Chance of reaching 1.5°C global warming reduction target 'less than 1%'

Chatham House paper says current emissions remain stubbornly high

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There is a less than one per cent chance of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels if the current emission trajectory continues, a paper by Chatham House has said.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, signatories agreed to the goal of keeping global warming to well below 2°C and ideally to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The paper by Chatham House recommends that policymakers “prioritise reductions over removals” and ensure “that proven low-carbon technologies are deployed with earnest, options for demand reduction are given political priority, and green hydrogen is swiftly developed”.

It said that roughly 61 per cent of the largest emitting nations had set out net-zero pledges for the future, which are heavily reliant on carbon removal options, for example bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (Beccs).

It comes just weeks before the start of the crucial Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow.

“Beccs refers to any technology that utilises bioenergy to produce energy, while also capturing and storing the majority of the CO₂ emissions,” said Chatham House.

“Bioenergy could take the form of woody biomass [whole trees and forest wastes, such as thinnings] or dedicated bio-crops such as switchgrass, and agricultural wastes and residues. The produced energy can take the form of electricity, hydrogen or biofuels.”

But there are concerns that first generation Beccs-to-power plants may not be as efficient as hoped and will need significant scaling.

The report by Chatham House’s Daniel Quiggin also highlights that carbon dioxide emissions remain “stubbornly high”, while “the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns have had little impact on long-term emission reductions”.

“Beccs has the potential to generate power and remove CO2 from the atmosphere, but the technology is largely unproven at commercial scale and there are significant risks, including impacts on land use and food production as well as additional emissions along wood pellet supply chains,” the report states.

“While Beccs may have a valuable role in minimising the impacts of climate change, real world applications suggest that its carbon capture efficiency may be less than the 90 per cent capture rate planned for in climate models.

“There is a clear need for policy action that not only minimises the inherent risks of Beccs under delivering on negative emissions, especially as the technology is used more widely, but also reduces our reliance on Beccs to mitigate climate change.”

The Chatham House report warns that, in a worst-case scenario, excessive reliance on Beccs or poorly implementing its use could damage emission reduction efforts.

“Legislators should consider separating net zero targets into reductions and removals, with an appropriate split that represents the current ambiguities in Beccs performance.

“Overtime, a regular review cycle could expand the role of removals as Beccs performance moves from being masked behind commercial confidentiality to meeting key performance indicators,” it adds.

Updated: October 08, 2021, 1:59 PM