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New report has terrific news for the climate

Posted on 18 October 2023 by dana1981

This is a re-post from Yale Climate Connections

On the climate crisis, there’s good news and bad news.

That’s according to the latest report from the International Energy Agency, or IEA, taking stock of humanity’s progress in addressing the problem. Since the 2015 Paris agreement, governments have made substantial progress in curbing their climate pollution, the report says. The deployment of clean technologies is fast accelerating, and global temperatures are on a less dangerous path than they were a decade ago

Yet that progress will need to accelerate faster to meet the targets set in the Paris agreement to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and preferably to no more than 1.5°C (2.7°F) above preindustrial temperatures. Achieving the more ambitious latter goal will require the world to reach net zero emissions by around 2050.

The new report provides a clear picture of where recent progress has been sufficient, where it’s falling short, and what it will take to get on track to achieve net zero global climate pollution by 2050.

The good news

Before the Paris agreement, humanity was on track to cause a potentially catastrophic 3.5°C (6.3°F) global warming by the year 2100. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, among other major consequences, this level of global warming would put 40% to 70% of species around the world at risk of extinction. Less than a decade later, the climate policies passed by countries around the world have put us on a path for about 2.5°C (4.5°F) warming by 2100. It’s not yet enough to meet the Paris targets, and up to 30% of global species would still face extinction risks at this level of warming, but it’s a substantial improvement from our pre-Paris path

The report forecasts that the world is on track to avert the production of 7.5 billion tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide between 2015 and 2030 compared to the pre-Paris business-as-usual scenario. Solar panels account for 40% of that reduction. Wind turbines are expected to be responsible for the next-biggest chunk at 27%, and electric vehicles for a further 13%.

chart of global energy sector CO2 emissions in the pre-Paris baseline scenario and STEPS, 2015-2030, showing emissions cuts resulting from wind, solar, and EVsContributors to reduced global climate pollution by 2030 in the Stated Policies Scenario (STEPS) before the Paris agreement and based on current international climate policies. Source: 2023 IEA Net Zero Roadmap.

In fact, between 2015 and 2023 the number of solar panels built around the world increased by more than 400%, electric car sales increased by nearly 2,000%, residential heat pump sales increased by 225%, and battery storage capacity additions increased by 2,500%.

Of all the solar panels installed in the history of human civilization, close to one-third were deployed in just the past two years. Similarly, about 60% of all electric car sales and 60% of energy storage battery installations — ever — occurred in the same period. These technologies are key to achieving net zero climate pollution by 2050.

chart showing global installations of selected clean energy technologies, 2010-2022Exponential growth in the deployment of solar panels, electric cars, residential heat pumps, and battery storage. Source: 2023 IEA Net Zero Roadmap.

To get on track for a net zero 2050 path, the International Energy Agency estimated that the number of solar panels installed around the world must be about five times larger in 2030 than it is today, and electric vehicles will need to account for more than 65% of new global car sales that year, up from around 16% today. Though those numbers sound daunting, the agency reported that “The announced manufacturing pipeline for solar PV and batteries is projected to be sufficient to meet the [net zero] Scenario deployment needs to 2030.”

And the report also noted that several key fossil fuel technologies are already on their way out: “Fossil fuel-based electricity capacity additions peaked in 2012 and declined to less than half their peak level by 2022, while sales of [internal combustion engine] vehicles peaked in 2017 with a 25% decline from this peak by 2022.”

As a result, the International Energy Agency forecasts that global climate pollution will peak by the mid-2020s. That’s consistent with a new analysis from clean energy think tank Ember, which found that global power sector climate pollution rose by just 0.2% in the first half of 2023, suggesting that the “world is teetering at the peak of power sector emissions.”

The United States has been making progress thanks in large part to the recent passage of laws like the Inflation Reduction Act. As a result, though the U.S. was on track to see a 12% increase in its climate pollution from 2022 to 2030 before the Paris agreement, the country is now headed toward a 23% reduction over that period. Nearly half of that reduced pollution will be due to the deployment of solar panels and wind turbines.

chart of energy sector CO2 emissions in the United States in the pre-Paris baseline scenario and steps, 2030, showing reductions from solar, wind, coal-to-gas switching, electricity demand, transportation, and buildingsContributors to reduced climate pollution in the United States by 2030 in the Stated Policies Scenario (STEPS) before the Paris agreement and based on current climate policies. Source: 2023 IEA Net Zero Roadmap.

