Transforming how we move around, heat our homes and use devices could limit warming to 1.5C

A new study published in Nature Energy shows that major transformations in the way we move around, heat and cool our homes, and buy and use devices and appliances in our cities can help raise living standards in the global South to meet UN Sustainable Development Goals while also remaining within the 1.5°C target set by the 2015 Paris Agreement. Improved living standards for all do not need a large increase in energy demand at the expense of the global environment, says Charlie Wilson.

Global warming could be limited to 1.5°C by unprecedented improvements in the energy efficiency of everyday activities – according to new research involving Charlie Wilson at the Tyndall Centre at the University of East Anglia.

The research, led by an international team at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA, Austria), reveals that improved living standards for all need not come with a large increase in energy demand at the expense of the global environment.

It is also the first study to show how the 1.5°C target could be reached without relying on unproven technologies such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (CCS) which removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and bury it.

Arnulf Grubler, lead author and IIASA acting program director, said: “Our analysis shows how a range of new social, behavioural and technological innovations, combined with strong policy support for energy efficiency and low-carbon development can help reverse the historical trajectory of ever-rising energy demand.”

Study co-author Charlie Wilson, from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, said: “A rapid down-sizing of the global energy system between now and 2050 makes it much more feasible to transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewables and electricity to provide for development needs while limiting the impacts of climate change.”

The team examined a wide range of innovations at the fringes of current markets, which could help reduce emissions if they became mainstream.

For example shared and ‘on-demand’ fleets of electric vehicles with increased occupancy could reduce global energy demand for transport by 60 per cent by 2050 while reducing the number of vehicles on the road.

Meanwhile the use of single digital devices such as smartphones, which serve a wide range of functions, combined with a growing preference for accessing services instead of owning goods, could limit the growth in global energy demand from consumer goods to just 15 per cent by 2050.

Strict standards for the energy performance of new buildings as well as renovations of existing buildings can reduce energy demand from heating and cooling by 75 per cent by 2050.

In addition, shifting to a healthier diet with less red meat can significantly reduce emissions from agriculture, while increasing forest cover equivalent to the size of Italy and Bangladesh combined, by 2050.

“Changes in the ways that we as the final users of energy go about our daily lives have knock-on effects on the ways that goods are manufactured and transported around, offices and malls are built, and food is grown. It is us as energy users who ultimately define the potential for transforming our energy system to meet climate targets,” said Prof. Grubler.

The study found that if total global energy demand is reduced by 40 per cent by 2050, with a strong emphasis on electrification, renewable energy could more than meet the world’s energy needs without having to rely on carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies for burning fossil fuels or plant matter.

Dr. Wilson said: “Not only does our scenario show how to meet the 1.5°C climate target based on evidence of what is already possible, it also shows how this dramatic reversal in global emission trends supports a wide range of development objectives in the global South, from rising living standards to cleaner air and improved health.

“However, making this scenario a reality will require unprecedented efforts from policymakers to tighten standards, from businesses to develop and roll out low-carbon innovations, and from individuals and households to embed new ways of doing things into their daily lives,” he added.

Prof Grubler said: “The global community – from world leaders and multinational corporations down to individual consumers and citizens – needs to act in concert to avoid dangerous climate change while improving human wellbeing. Our scenario offers a roadmap as to how this can be achieved.”

‘A Low Energy Demand Scenario for Meeting the 1.5°C Target and Sustainable Development Goals without Negative Emission Technologies’ is published in Nature Energy on June 4, 2018.

Nature Energy version

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