Advances open door to more aggressive policies to meet climate goals

December 3, 2019
By: Robert Sanders
wind farm
Rapid advances in producing cost-effective wind energy is just one example of the new sustainable energy landscape that allows a more aggressive approach to mitigating climate change. (iStock image)

An international research team is calling on policymakers to focus not just on the threats of climate change, but on the increasing number of opportunities to drastically reduce greenhouse gases.

“The IPCC’s 2018 Special Report is a stark and bracing reminder of climate threats. We know focused and urgent action to combat climate change is still essential,” said lead author Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado. “But our findings show that both despair and complacency are equally unwarranted. While climate change models have understated potential warming, the models used to guide policymakers have understated the scope for practical, let alone profitable, mitigation against it.”

“What we need now is a renewed and coordinated effort to represent these developments in influential global climate and energy systems models,” said co-author Daniel Kammen, a professor of energy and resources at the University of California, Berkeley, who also is on the faculty of Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. “Doing so is critical to saving trillions of dollars, while achieving stringent climate mitigation outcomes.”

Despite the recent slowdown in energy savings, the researchers say, global decarbonization has trended on course with the Paris Climate Agreement’s goal of limiting warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. Actual decarbonization has moved at a faster rate than previously assumed because people underemphasized the gains from energy efficiency and modern renewable heat production.

The scientists found that recent and dramatic cost reductions in solar, wind and energy storage have opened new prospects for achieving the goals in the Paris Agreement — including its aspirational target of only a 1.5 degree Celsius rise above pre-industrial levels  – in both socially acceptable and economically attractive ways. Recent progress and the future potential for increased efficiency on the consumer’s end has also been overlooked.

The study, published this week in the journal Environmental Research Letters, recommends new approaches for modelling climate change prospects. It argues for reconsidering reliance on pre-2011 energy data and adapting models to reflect modern energy efficiency options. It also notes the opportunity to apply findings from other disciplines.

 “The rich menu of climate-change mitigations — whether driven by business, public policy or civil society and individual choice — need not wait for these modelling improvements, but all would benefit from them,” said Kammen.

He will discuss the new research findings Dec. 7 and 8 at the California side event of the United Nation’s Climate Change Conference, also known as COP25, that began Dec. 2 in Madrid, Spain.

Energy advances open the door to more aggressive climate policies