Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time, and achieving global net zero emissions by 2050 is critical if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. However, two key questions remain: is the 2050 target achievable, and is it enough?
The Paris Agreement set a global goal of net zero emissions by mid-century, but current emissions trajectories have us on a course for an average 2-3 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century, which is too high to avoid substantial negative consequences. The rate at which we reduce our emissions towards zero in the short term will significantly impact the amount of warming that occurs in the long term. The slower and more delayed the trajectory to net zero, the greater the risk that we experience these upper-end temperature extremes, or worse.
If we want to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need to halve our emissions in this decade (and halve again every decade after that) to be on track. Timing is crucial, as we have already used up over 85% of our carbon budget. When I was born, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 320 parts per million; now, it is 420 parts per million. If we continue at the current rate and go above 450 parts per million, we will exceed the 1.5C threshold. The window of opportunity to avert serious danger is closing rapidly, with under 10 years left at current emissions rates before we exceed our carbon budget.
If we do not act immediately and significantly reduce emissions, we will have missed our opportunity for a better, safer world. It all comes down to whether we can achieve the rate of adoption of technology, policy support, and behavioural changes needed. If we continue to delay action, we just push out the problem, making it less and less likely that we will achieve net zero within a safe timeframe. The key is for all countries to set and then deliver on more ambitious targets. In particular, this means developed countries such as Australia, the USA, and countries in Europe should move much faster as they have the bulk of historical emissions, the capability, and some of the highest emissions per capita globally.
Climate change is a wicked problem, involving complex and unpredictable interconnections between physical and social systems. There are multiple sources of emissions across different sectors, and there is no single “silver bullet” solution. One solution can sometimes lead to another problem, and achieving widespread change can often seem a more overwhelming task than we had imagined. The cognitive dissonance and helplessness we may sometimes feel – where real-world actions and outcomes do not live up to our hopes, beliefs, and intentions – is a significant psychological barrier to change.
Despite the daunting challenges ahead, achieving net-zero emissions at a fast enough rate is possible. The good news is, we have the resources and know-how to achieve this goal. Net zero is not a sacrifice we need to make, but an opportunity we need to seize. The economics is on our side, with energy efficient and renewable energy technologies now clearly providing financial and other benefits superior to the old ways of doing things. However, achieving net zero quickly enough will still require everyone to work together to overcome barriers. It’s time to take responsibility for our future and begin acting on opportunities to reduce our carbon footprint while improving our quality of life.
If your business wants to be part of the solution and is ready to act now to develop your transition plan, we have the experience and expertise to work with you to make a difference.
100% Renewables are experts in helping organisations develop their net zero strategies and plans, and supporting the implementation and achievement of ambitious targets. If you need help to create your net zero transition strategy, please contact Barbara or Patrick.
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