Next 10 years critical for achieving climate change goals

Carbon dioxideCarbon dioxide (CO2) is emitted in several ways. Naturally through the carbon cycle and through human activities like the burning of fossil fuels. These human activities have increased CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution and these high ... (CO2) and other greenhouse gasesGreenhouse gas emissions cause dangerous anthropogenic climate change. Emissions include CO2, fluoridated gases, methane which are emitted by human activity such as deforestation and burning fossil fuels, and water vapour. in the atmosphere can be reduce in two ways — by cutting our emissionsEmissions of greenhouse gases, greenhouse gas precursors, and aerosols associated with human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, land-use changes, livestock, fertilisation, etc. (IPCC), or by removing it from the atmosphere, for example through plants, the ocean, and soil.

The historic Paris Agreement set a target of limiting future global average temperature increase to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to even further limit the average increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Yet the timing and details of these efforts were left to individual countries.

In a new study, published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) used a global model of the carbon system that accounts for carbon release and uptake through both natural and anthropogenicEmissions of greenhouse gases, greenhouse gas precursors, and aerosols associated with human activities. These activities include the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, land use changes, livestock, fertilization, etc., that result in a net increase in emissions. (IPCC-SREX, 2014) activities.

“The study shows that the combined energy and land-useLand use refers to the total of arrangements, activities, and inputs undertaken in a certain land cover type (a set of human actions). The term land use is also used in the sense of the social and economic purposes for which land is managed (e.g., grazing, timber extraction, and conservation). ... system should deliver zero net anthropogenic emissionsEmissions of greenhouse gases, greenhouse gas precursors, and aerosols associated with human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, land-use changes, livestock, fertilisation, etc. (IPCC) well before 2040 in order to assure the attainability of a 1.5°C target by 2100,” says IIASA EcosystemsA system of living organisms interacting with each other and their physical environment. The boundaries of what could be called an ecosystem are somewhat arbitrary, depending on the focus of interest or study. Thus, the extent of an ecosystem may range from very small spatial scales to, ... Services and Management Program Director Michael Obersteiner, a study coauthor.

According to the study, fossil fuelEnergy from fossil sources, such as natural gas and oil. This type of energy contributes to climate change and because of its finite nature it is not a permanent resource. consumption would likely need to be reduced to less than 25% of the global energy supply by 2100, compared to 95% today. At the same time, land use change, such as deforestation, must be decreased. This would lead to a 42% decrease in cumulative emissions by the end of the century compared to a business as usualThe future is projected or predicted on the assumption that operating conditions and applied policies remain what they are at present. See also baseline, models, scenario. (IPCC, 2014)A scenario is a plausible description of how the future may develop based on a coherent and internally ... scenario.

“This study gives a broad accounting of the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, where it comes from and where it goes. We take into account not just emissions from fossil fuelsEnergy from fossil sources, such as natural gas and oil. This type of energy contributes to climate change and because of its finite nature it is not a permanent resource., but also agricultureCultivation of the ground and harvesting of crops and handling of livestock, the primary function is the provision of food and feed., land useLand use refers to the total of arrangements, activities, and inputs undertaken in a certain land cover type (a set of human actions). The term land use is also used in the sense of the social and economic purposes for which land is managed (e.g., grazing, timber extraction, and conservation). ..., food production, bioenergyEnergy from sustainable sources such as forests and agriculture (like wood and energy crops), but also manure and other biodegradable wastes. Includes biogas, biofuels and solid biomass., and carbon uptake by natural ecosystems,” explains World Bank consultant Brian Walsh, who led the study while working as an IIASA researcher.

The compares four different scenarios for future energy development, with a range of mixtures of renewable and fossil energyEnergy from fossil sources, such as natural gas and oil. This type of energy contributes to climate change and because of its finite nature it is not a permanent resource.. In a “high-renewable” scenario where windWind occurs due to different temperature levels in the atmosphere (troposphere) which are heated up by the sun. A typical example are the trade winds at the equator where the sun is most powerful., solar, and bioenergy increase by around 5% a year, net emissions could peak by 2022, the study shows. Yet without substantial negative emissions technologies, that pathway would still lead to a global average temperature rise of 2.5°C, missing the Paris Agreement target.

Walsh notes that the high-renewable energyRenewable energy is power generated from infinite sources, such as wind or solar power. Conventional energy is generated from finite sources, such as natural gas or fossil oil. scenario is ambitious, but not impossible — global production of renewable energy grew 2.6% between 2013 and 2014, according to the IEA. In contrast, the study finds that continued reliance on fossil fuels (with growth rates of renewablesRenewable energy is power generated from infinite sources, such as wind or solar power. Conventional energy is generated from finite sources, such as natural gas or fossil oil. between 2% and 3% per year), would cause carbon emissions to peak only at the end of the century, causing an estimated 3.5°C global temperature rise by 2100.

The authors note that not only the mix of energy matters, but also the overall amount of energy consumed. The study also included ranges for high energy consumption and low energy consumption.

The study adds to a large body of IIASA research on climate mitigationMitigation refers to actions that reduce our contribution to the causes of climate change. This means reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), through energy efficiency and using alternative forms of transport and energy.(UKCIP) policy and the chances of achieving targetsTarget period: For multi-year goals, a period of several consecutive years over which the mitigation goal is to be achieved. The last years of the goal period. Target year: For single-year goals, the year by which the goal is to be met. The last year of the goal period. Target year emissions: ....

“Earlier work on mitigationMitigation refers to actions that reduce our contribution to the causes of climate change. This means reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), through energy efficiency and using alternative forms of transport and energy.(UKCIP) strategies by IIASA has shown the importance of demand-side measures, including efficiencyUsing less energy/electricity to perform the same function. Programs designed to use electricity more efficiently - doing the same with less., conservation, and behavioral change. Success in these areas may explain the difference between reaching 1.5C instead of 2C,” says IIASA Energy Program Director Keywan Riahi, who also contributed to the new work.

A new model

The study is one of the first published results from the newly developed FeliX model, a system dynamics model of social, economic, and environmental earth systems and their interdependencies. The model is freely available for download and use at http://www.felixmodel.com/.

“Compared to other climate and integrated assessment modelsIntegrated assessment modelling (IAM) is a type of scientific modelling often used by the environmental sciences and environmental policy analysis. The modelling is integrated because environmental problems do not respect the borders between academic disciplines. Integrated assessment models ..., the FeliX model is less detailed, but it provides a unique systemic view of the whole carbon cycleThe term used to describe the flow of carbon (in various forms, e.g. as carbon dioxide) through the atmosphere, ocean, terrestrial biosphere and lithosphere. (IPCC)A natural process remove about half of each year's anthropogenic CO2 emissions from the atmosphere, but it isn't totally understood ..., which is vital to our understanding of future climate change and energy,” says IIASA Ecosystem ServicesHumankind benefits in a multitude of ways from ecosystems. Collectively, these benefits are known as ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are regularly involved in the provisioning of clean drinking water and the decomposition of wastes. While scientists and environmentalists have discussed ... and Management Program Director.

This study received support from the European Research Council Synergy grant ERC-2013-SyG-610028

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