Climate Catastrophe: Can It Be Stopped?

From Eduardo Porter’s on-going series in the NY Times business section, on climate change.

Here’s what your future will look like if we are to have a shot at preventing devastating climate change.

Within about 15 years every new car sold in the United States will be electric. In fact, by midcentury more than half of the American economy will run on electricity. Up to 60 percent of power might come from nuclear sources. And coal’s footprint will shrink drastically, perhaps even disappear from the power supply.

This course, created by a team of energy experts, was unveiled on Tuesday in a report for the United Nations that explores the technological paths available for the world’s 15 main economies to both maintain reasonable rates of growth and cut their carbon emissions enough by 2050 to prevent climatic havoc.

“This will require a heroic cooperative effort,” said Jeffrey D. Sachs, the Columbia University economist who directs the Sustainable Development Solutions Network at the United Nations, which convened the multinational teams.

…  The decarbonization paths rely on aggressive assumptions about our ability to deploy new technologies on a commercial scale economically. For instance, carbon capture and storage is supposed to be available starting in about 10 years. Second-generation biofuels are assumed to come into play by 2020. Hydrogen fuel cells and power storage technology are deployed starting around 2030.

… Big challenges remain. Any 40-year forecast must be taken with some skepticism. Technologies that seem feasible and economic today might turn out not to be. And it bears repeating that though the teams contend they can get to 1.6 tons per person, they have not yet.

But these technologies all exist today and seem reasonably scalable. The teams did not rely on more speculative technologies, like cold fusion, to make their numbers.

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The Report: Pathways to Deep Decarbonization (pdf)

Our moment of truth has arrived. Twenty-two years ago at the Rio Earth Summit, the world’s
governments recognized that humanity was changing the climate system profoundly, posing risks for
human wellbeing and sustainable development prospects. They adopted the United Nations Framework  Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) two years later, and resolved to protect the planet and promote sustainable development by stabilizing “GHG concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

Yet, more than two decades later, GHG emissions are still far from stabilizing.

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The economic, social, and environmental risks of unabated climate change are immense. They
threaten to roll back the fruits of decades of growth and development, undermine prosperity, and
jeopardize countries’ ability to achieve even the most basic socio-economic development goals in the
future, including the eradication of poverty and continued economic growth. These risks affect all
developed and developing countries alike.

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Despite the 2°C commitment reiterated at every COP since Cancun, global GHG emissions have
continued to rise sharply. The climate science is clear and unequivocal: without a dramatic reversal of
the GHG emissions trajectory—one that leads to a significant decline in GHG emissions by mid-century
and to net zero emissions during the second half of the century—the world will not only overshoot the
2°C limit, but will do so dramatically

AND, by the way, Germany is well on its way:

Thanks to favorable weather and record production from solar and wind power, renewable energy accounted for approximately 31 percent of Germany’s electricity generation in the first half of 2014.

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