace of the low carbon transition can be accelerated.

“Our ‘big picture’ socio-technical framework shows how interactions between various social groups can increase the momentum of low-carbon transitions,” explained Professor Frank Geels from the University of Manchester, the lead author of the study say in a press statement.

Professor Benjamin K. Sovacool of the University of Sussex, a co-author, said “Current rates of change are simply not enough” and “we need to accelerate transitions, deepen their speed and broaden their reach.”

“Otherwise there can be no hope of reaching a 2 degree target, let alone 1.5 degrees. This piece reveals that the acceleration of transitions across the socio-technical systems of electricity, heat, buildings, manufacturing, and transport requires new conceptual approaches, analytical foci, and research methods,” Sovacool added.

Under the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, the world aims to limit the rise in global temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times and make efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of 2100.

The study provides four key lessons in accelerating sustainability transitions.

For instance, it said that “socio-technical transitions gain momentum when multiple innovations are linked together, improving the functionality of each and acting in combination to reconfigure systems.”

The study stated that the shale gas revolution, for instance, accelerated when seismic imaging, horizontal drilling, and hydraulic fracturing were combined. Likewise, accelerated low-carbon transitions in electricity depend not only on the momentum of renewable energy innovations like wind, solar and bio-energy, but also on complementary innovations including energy storage and demand response.

“These need aligned and then linked so that innovations are harmonized,” it added.

Similarly, it emphasized that public support is crucial for effective transition policies.

The study said low-carbon transitions in mobility, agro-food, heat and buildings will also involve millions of citizens who need to modify their purchase decisions, user practices, beliefs, cultural conventions and skills.

“To motivate citizens, financial incentives and information about climate change threats need to be complemented by positive discourses about the economic, social and cultural benefits of low-carbon innovations,” it added.

It further stressed that socio-technical transitions can be accelerated by actively phasing out existing technologies, supply chains, and systems that lock-in emissions for decades.

“All too often, analysts and even policymakers focus on new incentives, on the phasing in of low-carbon technologies. This study reminds us that phasing out existing systems can be just as important as stimulating novel innovations,” added Sovacool.

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