Sven Teske

Earth Day: How to achieve the Paris Climate Goals? Policy! Policy! Policy!

On April 3 of this year, Reuters headlined an article “Coronavirus could trigger biggest fall in carbon emissions since World War Two” – at the time of this writing, the world is in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and the COP26 climate conference has just been postponed from November 2020 to later in 2021. The global pandemic has shut down public life around the world and forced a significant part of working and social activities onto the internet. As a result, energy demand – especially oil for transport – has dropped significantly. The first annual carbon emission estimates for 2020 suggest a drop of 5% compared to the previous year – a drop not seen since World War II. While the reduction in emissions might be a positive thing, it will not be helpful to fight climate change. We need to reduce energy-related carbon emission over a long period of time and without shutting down public life and causing an economic recession.

Climate Change is one of the key grand challenges of the 21st century and is the key to socio-economic development and global sustainability. The past 12 months have seen a flurry of stark climate warnings, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change describing the havoc that 1°C of global warming is already wreaking. After decades of fossil fuel consumption, the degradation of forests and natural ecosystems, and the release of other greenhouse gases, we are seeing the real-world manifestations of a more volatile climate: increasingly common floods, droughts, hurricanes and wildfires; poor air quality as a public health emergency; rampant deforestation leading to habitat loss and increased carbon emissions. Therefore, fighting climate change is a matter of survival for all of humankind. The upcoming stimulation packages to revive global economy after the pandemic therefore must have sustainable development with efficient and renewable energy technologies at their core.

In our book Achieving the Paris Climate Agreement Goals - Global and Regional 100% Renewable Energy Scenarios with Non-energy GHG Pathways for +1.5°C and +2°C we outline a technical and policy pathway on how to reduce global energy-related carbon emissions by around 5% per year while maintaining mobility and economic prosperity. Using a cutting-edge energy modeling tool and greenhouse gas model, we show the possibility of meeting 1.5˚C through a switch to 100% renewable energy by 2050, and an expansion in energy storage and efficiency measures - together with natural climate solutions (NCS) like reforestation and agricultural practices to reduce emissions.

At its heart is the large-scale electrification of heating and transport. Almost 90% of all transport energy comes from oil used in inefficient combustion engines, which will be replaced by efficient electric drives powered by renewable electricity. Heavy duty trucks, freight trains, shipping and aviation will use synthetic fuels – produced by renewable energies - and limited biofuels, with oil being phased out by 2050. The increase in electricity supply will be met mainly through solar and wind, which are already becoming more viable than coal and gas. The solar market grew in double digits over the past decade, bringing total operating capacity to around 600 GW – equal to the coal power plant capacity of North America, Europe and Africa combined, over 100 GW of which was installed in 2019. Offshore wind costs are falling and turbines are getting bigger; it will not be long until one wind farm can power a whole city. Our projection that renewables can provide around 70% of electricity demand in 2030 and 100% by 2050 looks ever more achievable.

What we need now are policy signals showing serious commitment to a greener future. Energy companies and investors need stable policymaking on renewables to feel confident that their investments will pay off. A number of countries have already pledged to phase out coal by 2030 and committed to ambitious renewables targets. But many key political leaders are dragging their feet, either because of a failure to see beyond traditional infrastructure, to grasp the dangers posed by climate change, or to understand the economic potential of the zero-carbon economy - or all of the above. Many countries have launched – or will launch – economic stimulation packages as a reaction to the COVID-19 crisis. Those programs must focus on the energy, transport and industry sectors and in favor of re-forestation and sustainable agriculture. We described all these required measures to achieve the Paris Climate Agreement in great detail in our book.

Biography: Sven Teske 

Dr Sven Teske is Research Director at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney, Australia. He has 25 years’ experience in technical analysis of renewable energy systems and market integration concepts. He has published over 50 special reports on renewables across the world, including the global 100% renewable energy scenario “Energy [R]evolution”, a grid analysis for the Chinese province Jiangsu in cooperation with the China State Grid Company and a 100% renewable energy pathway for Australia. Dr Teske was a lead author for the IPCC Special Report Renewables (Chapter 10: Scenario analysis), which was published in 2011. He also has practical experience in small-scale utility development.  He originally developed the concept for a green utility and founded in 1999 the “Greenpeace energy eG”– Germany’s first cooperative in the power sector. He has a PhD economics from the University of Flensburg in Germany; for his thesis he focused on integration of high penetrations of solar photovoltaic and wind into power systems.

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Director Sven Teske

Editor of Achieving the Paris Climate Agreement Goals

Director at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney