The United Nations Climate Change Conference is taking place in Paris, with leaders from 147 nations and negotiators from 195 countries gathering in the French capital to hammer out a binding, effective deal to mitigate dangerous climate change. The target is to limit the global temperature rise to just 2°C (3.6°F), although many developing nations have said that a rise of just 1.5°C (2.7°F) will result in devastating consequences for them. Unfortunately, an analysis presented at the conference has concluded that, if all the world’s proposed coal fire plants are built, we will produce emissions four times higher than required to meet the 2°C target, as reported by BBC News.
By 2030, 2,440 coal-fired power plants are due to become operational, which in combination would emit 6.5 gigatonnes (7.2 billion tons) of carbon dioxide by the end of the next decade. This will only exacerbate the effect of the emissions from the world’s existing coal fire plants, which are already producing carbon emissions 150 percent higher than what is consistent with the 2°C target.
“If you add all of the power plants that are existing today and will still be operating in 2030, you come to 12 gigatonnes (13.2 billion tons) from coal fired power in 2030,” Dr. Niklas Hohne, one of the research team, told BBC News. “That's actually 400% higher than is necessary for 2 degrees.”
Global temperatures have already risen by 1°C (1.8°F) from pre-industrial times; the 2°C target is considered to be the threshold for dangerous warming. It must be noted that the climate won’t drastically change just as global temperatures reach 2°C of warming: This threshold, agreed upon by an international consortium of scientific experts, was picked because the accompanying climate extremes and sea level rises will be incredibly difficult to deal with. It is also a target that is easily digestible by both the media and politicians.
Although 2°C doesn’t sound like much of a change, consider this: During the last greenhouse Earth phase (in the Cretaceous, 90 million years ago), it was roughly 7.5°C (13.5°F) higher than today at its peak. The sea level was around 200 meters (656 feet) higher back then, and there were temperate forests at the poles. Between then and now, on average, the planet cooled an average of 0.083°C (0.15°F) every million years.
Image credit: The talks are happening in Paris over the next two weeks. Luciano Mortula/Shutterstock
Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in 1760, human action has warmed the planet by 1°C (1.8°F) in just 255 years. That’s a rate of temperature change nearly 47,100 times faster than the naturally occurring one during the time of the dinosaurs.
This year, there is an unprecedented degree of solidarity on the issue, particularly with having the world’s two largest carbon emitters – China and the United States – on board and hoping to get an agreement by the end of the conference. Unfortunately, there appears to be huge contradictions in developing nations’ energy production strategies: India, for example, is keen on trying to cut its carbon emissions on the one hand, but also wants to increase its reliance on coal in order to provide itself with relatively cheap energy.
The International Energy Agency has recently concluded that by 2020, over a quarter of the world will be powered by renewable energy sources – an unexpectedly high figure. Despite this, it seems that coal use will also rise, which is threatening to negate the positive impact of the emergence and proliferation of renewable energy.