Climate Context for COP21: The case for realistic hope

In early 2015 the IEA announced that in 2014 global emissions of greenhouse gases “stalled”, while global economic growth continued apace. If emissions growth has finally decoupled from economic growth, humanity has passed a critical watershed many years earlier than anyone had dared hope. Two factors appear to account for this historic shift: the rise of wind and solar power, and greater energy efficiency.

[Excerpt from “Climate Crisis: seaweed, coffee and cement could save the planet” by Tim Flannery, The Guardian. Read more here.]

Today, wind and solar power can offer electricity at a cost close to or equal to that of fossil fuels. As a result, investment in renewables has outpaced investments in fossil fuels for three years running. Renewables are self-evidently the future of electricity generation. The only question is how long it will take for them to replace fossil fuels. But the second factor, energy efficiency, has been equally important. For more than a decade now many of us have been changing light bulbs, insulating houses, cycling to work, and much more – all too often with little hope that it makes very little difference. But the IEA figures tell us that our billions of collective actions have added up to something massive. They have seen many developed nations pass peak oil and coal demand as our cities and farms become ever cleaner and more efficient. That this has occurred six years before the actions to be agreed in Paris is a cause for celebration.

Having said that, the decade of lost opportunity has made it all but impossible, using emissions reductions alone, for humanity to avoid breaching the 2C safety barrier. That lost decade established an emissions trajectory that has us aiming at 4C of warming by 2100. The actions committed to in Paris will probably put us on course for around 3C by 2100. That would be a welcome shift. But because energy systems take time to change, and greenhouse gases warm the Earth for decades or centuries after they’re released, we’re headed for 2C of warming pretty much no matter what we achieve in Paris, or in the two decades afterwards.

Read more to learn about how coffee, seaweed, cement, and other innovative carbon sequestering techniques can help save the planet:

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