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Individual Paper: Reducing energy use, a reliable strategy for staying within the carbon budget

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Post-Paris climate governance discourse is framed around limiting global warming between 1.5 and 2.0 °C above pre-industrial level. However, recurring delay of decisive action has made staying within the two degrees carbon budget increasingly difficult. This is reflected in the two degrees emission pathways, which are based on assumptions of: radical global emission cuts, a vast deployment of speculative negative emissions technologies, and unprecedented improvements in energy efficiency. On the other hand, scenarios do not look into measures of reducing energy use, even though these measures are already available. Moreover, the IPCC scenarios completely avoid the issue of burden-sharing between the developed and developing countries, thus painting an oversimplified picture of a globally balanced mitigation challenge. In reality, the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and capabilities implies that the carbon budget has to be fairly divided between the developed and developing world. This results in a significantly higher mitigation burden for the developed countries, providing an additional constraint to emission pathways which has thus far been omitted in the scenario framework.

We apply carbon budget analysis to extend the IPCC emission pathways with reduced energy use scenarios. We show a lack of realistic two degrees transformation pathways without a consideration of energy reduction scenarios in the developed world. We argue that energy reduction scenarios are the most reliable mitigation strategy, as they allow us to stabilize climate even when large-scale deployment of negative emissions proves unachievable. Furthermore, reducing energy use enables the pursuit of the more ambitious 1.5 degree goal if negative emissions become a viable option. In absence of reduced energy use, only a high-risk combination of rapid decarbonisation and massive deployment of negative emissions technologies could keep us below the two degrees warming. A combination of growing energy use and a failure of negative emissions technologies would lock us onto a path of three degrees warming or more. We expect our contribution to become a starting point for more sophisticated analyses of alternative, energy reduction mitigation strategies.


Day: 2018-08-24
Start time: 11:30
Duration: 00:15
Room: ABF (209)
Track: Climate Change, Climate and Environmental Justice



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