The bad news

Though solar panel installations and electric car sales are on track for what’s needed to meet a net zero pathway, some other technologies are not. Wind turbine manufacturing has struggled with supply chain disruptions and higher costs stemming from the COVID pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Sales of electric heat pumps — which efficiently warm and cool buildings — are growing rapidly in the European Union but too slowly in other countries like the United States. Oil and gas companies need to cut the methane leakage from their operations by 75% by 2030, much of which could be done with net cost savings as the companies would then sell the captured methane, but so far the industry has been slow to plug those leaks.

Countries also need to build electrical transmission lines much more quickly to allow new solar and wind power to connect to the grid, with the International Energy Agency calling permitting “a particularly time-consuming bottleneck.” Manufacturing all of these clean technologies will also require substantial amounts of critical minerals like copper, lithium, cobalt, and nickel, but so far the anticipated supply of these minerals by 2030 is short of what’s needed to meet a net zero pathway.

Production from existing and announced extraction projects for key critical minerals relative to net zero emissions scenario requirements in 2030; anticipated supply from the current pipeline of announced projects for key critical minerals would provide at least 65% of 2030's net zero emissions scenario requirementsCurrent production and anticipated 2030 supply of four critical minerals, compared to what’s needed for a net zero emissions (NZE) scenario. Source: 2023 IEA Net Zero Roadmap.

Countries will need to pass more policies to accelerate the clean energy transition. In the International Energy Agency’s net zero scenario, “All regions introduce pricing of CO2 emissions alongside other policies designed to bring about clean energy transitions. … Carbon pricing is implemented first in advanced economies.” But though some developed countries like those in Europe and Canada have implemented robust climate pollution pricing systems, others like the United States and Australia have not yet followed suit.

The net zero scenario also requires the early retirement of some existing fossil fuel infrastructure. The report concluded that globally, planned investments in fossil fuels between 2023 and 2035 are $3.6 trillion higher than in its net zero scenario.

Time is running short

The report also considered a delayed action scenario in which global emissions don’t reach net zero until the mid-2060s. In that scenario, we then later decide to remove carbon from the atmosphere to reduce global warming from the resulting 1.7°C (3.1°F) back down to 1.5°C (2.7°F) above preindustrial temperatures.

The International Energy Agency warns that this scenario would come with greater risks of irreversible changes to ecosystems and other climate damages. What’s more, removing carbon pollution from the atmosphere is far more expensive than preventing its release in the first place. As a result, the agency concluded that this scenario would cost the world $1.3 trillion more per year than one in which the extra emissions are avoided.

In short, in order to avoid the increased risks that come with additional global warming and associated climate changes, the agency finds that maximal action is necessary today to accelerate the transition to clean energy solutions. Any delay will lock in fossil fuel infrastructure that must be retired early as stranded assets, immense costs from future atmospheric carbon removals, and/or the dangerous levels of global warming that will result from missing the Paris targets.

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Comments 1 to 10:

  1.  According to this article, the most common lithium ion batteries now will be replaced by lithium iron phosphate batteries (LFP) in the near future. Major car manufacturers are making the switch already. So, no cobalt, manganese or nickel, making them cheaper, while having less environmenal impact, and almost impossible to catch fire.

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    [RH] Activated link

  2. sailrick, you might be interested in this Video

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  3. When is the good news expected to be visible as some change in the still accelerating CO2 fraction in the atmosphere?

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  4. Fred Torssander @3,

    That's not so easy to fathom.

    You presumably** ask about atmospheric CO2 levels.
    They should theoretically begin to stop increasing at an accelerating rate when we stop pumping CO2 into the air at increasing rates. So far, our emissions are leveling off but not yet levelled off.
    And if we could actually begin to drop the rate of emissions (and we need to do this quickly), the rate of increase in atmospheric CO2 levels would begin to slow and helpfully they would level off roughly when we have halved emissions***.
    So a long way to go, theoretically.

    As for when we should see the good news, the increase in annual CO2 levels is impacted by El Niño (which changes many rainfall patterns across the globe and wobbles annual CO2 increases by some +/-0.5ppm). These resulting wobbles seen in the CO2 increase make it difficult to be precise as to the actual state-of-play. So we can see that the decadal increases**** since 1960 have been accelerating strongly (+0.9ppm/y, +1.2ppm/y, +1.6ppm/y, +1.5ppm/y, +1.9ppm/y, +2.4ppm/y) but being more precise is difficult. While the beginning of the present decade 2020-22 does show the lowest 3-year average increase (+2.2ppm/y) since 2012-14 and Covid would have not made a big change to that, the strong La Niña impacting 2020-22 will have made a big difference.

