‘Radical action’ needed to push towards zero-carbon future

The implementation of "radical action" will be necessary to drive the transition to zero-carbon energy systems and to keep global temperature rise below 2°C, according to a newly formed coalition of global commissioners.

The Energy Transitions Commission (ETC), which boasts members including former US Vice President Al Gore and Lord Nicholas Stern, has warned that without a “rapid decarbonisation” of energy supplies and “big improvements” in energy productivity, nations won’t be able to limit the effects of severe global warming.

“A far faster transition is needed to achieve the well below 2°C goal,” the ETC’s chairman Lord Adair Turner said. “We must focus not only on decarbonising power, but also on taking the carbon out of other energy supply and dramatically increasing global energy productivity improvement.

“Financial and technology transfer will be necessary to enable developing nations to meet and exceed their INDCs.”

The ETC, which was formed in September last year, came to the conclusion after analysing 17 Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – including the EU’s – that account for 78% of global, energy-related emissions.

The Commission noted that the INDCs failed to offer plans that would introduce a necessary 1% annual rise in low-carbon sources entering the energy mix, while also failing to ensure that energy productivity was improved at a minimal annual rate of 3% to account for growing populations.

The current INDCs, which were officially submitted as part of the ratification of the Paris Agreement last week, would only account for a 0.4% uptake in the renewable energy mix and add just 1.8% in energy productivity each year.

“By the end of this century, we must ensure that 10-11 billion people have standards of living currently enjoyed by the richest 10%,” Lord Turner added. “By 2050, energy-related CO2 emissions must be reduced by 70% from 2010 levels.

“To design the needed revolution in energy systems requires input from many different players – governments, incumbent fossil fuel companies, new technology challengers, investors and NGOs. The ETC will bring together these different players, who often start with different points of view, but are united in their commitment that global warming must be limited to well below 2°C.”

Deliberate decarbonisation                                                                                                                     

One method that has been cited in order to accelerate global carbon reduction is a deliberate de-prioritisation of economic growth as an important political and national policy, which researchers claim would increase the global renewables supply.

But with the “renewables revolution” in full-swing – a total of £286bn was invested in renewables across the globe over the last 12 months – 2015 marked the first time that emissions stalled while economic growth increased.

Matt Mace

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie