It is generally agreed that COP21 was a great success. In welcoming the historic climate agreement, Executive Director of the UN Global Compact Lise Kingo said that: “Never before have we seen this level of engagement from business and it is clear that the momentum is unstoppable.” Those words were echoed by Mindy Lubber, President of the non-profit organization Ceres, who speaking to 500 investors at a UN climate event last week said that Paris was “the “most meaningful climate moment in history.”
The target agreed to by some 195 countries is to hold the global average temperature to below 2°C, with a commitment to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C. Achieving this goal will require dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) through greater fuel efficiency, renewable energy resources (like wind and solar), and methods for capturing carbon that is already in the air (e.g. carbon capture and storage).
An estimated 80% of the world’s global energy consumption comes from fossil fuels, according to the International Energy Agency
A frequently noted consequence of this is so-called stranded assets, fossil fuels in the ground that must remain there to meet this goal. Ben Caldecott, Director of the Stranded Assets Programme at Oxford University’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, noted at a conference on stranded assets that “The scale of potential asset stranding from a 2°C degree carbon budget constraint is significant, not just for upstream resources like oil, gas, and coal, but also for downstream energy infrastructure like power stations. Significant net dismantling of fossil fuel assets prior to the end of their working lives is implicit in any 1.5 °C or 2°C degree target.”
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), 80% of the world’s global energy consumption comes from fossil fuels (oil, gas, and coal). The IEA has also calculated that about $300 billion in investments in fossil fuels could be stranded. As explained by CarbonBrief, this follows from the fact that we have already used up two-thirds of our carbon budget of 800 billion tons. The Global Carbon Project is a good source for details on this.
When put in these stark terms and being realistic about the effectiveness of multilateral agreements like COP21 (previous meetings, such as the ones in Kyoto and Copenhagen had little impact), one could understandably reach the conclusion that it is hopeless and that we should just focus on mitigation and prepare for disaster. But that would be wrong for a very simple reason. The sources of where most of the carbon comes from are relatively few and practical steps can be taken to address each of them. This is not to say it will be easy. Each one will require tough decisions in both the public and private sector, with new strategies and business models, technological innovation, and the courage to take the risk of being a leader and trying things that haven’t been done before.
The full and original article can be viewed on Ceres.org
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