We Can (Maybe) Avoid Climate Change Catastrophe, Says Big New Report

A petrochemical oil refinery factory plant in Chonburi province, Thailand. Photo_DDD/Shutterstock

Hope is not lost when it comes to the colossal problem of climate change. According to a massive new report, it is possible to avoid catastrophic levels of climate change, however, it’s going to require some sturdy and immediate action.

The new research, published in the journal Nature Communications, puts forward a wealth of evidence to show how the world could limit the disastrous effects of climate change if we phase out current fossil fuel infrastructure at the end of its expected lifetime.

By their workings, if we allow the current generation of fossil fuel infrastructure – such as power plants, industrial facilities, petrol vehicles, and the like – to run their course, then promptly replace them with zero-carbon alternatives, there is a 64 percent chance of keeping global warming below 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels.

“The national infrastructure supplying carbon fuels will need to change, so that instead of replacing an old coal power plant with a new gas power plant, the conversation becomes ‘when will the last gas power plant be built?’" Stuart Haszeldine, Professor of Carbon Capture and Storage at the University of Edinburgh, who wasn’t directly involved in this study, commented on the findings.

"And like steam trains were replaced with diesel, then electric, now hydrogen fuel cells – we ask ‘How to remove the oil pipelines and make fossil fuels fossilised fuels?’” 

Whether or not the powers that be will act on this, however, remains to be seen.

At the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) meeting in October 2018, the world agreed that the rise in global temperatures must be kept below 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels, otherwise, it will spark cataclysmic changes to our world. In order to avoid this fate, they set out several pathways that involve a mass switchover to renewable energy and the use of carbon-capture technology. This study provides further evidence that these goals are possible.

Make no mistake, this objective will be hard to achieve, but it’s not impossible. According to the study's findings, the phase-out of fossil fuels needs to start right now. If we dawdle and delay action until 2030, it could very well be too late. 

“Climate change policy does need some good news, and their message is that we’re not (quite) doomed yet,” added Dr Phillip Williamson, an independent climate researcher at the University of East Anglia.

“If from now on, the greenhouse gas-emitting power plants, factories, cars, ships and planes are replaced by non-polluting alternatives as they reach the end of their lifetimes, then the threshold of 1.5°C warming might not be crossed.

“Yet that is a very big 'if,'” he warned. “The optimism should not be overstated.”

 

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