Achieving the Paris Climate Goals in the COVID-19 era

As the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, we must think carefully about the future that we want to build. We face a worsening climate crisis, with record temperatures causing rampant fires, rapidly melting polar ice, and extreme flooding.

The world has already reached a global average temperature rise of 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. A world of 1.5 degrees Celsius is almost unimaginable and must be avoided at all costs. 

Fortunately, a breakthrough climate model shows that we have a window to stay below the dangerous threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius, achieving net-zero emissions before 2040. The two-year collaboration with 17 leading scientists, entitled Achieving the Paris Climate Agreement Goals (APCAG), shows that we can prevent the worst impacts of climate change with currently available solutions, unlocking trillions in economic benefits.

Foundations 20 (F20), in partnership with One Earth and the University of Technology Sydney, developed an Executive Briefing to condense the nearly 500 pages of scientific text into a high-level overview, entitled “Achieving the Paris Agreement Goals in the COVID-19 era.” Designed for professionals in the NGO and philanthropic sector, as well as business and governmental decision makers, the briefing provides a quick summary of the roadmap to achieve the ambitious 1.5°C goal.

In the 1.5C scenario, there are two main efforts required -- a rapid decarbonization of our energy system and large-scale land restoration -- which combined, provide a 66% likelihood of staying below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

For the global energy transition, electricity use will roughly double from today's levels by 2050, meeting a majority of our energy needs across all three major sectors -- Transportation, Industry, and Buildings & Infrastructure. Half of all transportation will be powered by electricity, with hydrogen and other renewable fuels replacing petroleum products. Industry will double its electricity use, meeting more than one-third of heating & process-energy requirements in addition to other renewable fuels. Buildings & infrastructure will also double electricity use, with more than one-third of heating needs met by geothermal, biomass, and solar heat sources. 

Coal will rapidly diminish, followed by a gradual phaseout of oil & gas, while renewables will expand from approximately 20% today to 100% in 2050. This is led by a rapid expansion of solar and wind power, which will meet 75% of electricity demand by 2050. Renewable fuels and energy efficiency will play a major role in reducing overall consumption, driven by smart-grid transmission, more efficient appliances, better transportation logistics, and other measures.

The transition to 100% renewable energy for all electricity and heating requires supplemental investments of $1.1 trillion per year, less than one-quarter of what governments currently spend on fossil fuels. 

Even with this rapid energy transition, staying below 1.5 degrees Celsius will require a major effort to protect and restore natural ecosystems -- the carbon sinks which keep our global climate system in balance. In addition to a rapid phaseout of carbon emissions from deforestation, the 1.5C scenario identifies a large potential for carbon dioxide removal through 4 restoration pathways: 

Natural forest restoration, combined with re-forestation on 350 mega-hectares of degraded land, and sustainable forestry practices, can deliver 480 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide removal by 2100. In the agriculture sector, reducing nitrogen and methane emissions, along with tree planting on croplands, can deliver the additional mitigation required to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The 1.5C transition model was developed using a sophisticated computer simulation of the world’s electrical grids — with 10 regional and 72 sub-regional energy grids modeled in hourly increments to the year 2050, along with a comprehensive assessment of available renewable resources like wind and solar, minerals required for manufacturing of components, energy efficiency measures, and configurations for meeting projected energy demand and electricity storage for all sectors through 2050. 

Staying below 1.5°C in global average temperature rise requires net zero emissions by 2035-2040. Documented in Achieving the Paris Climate Agreement Goals (Teske et al, 2019), the 1.5C model uses a 'carbon budget' of 400 GtCO2 for a 50% chance of 1.5°C per Global Warming of 1.5˚C (IPCC, 2018), reduced to account for historical temperature uncertainties. The target for a good (66%) likelihood of 1.5˚C is 175 GtCO2, reduced to account for biosphere feedbacks (e.g. forest fires, melting permafrost, etc). The model calls for a rapid reduction in fossil fuel emissions (black) and approximately 450 GtCO2 of carbon removal from reforestation and land restoration by 2100, assuming a phaseout of AFOLU emissions before 2040 (gold). Natural land carbon sinks (green) absorb CO2 but become a contributor of emissions in the second half of the century. Natural ocean carbon sinks continue absorbing CO2 through the century (blue). Credit: Karl Burkart. 

Coming soon, this page will feature regional 1.5C energy transition pathways and land restoration potential, divided in 10 global regions: