In today's landscape, the concept of climate change and its impacts dominates our discussions and experiences. From conversations about record-breaking summer temperatures to the alarming surge in extreme climate events, it's evident that climate change has become an undeniable part of our lives. Yet, amongst these discussions, ask yourself -have you ever engaged in a positive dialogue about climate change? This isn't about downplaying the severity of the world's most pressing challenge; instead, I aim to invite a shift in our focus. While discussions often evoke feelings of helplessness, the realm of climate science offers concrete solutions. It's time to pivot from paralysis to action, as scientists have already charted a course forward. Shall we deep dive?
Limiting global warming to 1.5°C degrees
Climate scientists caution that without significant global efforts to halt rising temperatures, there's a risk of more frequent and severe extreme weather events. To prevent further irreversible effects of climate change, it's crucial to cap the world's average temperature increase at 1.5°C degrees Celsius compared to preindustrial levels.
In 2015, in response to the growing urgency of climate impacts, nearly every country in the world signed onto the Paris Agreement, a landmark international treaty under which 195 nations pledged to “limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” The treaty did not specify a precise pre-industrial period, but typically, scientists refer to the timeframe between 1850 and 1900. This era predates human reliance on fossil fuels and marks the earliest period with comprehensive global observations of land and sea temperatures.
Are we on track with the 1.5°C goal according to targets?
At the present rate, global temperatures would reach 1.5°C around 2030. Unfortunately, the latest updates aren't promising. According to this year's analysis from the World Resources Institute, out of the 42 indicators tracking progress, only one -sales of electric cars- is projected to meet its 2030 target. Several goals, concerning hydrogen production, reforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, energy grid decarbonisation and carbon removals, are moving in the right direction but are off-track. Six indicators, regarding food production loss and public financing for fossil fuels, are heading completely in the wrong direction, while five lack sufficient data for assessment.
What can we do to achieve 1.5°C until 2030?
While the outcomes might not meet expectations, there is still room for action. Viable, impactful, and cost-effective solutions for both mitigation and adaptation already exist, tailored to diverse systems and regions. As stated in the Paris Agreement, in order to keep global warming to no more than 1.5°C, emissions need to be reduced by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. In pursuit of this objective, the EU introduced a comprehensive, long-term vision outlining the path toward a climate-neutral economy, serving as a solutions roadmap for individuals, businesses, and the government. This roadmap integrates diverse strategies, spanning energy efficiency, renewables, decarbonization, clean mobility, circular economy, smart networks, bio-economy, and carbon capture and storage.
Prioritise Energy Efficiency including zero emission buildings.
Energy efficiency is pivotal for decarbonising industrial processes, with a significant reduction in energy demand expected particularly in buildings, currently accountable for 40% of energy consumption. Achieving this necessitates increased renovation rates, widespread adoption of renewable heating in homes, utilisation of the most efficient products and appliances, implementation of smart building and appliance management systems, and advancements in insulation materials. Sustainable renewable heating and the potential use of gas, such as liquefied natural gas mixed with hydrogen, will play key roles in both existing buildings and various industrial applications.
Harness renewables and the use of electricity to fully decarbonise energy supply.
Today, the energy system relies heavily on fossil fuels. However, all projections indicate a drastic shift by mid-century, marked by widespread electrification coming from renewable energy deployment. This clean energy transition promises an energy system where energy supply is predominantly sourced from renewables, enhancing supply security and promoting domestic employment. Europe's current energy import dependence, notably in oil and gas (approximately 55%), is projected to decrease to 20% by 2050. Global adoption of renewable energy has substantially reduced costs over the past decade, particularly in solar, onshore, and offshore wind. The forecast for 2050 envisions over 80% of electricity originating from renewable sources, supported by a nuclear power share of approximately 15%, forming the foundation of a carbon-free European power system. On top of that, untapped sources like ocean energy present additional opportunities. This shift towards renewable electricity also serves as a key avenue for decarbonising sectors like heating, transport, and industry. This can be achieved through direct electricity use or, when direct application is unfeasible, through electrolysis-produced e-fuels like e-hydrogen or sustainable bio-energy. This transition offers not only environmental benefits but also a unique business opportunity for the EU, currently home to six of the world's top 25 renewable energy companies, employing nearly 1.5 million people out of 10 million globally.
Embrace environmentally friendly, secure and well-connected mobility.
Low and zero emission technologies, including highly efficient electric vehicles powertrains, sustainable batteries, and autonomous driving, form the primary strategy for decarbonising road transport, offering broad benefits like clean air, reduced noise, and safer traffic. However, relying solely on renewable electrification is not a universal solution for all transport modes due to limitations in battery technology, particularly for aviation and long-distance shipping. Until new technologies emerge, alternative fuels like biofuels and potentially hydrogen-based solutions will be crucial, while liquefied natural gas with high blends of bio-methane could still be a short-term alternative. A more efficient organisation of the entire mobility system, driven by digitalization, data sharing, and interoperable standards, is essential for cleaner mobility. This includes smart traffic management, automated mobility, and improved regional infrastructure for enhanced public transport utilisation. With 75% of our population living in urban areas, urban planning, safe cycling paths, clean local public transport, and emerging delivery technologies such as drones will transform city mobility. Behavioural changes and the adoption of car and bike sharing services will further drive this evolution. For long-distance travel, advancements in digital technologies and video conferencing may reduce the demand for certain purposes like business travel. Future investments should prioritize low-pollution modes and encourage synergies between transport, digital, and electricity networks. Implementing systems like the European Railway Traffic Management System can make high-speed train connections a viable alternative to aviation for short and medium-distance travel within the EU.
