Technology, the climate saviour?

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5 December 2018

The challenge? To limit global warming to well below two degrees Celsius, as formulated by governments in the Paris Agreement. How much can technology help?

Electric car

This study analyses to what extent technological progress in energy efficiency, electrification and renewables can reduce the use of fossil fuel, thereby reducing energy-related CO2 emissions. It’s not a forecast, but presents a possible outcome in what the report calls a ‘Positive Tech Scenario’.

Here are five takeaways from the report ‘Technology, the climate saviour?’.

  1. It’s no secret that technology is developing rapidly. But this, combined with sharp price declines for renewables and batteries, may lead to an overly optimistic belief that technology can provide all of the solutions to climate change. We don’t think it can.

  2. In the long term, we believe a low-carbon economy is feasible, but it takes time for technology to be implemented while the global economy continues to grow. In the Positive Tech Scenario, the climate targets for 2050 are met, but the Paris Agreement’s checkpoint for 2030 is missed.

  3. The scenario expects electrification in transport, industrials and real estate to strongly increase power demand, which is predominantly generated by renewables. As a result, energy-related emissions will fall from 33 gigatons today to 12 gigatons in 2050. Carbon capture use and storage should reduce emissions further and sooner.

  4. Our Positive Tech Scenario allows for continued economic growth, absorbs increases in the global population and aspirational middle classes and relies less on nuclear energy to meet the climate goals. However, many technologies initially require government policies to become cost competitive and achieve scale.

  5. Besides that need for government policies, a less emphasised need is to correct unintended feedback loops. For instance, while the switch to electric vehicles is expected to reduce demand for oil, this could cause the oil price to fall and spur demand from shipping and aviation. Strong policy (regulation, subsidies and most of all carbon pricing) is required to eliminate these side-effects. Policy coordination at a global level is most effective, but also most difficult to achieve.

Read the full report 'Technology, the climate saviour?’ here.

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