News: Many climate activists and scientists are reassuring that the climate crisis can be solved rapidly without any changes to lifestyle, society or the economy.
They suggest paths such as a) Switching from fossil fuels to renewable power, electric vehicles and energy efficiency technologies, b) Adding seaweed to livestock feed to cut methane and c) Embracing green hydrogen for heavy industries such as steel-making. But this is not an ideal solution.
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Why reducing consumption is essential to reducing CO₂ emissions?
Growth in consumption: Between 2000 and 2019, renewable electricity witnessed 135% growth. In the year 2000, fossil fuels supplied 80% of the world’s total primary energy consumption. In 2019, they provided 81%. This is because the world’s energy consumption has been growing rapidly.
Challenging timeline: The world is on a very tight timeline. The global emissions have to halve within eight years and hit net-zero by 2050. If the world doesn’t achieve climate goals, then it’s likely the planet will cross a climate tipping point and begin an irreversible descent into more heatwaves, droughts, floods and sea-level rise.
Issues with technologies: CO₂ capture is getting a great deal of attention, but it seems unlikely to make a significant contribution. But removing CO₂ from the atmosphere does not occur on a large scale because these technologies are speculative, risky and very expensive.
Hence, if the world’s energy consumption grows at the pre-COVID rate, technological change alone will not be enough to halve global CO₂ emissions by 2030. Further, to keep global warming under 2℃ the world needs to slash the global energy consumption by 50% to 75% by 2050 as well as greatly accelerate the transition to 100% renewables. So, the world needs a lifestyle change driven by social policies.
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What should be done to reduce consumption?
The world needs to reduce consumption in high-income countries while improving human well-being.
The 2022 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on climate mitigation acknowledged the importance of collectively reducing energy consumption. To do this effectively, government policies are needed to boost renewables and to reduce consumption. Such as
1) Creating a carbon tax and additional environmental taxes, wealth and inheritance taxes, 2) A job guarantee at the basic wage for all adults who want to work and who can’t find a job in the formal economy, 3) Non-coercive policies to end population growth, especially in high-income countries, 4) Boosting government spending on poverty reduction, green infrastructure and public services as part of a shift to Universal Basic Services.
This will make the human civilisation resilient to face climate change.
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Source: This post is based on the article “Net Zero by 2050 will hit a major timing problem technology can’t solve. We need to talk about cutting consumption” published in DTE on 28th Apr 22.