Position circular economy as a key enabler to cut down on CO2 emissions.
With the increasing demand for materials, primary raw materials will persist in meeting a substantial portion of this demand, particularly in the preference for climate-friendly products and services. However, material input reduction via reuse and recycling will enhance competitiveness and job creation, while reducing energy consumption, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. Particularly crucial is the recovery and recycling of raw materials in sectors reliant on critical materials like cobalt, rare earths, or graphite, concentrated outside Europe. New materials, including rediscovered traditional uses like wood in construction and innovative composites, will also play a pivotal role. The journey towards greenhouse gas emissions-free operations often involves substantial modernization or complete replacement of existing installations. Short-term strategies such as digitalization and automation offer promising avenues for increased competitiveness, efficiency gains, and greenhouse gas reductions. Combining electrification, hydrogen, biomass, and renewable synthetic gas can effectively cut energy-related emissions in industrial goods production, mirroring trends in other sectors. Major industrial emissions stem from steel, cement, and chemicals. Over the next 10 to 15 years, proven technologies, including hydrogen-based primary steel production, must demonstrate scalability, with some already undergoing small-scale testing e.g. hydrogen-based primary steel production. Research, development, and demonstration efforts will significantly drive down costs of breakthrough technologies, ushering in new products that replace existing ones, like carbon fiber or stronger cements, optimizing production volumes and increasing product value.
Establish a sufficient smart network infrastructure with seamless interconnections.
A net-zero greenhouse gas emissions economy will be achieved only with an adequate and smart infrastructure ensuring optimal cross-border interconnection and sectoral integration across Europe. There needs to be further focus on the timely completion of the Trans-European Transport and Energy Networks. As a minimum, there should be sufficient infrastructure to support the major developments framing the energy transmission and distribution landscape of tomorrow: smart electricity and data/information grids, and where needed, hydrogen pipelines, supported by digitalisation and further sector integration, starting with the modernisation of Europe’s main industrial clusters in the coming years. Transitions in the transport sector will require accelerated deployment of relevant infrastructure, increased synergy between transport and energy systems with smart charging or refuelling stations that enable seamless, cross-border services. For existing infrastructure and assets, retrofitting can ensure their continuous use, fully or partly.
Seize the full benefits of bio-economy and create essential carbon sinks.
In a world with a 30% higher population in 2050, and with a changing climate, agriculture and forestry face the challenge of providing ample food, feed, fibers, and support for the energy, industrial, and construction sectors. Sustainable biomass plays a crucial and multifaceted role, supplying heat, transforming into biofuels and biogas, and substituting natural gas when cleaned and transported through the gas grid. It also serves as a substitute for carbon-intensive materials, especially in construction. However, the transition must carefully consider the efficient and sustainable use of scarce land and natural resources to ensure the preservation of our natural sink. Efforts to reduce non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural production by 2050 are achievable through digitalisation and smart technologies, facilitating precision farming and agriculture. Better farming systems, including agroforestry techniques, enhance soil carbon, biodiversity, and climate change resilience. Afforestation and restoration of degraded lands can boost CO2 absorption, benefiting biodiversity, soils, water resources, and increasing biomass availability over time.
Address remaining greenhouse gas emissions through carbon capture and storage.
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) remains essential, particularly in energy-intensive industries and, during the transitional phase, for producing carbon-free hydrogen. Alongside the land use sink, CCS can offset residual greenhouse gas emissions. Given the persistence of fossil fuel technologies, with plants built today likely operating in 2050, widespread implementation of carbon removal technologies enhances the credibility of long-term sustainability strategies. Significant deployment of CCS in the next decade requires a considerable boost in research, innovation, and demonstration initiatives, along with the development of new infrastructure, including transport and storage networks.
Should we risk to discover what the future holds?
In a Science journal report, scientists highlighted irreversible planetary "tipping points." These include scenarios like the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, potentially causing a significant 7-meter rise in sea levels, and the release of methane from melting permafrost, accelerating heat. These could profoundly impact life on Earth, triggering extreme weather, rising seas, and compromising food and water security, as cautioned by experts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
As we wrap up our journey through the basics of climate science, we see the big picture more clearly. If we are to overcome the climate crisis, we need to change how we live, travel, and consume, in the next few years. It's a challenge for everyone, and each of us has a role to play.
Understanding the science helps us make better choices. With the right data, we can act wisely and make a real difference. The success of our mission depends on all of us working together.
This is our moment. What we do now shapes the future. As we move forward, we're all part of this story, writing each chapter together. Let's make it a story of hope, action, and a healthier planet for everyone.