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[Climate Change] How do we get to virtually zero emissions by 2050?

With the release of the Sixth Assessment of Climate Change last week, and the 26th Climate Change Conference, COP26, taking place in the UK in November, there's a lot of talk about climate change coming up. New Scientist had a climate change feature based on reports and interviews with researchers from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and Oxford University. Some of the figures are easy to understand.

Firstly, suppose we limit climate change to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius, which has been happening since the industrial revolution. In that case, we need to get to net-zero emissions by the middle of the century. This scenario seems a more challenging target than my favourite vision example, such as the Apollo missions. In the 1960s, low-carbon energy was about 6% of the world's energy, and in 1994 it was only 14%. The absolute amount of renewable energy is increasing, but the energy demand is so great that it cannot be met by the half-hearted promotion of renewable energy alone. During the same period, the global energy business quadrupled, from 40,000 terawatts to 160,000 terawatts.

To achieve this, the article said, four approaches are needed:

  1. We will generate electricity from renewable sources

  2. Any energy that we could provide with electricity will be provided by electricity.

  3. We find ways to make transport cleaner that are difficult to run with electricity such as planes and ships.

  4. We ensure efficiency in energy consumption.

If we can achieve these four approaches, the world can achieve virtually zero emissions by the middle of this century. In fact, the UK has increased its share of renewable energy from 20% to 50% in the last decade. The amount invested in renewable energy in 2019 is estimated to be $28 billion, 90% of which is concentrated in the OECD and relatively wealthy countries such as China, India and Brazil. Much more investment will be needed if these benefits are to accrue to developing countries, including Indonesia. Having said that, international commitments of $10 billion a year in climate change adaptation funding to developing countries have not been even met. So, renewable energy investment for developing countries will give an additional commitment to the world.

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