    (** The word "fraction" is not so useful here as its usual use is in the 'Airborne Fraction' which is the ratio of [increase-in-atmospheric-burden] to [the-emissions]. It takes 2.16Gt(C) to raise atmspheric CO2 by 1ppm. So our emissions of ~10ppm would have seen atmospheric levels rise by +4.6ppm if Af=100% & all the emissions remained in the atmosphere.)
    (*** The 'Airborne Fraction' is running at about 50% but this is not all because of a single year's emissions. Only a few percent would be due to the immediate annual emissions. The 50% is the sum of the decreasing 'few percents' from years running back many decades.)
    (**** The 'trend' numbers given by NOAA on their 'trend'page are a bit odd as they compare only the months at the start/end of the years, not the whole 12 months which I use in this comment. The NOAA method actually adds a bit more wobbliness to their numbers.)


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  5. MA Roger @4; 
    Thanks for your answer. 

    a) My use of the word fraction was not meant to create misunderstanding. I ought to have used part or ppm instead. Sorry.
    1.) The still accelerating growth of the CO2 part of the atmosphere can have several types explainations - I think. i) First of all (Occhams razor) itt might be that the growth is actually accelerating, and the measurements of emissions of GHG are wrong or falsified. There is still very big money being invested in further expanded use of fossil fuels. ii) Then comes  non-antropogenic generation, which varies with the activity of volcanoes and the weather, like El Niño that you mention. iii) Then there is the different effects of growing CO2 part of the atmosphere and of rising temperature. Like for example melting ice-lids on gas kettles. Some containing methane.

    There seems to be an adequate amount of scientific work on the non-antropogenic and maby also on the iii) category. But how much is done on the question of mistaken or falsified measurements of the emissions?

    The temperature anomaly could be verified by scientific use of a common houshold thermometer. At least in populated areas.
    Maby that makes temperature the only useful and reliable measure? In that case mabe good news using other measures should comment on the discrepancies between those and the rising of the temperature?

    [Berkeley Earth story link]

    Fred Torssander

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  6. Fred Torssander @5

    "The still accelerating growth of the CO2 part of the atmosphere can have several types explainations - I think. i) First of all (Occhams razor) itt might be that the growth is actually accelerating, and the measurements of emissions of GHG are wrong or falsified. There is still very big money being invested in further expanded use of fossil fuels. "

    There is good evidence measurements of humanities total yearly CO2 emissions under report emissions by as much as 23% (much of this is agricultural related emissions) as below:

    But this has probably been a roughly consistent under reporting over time. We are interested in rates of change and trends. I think its likely that emissions growth is starting to level off. Coal use has started to level off, and the world is definitely building significant solar and wind power and this sort of thing can be independently verified.

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  7. nigelj @5

    It's great - in a way - to have my suspicions and my amateurish comparisions between reported emissions of GHG and measured atmospheric CO2 confirmed by Washington Post no less! But the problem is still there. Variations in atmospheric CO2, when and if such changes appear, will be hard or even impossible to claim this as an effect of human political (democratic?!) activity. So how can we build an informed opinion on claims that "governments have made substantial progress in curbing their climate pollution" and even that "global temperatures are on a less dangerous path than they were a decade ago" which can't be seen, at least I can't see it in the temperature data? Or in the CO2 data.
    Even in the case that the figures and charts showing temperature confirmed the good news, they would have a margin of error +23%, -0%(!) depending on what the reporting parties (states/nations) pleases.
    And worse. The emissions of type iii in my first comment, will be compleatly hidden!
    Lastly: More power produced by "significant solar and wind power" does not neccesarily result in less power produced by burning fossil fuels.Remember Jevons Paradox!

    Fred Torssander

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  8. Fred Torssander @5

    "It's great - in a way - to have my suspicions and my amateurish comparisions between reported emissions of GHG and measured atmospheric CO2 confirmed by Washington Post no less!"

    Yes although I think we all had those suspicions. However IMO while the under measurement of emissions is very concerning, for our purposes it isn't the big issue, because its been reasonably constant going well back. As I stated the big issue is the trend in emissions whether increasing or declining over time, and that trend is likely to be roughly accurate and the growth in emissions looks like it is nearing a plateau from data I've seen.

    "Variations in atmospheric CO2, when and if such changes appear, will be hard or even impossible to claim this as an effect of human political (democratic?!) activity. "

    Not really. Fistly atmopsheric CO2 levels have been increasing reasonably steadily except that the trend includes a lot of short term wiggles up and down, but those wiggles only last a year or two. They are a result of such things as the yearly seasonal growth cycle, el nino, and the occasional volcanic activity. But these all have very short term effects and known causes.

