Why the entire world is progressing towards decarbonization

With all the scientific evidence amassed over time, the world is reaching an inflection point. Globally, carbon dioxide levels have risen approximately 20 ppm per decade since 2000, which is ten times faster than the sustained CO2 rise during the prior 800,000 years. The need for action was universally acknowledged with the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015. This was a multi-nation commitment to slow the rise in global temperature to less than 2°C and to establish a methodology to keep it from growing again. Measured relative to the “pre-industrial period”, the temperature reached a 1°C change by 2017, with an additional half degree projected to occur within less than 25 years. Up until the Paris Agreement, there did not seem to be widespread recognition of the problem, or at least there was no palpable urgency. With the encouraging framework of this agreement, there is now a real drive towards true decarbonization.

Decarbonization is a word that encompasses all pathways towards reducing carbon emissions. This can be through the electrification of the transportation sector, replacing fossil fuel powered vehicles with electric vehicles. Another way to reduce fossil fuel dependence is to utilize renewable resources within the power sector. This involves implementing wind power, solar power, and biomass. The benefits of these renewable sources can be amplified using energy storage. On a smaller scale, efficiency improvement in equipment design, manufacturing processes, and building insulation and structure have enhanced proficiency and optimized the use of fossil fuels. Together, all of these steps are critical to slow the effects of these greenhouse gases on the global temperature.

With the adoption of the Paris Agreement, there was also the decision to have the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assess the current state of the world, coming to a consensus on what is known and what requires more research. The IPCC is a group created by the United Nations to assess the science behind global warming. In 2018, the IPCC released a report compiled by 91 diverse contributors, representing 40 different countries and the scientific community. The goal was to provide countries, and more specifically policymakers, with the necessary knowledge and guidance to make informed decisions on paths forward. The report by the IPCC presented the urgency for decarbonization efforts. The global temperature, measured relative to the “pre-industrial period”, has reached a 1°C change by 2017, with an additional half degree expected to occur within less than 25 years. Even with immediate intervention, the global temperature is expected to reach a 1,5°C change before the mitigation efforts are perceivable. Therefore, the IPCC report explored what can be expected at 1,5°C and what are the risks if the temperature goes beyond that. Since each part of the world will have a different experience with climate change, there was a thorough analysis of different regions and what could be expected on multiple fronts.

Issues predicted in the report, that we will face even if the Paris Agreement goals are achieved, include the potential effects of a 1,5°C temperature change. With this temperature change we can expect the seasonal mean temperatures to increase by a few degrees. This may not seem like a big deal, but this could lead to drastic changes in ecosystems and in precipitation rates. We will see areas that will face more drought and others more susceptible to flooding. There will be changes to the natural habitat of multiple species with changing freshwater availability and altered climate for plant viability. There was also an interesting analysis on extreme poverty situations worldwide. Variations in climate can affect food availability, and quality, as well as the access and distribution of food. These are all side effects of the temperature changing crop yield and water quality, which also affect livestock availability and fishery output. Shortages of these items lead to higher costs. That is just scratching the surface of the many variables at play. The predictions of life if the temperature change were to exceed 1,5°C change were dire.

The framework of the Paris Agreement shows that there is commitment to decarbonization, but it is only a start. There will be a need for more strategic policy and infrastructure investment. Just as multiple nations came together to acknowledge that this problem is critical to address now, global citizens are realizing that they can be a part of the effort. One of the easiest ways to be a part of the solution is to increase the energy efficiency within your portion of the world. One approach is to pursue renewable energy integration into homes and businesses. This will not only help each home and business on an individual level by harnessing the power of an abundant resource for clean energy and costs savings, but this also contributes to stress reduction for the grid. At the industrial level, renewable integration will be one step towards decarbonization, but there will also be a pursuit of higher efficiency processes and equipment with low-to-no carbon emissions. Accepting our inevitable life at the global temperature change of 1,5°C will require some lifestyle changes for many. However, we are in the middle of a technological revolution that is needed to reach decarbonization so hopefully we can keep it going strong.