A very informative piece by David Roberts was published by on Vox last week detailing what genuine, ambitious action on addressing and slowing climate would look like. It’s pretty intimidating to get such a detailed breakdown of what would truly be needed to keep below the 2 degrees Celsius goal of the Paris Agreement. Roberts reviews 3 recent publications that outline truly ambitious goals and strategies and concludes that they share four major action items that any ambitious climate plan will inevitably involve.

1) Radically increase energy efficiency.

Increasing energy efficiency (which, all else being equal, reduces emissions) is in a race with population and economic growth (which, all else being equal, increases them). To radically decarbonize with minimal negative emissions, efficiency will need to outrun growth.

2) Radically increase renewable energy.

All the scenarios envision renewables (primarily wind and solar) rapidly coming to dominate electricity. In the IRENA scenario, renewables grow sixfold faster than they are currently, supplying 85 percent of global electricity by 2050.

3) Electrify everything!

Notably, all three scenarios heavily involve electrification of sectors and applications that currently run on fossil fuels. In the IRENA case, electricity rises from 21 percent of total global energy consumption today to 40 percent by 2050.

4) And still maybe do a little negative emissions.

Even though the intentions, of the Ecofys and Nature researchers particularly, was to minimize the need for negative emissions, neither was able to completely eliminate it…. They advise policymakers (wisely, it seems to me) to pursue negative emissions strategies but to think of alternative scenarios as insurance against the possibility that those strategies run up against unanticipated social or economic barriers.

The article goes into great detail on BECCS, which is expected to be the primary instrument of negative emissions. It’s alarming to see how much people are assuming this process will be able to do, considering there is currently no commercial BECCS industry.

Maybe we could pull off a massive BECCS industry quickly. But banking on negative emissions later in the century is, at the very least, an enormous, fateful gamble. It bets the lives and welfare of millions of future people on an industry that, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t yet exist.

The sobering conclusions:

In the end, perhaps the most important conclusion in the Nature Climate Change paper is the simplest and the one that we already knew: “a rapid transformation in energy consumption and land use is needed in all scenarios… So the only rule of climate policy that really matters is: go as hard and fast as possible, forever and ever, amen.


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