    Once we see something like a change in this atmospheric CO2 trend that lasts at least ten years we could be pretty confident its because of reducing human emissions. It's very difficult to see what else it could be, because no natural cause of emissions is likely to cause a ten year effect on the trend. And if it did it would have to be massive, unprecedented volcanic /  geothermal activity of some sort and we would certainly notice that.

    "Even in the case that the figures and charts showing temperature confirmed the good news, they would have a margin of error +23%, -0%(!) depending on what the reporting parties (states/nations) pleases."

    Temperatures will not be 100% accurately measured, but I doubt temperatures would be that innacurate as 23% out. Where did you get the number?

    However I would say atmospheric CO2 levels would be a bit more accurate than temperatures (or emissions trends)  and would be the most compelling  proof we have made a difference provided we see a decent 5 - 10 year difference in the trend.  CO2 levels are quite accurately measured.

    "And worse. The emissions of type iii in my first comment, will be compleatly hidden!"

    You mentioned el nino and volcanoes. But el nino is not hidden. It is a well known cycle and we know approximately what effect it has on CO2 emissions and its a very short term effect of a couple of years. El nino does not explain long term (greater than five years) trends in CO2 levels.

    And volcanic activity is not hidden. Scientists monitor this activity. Unless there is a massive krakatoa sized eruption it is not a significant generator of CO2. Its more significant related to aerosols.

    "Lastly: More power produced by "significant solar and wind power" does not neccesarily result in less power produced by burning fossil fuels.Remember Jevons Paradox!"

    Jevons paradox says (roughly) that making energy use more efficient does not decrease total energy use, and this has proven to be true, unless you actively fight against the paradox. Germany has had some moderate success making energy use more efficient and also decreasing total energy use, but its required some tight government lead incentives and programmes. And Germany is very disciplined as a people, so other countries might struggle to emulate their modest success.

    Regarding the wind and solar power issue, I'm not sure its strictly a Jevons paradox issue because we are not trying to achieve more efficent energy use "per se". We are substituting renewables for fossil fuels. So far those efforts have only stopped the growth in fossil fuels, but as wind and solar power uptake improves in scale,  fossil fuel use will fall in absolute terms and has already done in some places. For example, Paraguay, Iceland, Sweden, and Uruguay and France get something like 90% of their electricity from low carbon sources.

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  9. Fred Torssander,

    In addition to the helpful responses by MA Rogers and nigelj, I offer another perspective regarding the question you ask @3:

    How can we know that government action, external governing of the socioeconomic-political marketplace rather than simply allowing marketplace game players the freedom to believe and do whatever they want, has resulted in reduced harm?

    This can be particularly challenging if pursuers of benefit from harmful actions deliberately develop and disseminate disinformation and misinformation.

    How much less harmful are things today, or will things be in the future, due to policy actions? A more important question not asked by people asking that question is: How much more harmful are things due to a lack of development and implementation of effective harm reduction actions – especially the lack of effective limitations on the ‘freedom to benefit from developing and disseminating disinformation and misinformation’?”

    A good example of this problem is NPR’s recent, well researched and presented (and long and detailed), reporting (in parallel with efforts by the  regarding the efforts to cast doubt on the science regarding harm done by gas stoves “How gas utilities used tobacco tactics to avoid gas stove regulations”.

    Essentially, the understanding is that "...industry-backed reports confused consumers and muddied the science that regulators relied on about the potential dangers of cooking with gas, according to an investigation by NPR and documents uncovered in a new report from the Climate Investigations Center (CIC), a research and watchdog group." And that can happen regarding climate change impact reduction efforts.

    The section of the NPR reporting “How Gas Utilities followed the tobacco strategy” presents ways that science can be harmfully biased by the pursuit of money (the American Gas Association – AGA – referred to its pursuit of popular support for gas use in homes as “Operation Attack”). As mentioned in the article “the AGA was hiring researchers who previously accepted research funding from tobacco companies”.

    A particularly enlightening part of the NPR article is

    “Ralph Mitchell of Battelle Laboratories conducted work for the tobacco industry and had sought funding for research from Philip Morris in 1964 and the Cigar Research Council in 1972. Mitchell and colleagues at Battelle and the Ohio State University reexamined earlier studies that concluded there were health problems linked to use of gas stoves. Using an alternative, and in some cases controversial, analysis technique, Mitchell's team found "no significant difference in reported respiratory illness between the members of households cooking with gas and those cooking with electricity."

    None of the authors of the 1974 Battelle paper are alive today to answer questions about their work.

