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Energy, Climate and the G-20

Paul Kando

The report “Three Years to Safeguard our Climate”, published in the journal Nature as guidance to last week’s G-20 meeting in Hamburg, established milestones to be met by 2020 in follow-up to the Paris climate agreement. It posits a mean global budget of around 600 Gigatons (one Gt is 1 × 109 tons) of CO2 left to emit before the planet warms dangerously by more than 1.5 – 2.0ºC. With 41 billion tons emitted annually by human society, that means only 15 years remain before that budget is exhausted. Since energy-related emissions cannot be suddenly cut to zero without the world economy grinding to a halt, the world must be put on a downward path almost immediately. Should emissions continue to rise, or even remain level beyond 2020, the temperature goals set in Paris become unattainable.

Consequently, by 2020, renewable energy must provide at least 30% of the world’s electricity— up from 23.7% in 2015. All coal-fired power plants must be retired. Cities and states must be on track to fully decarbonize their buildings and infrastructures by 2050. $300 billion must be invested in upgrading at least 3% of the building stock each year to zero- or near-zero emission structures. In transportation, electric vehicles should make up at least 15% of new car sales globally, up from a 1% market share today. Mass-transit utilization must double. The fuel efficiency of heavy-duty vehicles must be increased by 20%, with greenhouse-gas emissions from aviation decreased by 20%.

Land use policies must minimize forest destruction, and promote reforestation and the creation of new forests. This would cut global net emissions from land-use changes and deforestation from the current 12% to zero during the next decade, and also create carbon sinks and improved water supplies by 2030. Sustainable agriculture can reduce emissions and increase carbon sequestration in healthy soils.

Heavy Industry needs to halve its emissions well before 2050. Carbon-intensive steel, cement, chemicals, and petroleum processes currently emit more than one-fifth of the world’s CO2 . The financial sector must invest at least $1 trillion a year in climate mitigation. Private banks, lenders, governments and the World Bank must issue more ‘green bonds’ to finance such efforts – a ten-fold increase, by 2020, over the $81 billion in such bonds issued in 2016.

With the US absent from climate discussions, the remaining “G-19” crafted a much stronger statement on climate change. Even Saudi Arabia came onboard. Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has already admitted that oil is passé, and he is turning the Kingdom’s oil wealth into investment wealth before petroleum becomes worthless.

In their communiqué members of the G-20 “recognize the opportunities for innovation, sustainable growth, competitiveness, and job creation of increased investment into sustainable energy sources and clean energy technologies and infrastructure” adding that the 19 remaining leaders “state that the Paris Agreement is irreversible [and] remain collectively committed to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions through, among others, increased innovation on sustainable and clean energies and energy efficiency, and work towards low greenhouse-gas emission energy systems.”