Run your own carbon pathway

There are lots of different ways to decarbonise the economy, cut emissions and fend off dangerous climate change. Lots of different people have put forward strategies or scenarios for getting to climate safety – the UN, the International Energy Agency, Shell, Friends of the Earth, and many more.

Each agency brings its own solutions. Shell relies on solar power and carbon capture and storage, and doesn’t require any great change from consumers. You can probably guess how the Vegan Society solves the problem.

For the first time, it’s now easy to compare different visions for the future. A number of them have been compiled and incorporated into a ‘global calculator’, released last month by the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

You can see a range of proposals for cutting global emissions, or you can tweak a series of ‘levers’ to create your own. It’s a neat way to see the various trade-offs, and to compare assumptions across different models. If you’ve got a few minutes, it’s well worth getting your head round how it works and running a few little experiments.

global-calculator

One of the positive aspects of the calculator is that it shows that it is possible to stay within two degrees of warming, and there are all sorts of different ways of doing it. However, it also shows how dependent we are on certain key technologies. If CSS comes through, then things will be a whole lot easier. If it doesn’t, and it’s a mixed picture at the moment, some of the scenarios here won’t work.

There are certain problems with the calculator. One is that it works with global averages on things like diet, transport use or domestic energy. Given the inequality of consumption on such things, those averages can be misleading. If I was creating my own pathway, I’d want to specify an increase in energy use in poorer countries and a reduction in energy use in richer ones, but there’s no way to distinguish between them here. “These are questions of a political nature and beyond the scope of the Global Calculator” says the accompanying report.

In theory, the calculator shows that everyone in the world could enjoy a quality of life comparable to European average by 2050, and still avoid dangerous climate change. That’s good news whichever way you look at it, though it will be a huge amount of work to get there. What we will actually have in 2050 is a different matter, and depends on political and economic trends that can’t be modeled quite so easily.

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2 Comments on “Run your own carbon pathway”

  1. Neil February 11, 2015 at 8:40 pm #

    Thanks for putting this up. I had a go at their 2050 energy one. Unfortunately you could remove nuclear from any scenario completely.

  2. Dave Sanderson February 14, 2015 at 9:46 am #

    They have put population growth into the ‘Myth Busters’ section! Inexplicable! I’ve written to them asking why, as follows:

    ‘In your otherwise excellent report you put ‘Curb population growth’ into the myth busting section (page 14).

    As I’m sure you are aware the recent UN study of global population trends found that there is an 80% probability that world population, now 7.2 billion people, will increase to between 9.6 billion and 12.3 billion in 2100. You use a figure for 2050 and state ‘The global population is expected to increase from 7 billion today to 10 billion in 2050. Curbing population to the UN’s lower projected estimate (8 billion) would only save around 10 GtCO2e by 205024. This is significant but it should not be considered a “silver bullet”.

    I would very much like to know how / why you conclude that an extra 3 billion people in the next 35 years (only 35 years! Think about it…) is not a major problem. In 1960, the total world population was 3 billion. Now it is more than twice that. By 2050 it will most likely have tripled. All these people consume at least a little bit, most want families, all have aspirations. Even the very poorest need to eat and house themselves, thus clearing the bush and cutting down forests – they may have an economic footprint of only $1/day but their environmental impact is far from tiny. Every one of the factors driving climate change (astronomical excepted) is made larger and more difficult to solve the more people there are…

    Please explain why you think this is a ‘myth’.

    regards,

    Dave Sanderson

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