A two-year scientific collaboration by leading scientists at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), the German Aerospace Center and the University of Melbourne has produced a roadmap using 100 percent renewables and natural climate solutions to stay below a 1.5°C temperature rise.
This new research has produced the most detailed energy model to date – and the first to achieve negative emissions through natural climate solutions. Its proposed transition to 100 percent renewables by mid-century, along with steps such as reforestation, would not only have benefits for the climate but would also create millions of permanent jobs. The researchers say this could be achieved at about a quarter of the cost of current subsidies for fossil fuels.
The research models 72 regional energy grids in hourly increments through 2050 and includes a comprehensive assessment of available renewable resources such as wind and solar, along with configurations for meeting projected energy demand and storage most efficiently for all sectors over the next 30 years.
“Scientists cannot fully predict the future, but advanced modelling allows us to map out the best scenarios for creating a global energy system fit for the 21st century," lead author Dr Sven Teske, research director at UTS’s Institute for Sustainable Futures says.
"With momentum around the Paris Agreement lagging, it’s crucial that decision-makers around the world can see that we can, in fact, meet global energy demand at a lower cost with clean renewables.”
While climate scientists have created hundreds of models to help policymakers understand the impacts of climate change and how to mitigate them, nearly all of these models have relied upon technologies that are expensive and not proven to work at scale when seeking to achieve not just a cap on emissions but "negative" emissions, where the carbon in the atmosphere is reduced.
This model is the first to achieve the required negative emissions through natural climate solutions, including the restoration of degraded forests and other lands, along with a transition to 100 percent renewable energy by mid-century.
“Citing a growing body of research, we show that using land restoration efforts to meet negative emissions requirements, along with a transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, gives the world a good chance of staying below the 1.5°C target,” says Malte Meinshausen, founding director of the Climate and Energy College at the University of Melbourne and Potsdam Institute fellow.
A transition to 100 percent renewables and the implementation of natural climate solutions offer additional benefits beyond keeping the climate system in check, the researchers say. The energy transition will be able to recycle our natural gas infrastructure and create millions of permanent jobs. Natural climate solutions could also dramatically increase sustainable livelihoods in the developing world, offering better water security and reduced soil erosion.
The proposed energy transition outlined in the climate model is estimated to cost about $1.7 trillion per year.
That may sound like a lot, says Teske, but it pales in comparison to the vast subsidies that governments provide to prop up the polluting fossil fuels largely responsible for climate change.
These are estimated at more than $5 trillion a year, or $10 million a minute every day, according to the IMF.