    "The research in question occurred nearly 50 years ago, and it would be inappropriate to speculate on the researchers' methods or conclusions," said Benjamin Johnson, spokesman for Ohio State, in an email to NPR. A Battelle spokesman offered a similar statement and wrote that the organization "conducts research that conforms to the strictest standards of integrity."”

    It is challenging to ‘conclusively prove the harm reduction of a policy action’. The only ‘certain way to eliminate doubt about the benefits of harm reduction actions’ is to have a parallel planet where the only difference is the action in question with monitoring for a long enough period of time to be highly confident of the ‘measurable differences’. Without that ‘impossible proof’ any suggested harm reduction action is open to the ‘raising of doubt about its merits’. Of course, there is also an inability to be certain about the benefits of actions that are potentially harmful ... but the potential perception of personal benefit can tragically over-power the ability to learn to be less harmful and more helpful.

    An obvious problem is the ways that disinformation and misinformation efforts can unjustifiably raise questions about the effectiveness of ‘likely very effective harm reduction actions’, especially when ‘perceived benefits’ have to be given up to reduce the damage being done, or when being less harmful requires more effort or is more expensive.

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  10. I have an important concern about the examples presented in the NPR article “How gas utilities used tobacco tactics to avoid gas stove regulations” I refer to in my comment @9 regarding the way that ‘conservative’ has been used by some scientists regarding evaluations of risk of harm.

    As an engineer my learned conservative concern is to severely limit the potential for harmful results. An opposite use of ‘conservative’ appears to be abused as justification for higher risk of harmful outcomes. Tragically, trending to be more harmful, fighting against developing evidence of harm or potential harm, seems to align with what some ‘political interests’ want to claim is conservative – maintaining, excusing and defending the status quo - avoid harming/restricting developed popular or profitable activities that are potentially, or actually, harmful.

    Many portions of the NPR article present versions of this twist of political influence on science.

    A specific (lengthy) quote is the entire section headed Identifying uncertainty and highlighting it: (I bolded the secific words in the quote, but the rest of the quote contains presentations of thinking that are also contrary to 'conservative meaning limiting harm', especially contrary when limiting harm requires 'change')

    Another strategy deployed by the gas industry focused on uncertainties in the emerging body of indoor air research and amplified them. Uncertainty and questions are part of research, but giving them disproportionate emphasis makes the science seem shakier than it is.

    The Gas Research Institute, which funded research for the gas industry, hired the firm Arthur D. Little to produce this kind of material. Arthur D. Little had a history of conducting similar work for the tobacco industry. A 1981 paper completed by Arthur D. Little surveyed available research on the health effects of gas stoves but focused on questions the research did not answer and found the epidemiological data was "incomplete and conflicting."

    The company says it doesn't have access to records for this project, conducted more than 40 years ago. "We have no reason to believe that the GRI report wasn't conducted with the same high standards of rigor and objectivity with which Arthur D. Little approaches all client engagements," Etienne Brumauld des Houlières, global marketing and communications director, wrote in an email.

    The industry also favored reputable scientists who were considered scientifically conservative, for generally wanting to see a larger body of evidence than their peers before reaching conclusions.

    Among them is Dr. Jonathan Samet, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health, who has a long history as an epidemiologist and researcher. A 1995 review produced by tobacco company Philip Morris concluded that his reputation "as an authority in pulmonary medicine and epidemiology" was "probably due at least in part to his scientific conservatism."

    Samet's 1993 study of infants living in Albuquerque, N.M., homes found no connection between respiratory illness and the presence of a gas stove. It was funded by the Health Effects Institute, which received funding from a wide variety of sources, including the gas industry.

    Samet says he never did research for the tobacco industry and that it set "a high water mark for egregious behavior and discrediting science." He does not see that same behavior when it comes to the gas industry and health effects of cooking with gas.

    "Over my career, there are people who felt that I waited too long before perhaps saying that X causes Y. But that's because I don't think we want to have false positive determinations," Samet told NPR. Scientists say accomplishing that in epidemiology can be tricky because often there are multiple factors present that could be causing a health problem.

    When it comes to assessing science that will inform new policies, Samet says it's rare that one study is enough to reach a conclusion. "I've been involved in enough of the development of authoritative reports in different contexts to take the view that the right way to understand what the science shows is to put it all together," Samet says. "And sometimes, unfortunately, the answer is that we don't have enough. So if that's conservative, that's fine."

    As evidence around the health effects of gas stove use has accumulated, Samet's views are changing. "If I had a child who might be particularly susceptible because of asthma, for example, then I would probably think carefully about what I could do to make my home safer and a gas stove would be on that checklist," Samet says.

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