A research paper published in Nature Climate Change in December concludes that the 2°C temperature rise target, supported by more than 190 countries as a global limit to avoid dangerous climate change, could still be reached even if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced before 2020. But it could only be achieved at very high cost, with higher climate risks and under exceedingly optimistic assumptions about future technologies. The more emissions are reduced in the near term the cheaper it will be to reach international climate targets.
The research comes from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria, the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and science university ETH Zurich.
Projections based on current national emissions pledges suggest that global carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions will increase to 55 gigatons (billion metric tons, Gt) by 2020. At such levels it would be more difficult and expensive to reach the target than if near-term emissions were lower. IIASA Energy Program Leader Keywan Riahi, who worked on the study, says, “You would need to shut down a coal power plant each week for ten years if you still wanted to reach the two-degree Celsius target. What we do over the next eight years really determines the feasibility and choices that we have in the long term. Some of these options for policies and technological change are still choices, such as phasing out nuclear power. We lose these choices if we overshoot certain thresholds.”
The study goes beyond previous analyses by directly assessing how high emissions in 2020 can go before the long-term target of 2°C is no longer attainable. It highlights the importance of reducing energy demand and improving efficiency as perhaps the most effective way to mitigate climate change this decade. In scenarios with lower energy demand growth, the researchers find a much greater chance that global temperatures would not rise more than 2°C, with much more flexibility in the methods and technologies required to reduce greenhouse gases.
According to IIASA energy researcher David McCollum, “ … from the perspective of the global climate system, continuing to pump high levels of emissions into the atmosphere over the next decade only increases the risk that we will overshoot the two-degree target.”
Review: If you take the findings from research such as this with the conclusions from the Smart 2020 and more recent Smarter 2020 reports then you start to realise just how important green IT is.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is not something that can be put off for any significant time (something that our politicians seem yet to realise). The less we do now the harder it will be later and the more likely we are to suffer from the devastating consequences of inaction.
The Smarter 2020 report found that the increased use of ICT (Information and Communications Technology) could cut global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 16.5% by 2020. While ICT’s own footprint would also rise, its abatement potential is seven times higher than the emissions it would create.
The Smarter 2020 report was released during the COP18 global climate negotiations in Doha to make the point about what ICT can achieve. But what it really needs is for IT and communications companies to push the case more vocally with governments and their own clients. Not only would they benefit, but so would the planet.