Phase out to ‘net zero’ emissions possible by 2050, say experts

Oct 31, 2013
Phase out to ‘net zero’ emissions possible by 2050, say experts

A phase out of nearly all net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 is both technically and economically feasible, according to a new report by Ecofys, supported by the GCCA.

Zero net emissions by 2050 would not only ensure a high likelihood of keeping global warming below the danger-threshold of 2°C, experts say it is also a tangible and clear goal that could help to spur climate action.

The new report finds that current technology and future technological developments will allow for reducing emissions worldwide to zero for nearly all current sources of harmful GHG emissions. Other remaining sources of GHG emissions could be offset by carbon sinks.

In a distinct move away from focusing on how many tons of emissions can still be emitted by whom and until when, this new notion emphasizes the idea of phasing out the root cause of the climate problem altogether. The report by Ecofys is important evidence that supports this notion.

Making a net phase out by 2050 the long term goal of climate policies is gaining traction among high-level think tanks, experts, and political figures, such as London’s Chatham House, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres and OECD head Angel Gurria. In a recent address in London, Gurria said,

I’ve come here today to argue that whatever policy mix we cook up, it has to be one that leads to the complete elimination of emissions to the atmosphere from the combustion of fossil fuels in the second half of the century…‘Zero emissions’ might sound extreme. Why not just lower emissions? The answer to that is physical. Carbon dioxide is a long lived gas. It hangs around.

Farhana Yamin, an international lawyer and associate fellow at Chatham House, has spearheaded the shift in her research, explaining that zero net emissions by 2050 is a necessary yet easy to understand goal that could help to encourage action. It gives a clear long-term goal with which to structure the short-term efforts of both international negotiations and national policy. According to Yamin,

It’s simple, it’s something we can all understand, it’s something we can see in our own lives. All of us can take this idea forward.

A phase out is also the aim of the Majuro Declaration, a landmark new agreement by Pacific Island nations, which promotes a potentially game-changing ‘I’m moving ahead and I invite you to move with me‘ model of action that has been conspicuously absent from UN climate talks. Up until now, international action on climate has taken the form of ‘I won’t move until you move first,’ which has undermined leadership. Christopher Loeak, President of the Marshall Islands, said of the Declaration,

We want it to spark an upward spiral of more ambitious action, especially from the world’s biggest emitters.

This comes after several weeks of positive clean energy news around the world, and just a few weeks prior to the next round of UN climate talks in Warsaw, Poland, where governments are expected to make headway on mobilizing the finance for climate action and strengthening the emission reduction targets that will be cornerstones of the global climate treaty due in 2015.

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