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IEA Graphic Shows How to Radically Reduce CO2

Credit: International Energy Agency

Worldwide, nations are going to have to slash their greenhouse gas emissions drastically to prevent average global temperatures from warming beyond the point of no return, which many scientists consider to be 2°C warmer than average temperatures just before the industrial age.

In fact, the International Energy Agency in a new report says "radical action" is needed to transform how we produce and consume energy in order to prevent the worst of global warming. 

The IEA has created a fascinating interactive graphic to help people visualize how radically carbon dioxide emissions might need to be reduced by 2050 to prevent certain degrees of global warming, and how the world’s energy supply system may need to evolve over the decades to help make that happen. The graphic doesn’t address how methane emissions, which recent studies have shown could be a growing part of oil and natural gas production, could play a role in global warming by 2050.

Already, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded last year that the world is currently on track to emit enough greenhouse gas emission to exceed 2°C of global warming by 2040. Beyond that threshold, the risks of "dangerous" ramifications of climate change escalate. 

It’s an extremely complicated three-part graphic, so let’s focus on the IEA’s thoughts on CO2 emissions reductions. Based on the new IEA report, Energy Technology Perspectives 2014, the graphic shows that the electric power sector is the globe’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions. That means that advances in renewables, carbon capture and storage technology and energy efficiency can make the biggest differences in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The graphic lays out three different 2050 global warming scenarios: 2°C warming, 4°C warming and 6°C warming. According to the IEA, the 6°C scenario is what could happen if current energy consumption trends continue without any efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas concentrations. The 4°C scenario reflects some countries’ pledges to improve energy efficiency. The 2°C scenario shows what happens when the most drastic steps to slash CO2 emissions are taken worldwide by transforming how humans produce and consume energy.

A carbon capture and storage plant in Germany.
Credit: Vattenfall/flickr

By doing nothing at all and letting current energy consumption trends continue, the IEA projects that worldwide CO2 emissions will reach 55 gigatons by 2050, up from 31 gigatons in 2010 and a projected 36 gigatons in 2015. If the most drastic emissions reductions measures were taken to cap global warming to 2°C by 2050, global CO2 emissions are projected to be only 15 gigatons that year.

The graphic shows that energy efficiency measures alone can make the biggest difference in reducing carbon, possibly contributing 38 percent of total global CO2 emissions reductions by 2050. The 55 gigatons of total emissions in the 6°C warming scenario could be reduced to 39 gigatons by 2050 by taking only energy efficiency measures. Include carbon capture and widespread use of renewables, and emissions are reduced to 21 gigatons by 2050, allowing the globe to come very close to only 2°C warming in 2050.

Carbon capture and storage projects are critical to future emissions reductions because even in a 2°C warming scenario, fossil fuel use will likely remain significant, requiring the storage of the CO2 emitted from burning those fossil fuels in order to keep global warming in check.

The IEA’s take-home message in the report and the graphic is clear: No single technology will save the planet from runaway greenhouse gas emissions. It’s going to take a lot of different energy technologies at the same time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to prevent more global warming than the globe is prepared for.

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By Aaron
on May 20th, 2014

This is the most important news for everyone in the world to read. That there were 31 gigatons emmited in 2010 and will be 5 MORE!! gigatons emitted by next year should just scare the crap out of anyone. I hate to say it, really hate to believe it, but I don’t think it’s possible to avoid 2 degrees, and it must be considered, I for one believe it, that 2 degrees is too high anyways, I mean look at how much extreme weather 1 causes, doubling that as a goal?, that’s crazy.  With right-wing party in charge in India, and China’s hyper growth and the weird nonchalance of our country’s business and government leaders approach, how is it even possible to bring CO2 back down in time? We need a miracle at this point, nothing short of a miracle will get it done.

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By Dave (Basking Ridge, NJ 07920)
on May 21st, 2014


This from the IPCC:

“Cumulative Carbon Budgets

The AR5 relates different carbon “budgets” – an accumulated amount of carbon emissions over time — to the chances of average warming exceeding 2 degrees above 1861-1880 levels. Governments have set an international goal of limiting average warming to 2 C. For the world to have a 50 percent chance of staying below 2 C of warming by 2100, the AR5 identifies a greenhouse gas emissions budget of 840Gt of carbon. More than half of that (over 531GtC) has already been emitted. At current emission rates (around 10 GtC per year), we will use up our carbon budget in just 30 years.”

[10 GtC is equivalent to 37 GtCO2; global carbon emissions in 2012 were 9.7 GtC]

Clearly, every degree rise in temperature is going to hurt. Deep global emissions cuts are desperately needed so as to mitigate the long term damage of climate change. But there is no hint of a change in global emissions trends away from the high emissions business-as-usual line and no hint of any real and suitably expansive global preparations so as to at least properly start doing that soon so as to implement for instance something like the “radical action” referenced here that would be required.

In view of this rather surreal global non-response it does seems somewhat clear that the much talked about 2C dangerous-anthropogenic-interference-level boat, although technically / mathematically still in port, has actually effectively sailed.

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By Robert Easton (Central Falls, RI 02863)
on May 20th, 2014

Perhaps I’m confused…
The lead photo for this story appears to be of some cooling towers at a nuclear plant, not unlike those in nearby Massachusetts. What does their water vapor have to do with a story on CO2 unless it is promoting nuclear power (which it doesn’t seem to). Wouldn’t some coal-burning stacks be more relevant?

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By Rachel (Germany)
on May 22nd, 2014

The picture caption reads: A carbon capture and storage plant in Germany.

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By peter mare (new westminster)
on May 28th, 2014

Building every new house with R50 walls (in concrete and insulation OUTSIDE the wall) is another way of reducing C)2 indirectly too. WHy is no one talking about that? Because hydro companies/govn’t like the revenues.

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