A 'carbon law' offers pathway to halve emissions every decade, say researchers

March 23, 2017
Clouds over Australia are shown. Credit: NASA

On the eve of this year's Earth hour (25 March), researchers propose a solution in the journal Science for the global economy to rapidly reduce carbon emissions. The authors argue a carbon roadmap, driven by a simple rule of thumb or "carbon law" of halving emissions every decade, could catalyse disruptive innovation.

Such a " law", based on Moore's Law in the computer industry, applies to cities, nations and industrial sectors.

The authors say fossil-fuel emissions should peak by 2020 at the latest and fall to around zero by 2050 to meet the UN's Paris Agreement's climate goal of limiting the global temperature rise to "well below 2°C" from preindustrial times.

A "carbon law" approach, say the international team of scientists, ensures that the greatest efforts to reduce emissions happens sooner not later and reduces the risk of blowing the remaining to stay below 2°C.

The researchers say halving emissions every decade should be complemented by equally ambitious, exponential roll-out of renewables. For example, doubling renewables in the energy sector every 5-7 years, ramping up technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere, and rapidly reducing emissions from agriculture and deforestation.

"We are already at the start of this trajectory. In the last decade, the share of renewables in the energy sector has doubled every 5.5 years. If doubling continues at this pace fossil fuels will exit the well before 2050," says lead author Johan Rockström director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University.

The authors pinpoint the end of coal in 2030-2035 and oil between 2040-2045 according to their "carbon law". They propose that to remain on this trajectory all sectors of the economy need decadal carbon roadmaps that follow this rule of thumb, modeled on Moore's Law.

Moore's Law states that computer processors double in power about every two years. While it is neither a natural nor legal law, this simple rule of thumb or heuristic has been described as a "golden rule" which has held for 50 years and still drives disruptive innovation.

The paper notes that a "carbon law" offers a flexible way to think about reducing . It can be applied across borders and economic sectors, as well as both regional and global scales.

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, says, "Our civilization needs to reach a socio-economic tipping point soon, and this roadmap shows just how this can happen. In particular, we identify concrete steps towards full decarbonization by 2050. Businesses who try to avoid those steps and keep on tiptoeing will miss the next industrial revolution and thereby their best opportunity for a profitable future."

Co-author Nebojsa Nakicenovic, deputy director general of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and member of the Earth League, said "Humanity must embark on a decisive transformation towards complete decarbonization. The 'Carbon law' is a powerful strategy and roadmap for ramping down emissions to zero so as to stay within the global carbon budget for stabilizing climate to less than 2°C above preindustrial levels."

Joeri Rogelj, also at IIASA, said, "The carbon law outlines a global path towards achieving climate and sustainability goals in broad yet quantitative terms. It sketches a general vision of rapid reductions in conjunction with the development of sustainable carbon dioxide removal options. It clearly communicates that no single solution will do the job, and that this deep uncertainty thus implies starting today pursuing multiple options simultaneously."

Malte Meinshausen, director of the Climate & Energy College at the University of Melbourne, said "Regions that make way for future-proof renewable energy and storage investments will turn a zero-emissions future into an economic opportunity. While for years, we've seen the ramp-down of incumbent fossil technologies only as burden, the other side of the coin is now finally visible: lower costs, more jobs and cleaner air."

Following a "carbon law", which is based on published energy scenarios, would give the world a 75% chance of keeping Earth below 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures, the target agreed by nations in Paris in 2015.

The paper "A roadmap for rapid decarbonization" appears in Science as a peer reviewed "policy forum article" on 24 March 2017.

Explore further: EU must shut coal plants by 2030 to meet climate pledge: study

More information: "A roadmap for rapid decarbonization," Science, science.sciencemag.org/cgi/doi … 1126/science.aah3443

The Paris Agreement sets out a goal to attempt to keep global temperatures "well below 2°C" above pre-industrial temperatures. unfccc.int/paris_agreement/items/9485.php

The global average temperature is currently about 1.1°C above pre-industrial temperatures. public.wmo.int/en/media/press- … e-pre-industrial-era

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Bongstar420
1 / 5 (2) Mar 23, 2017
How about we tax the rich based on CO2 concentration in the atmosphere? Lets start at 90% for 400ppm and they get down to 25% at 300ppm.

If they want their tax breaks, then CO2 goes down. Though, really. They should just get 90% or pay higher wages instead.

But really. Why is glaciation preferable?
Jeffhans1
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 23, 2017
It has taken hundreds of years for the CO2 level to make it up to the level it is today. These kind of policies seem to make sense and have no downsides, but the ability to process a given amount of atmosphere has been gaining year by year. By the time this century is ending, people will be screaming about the irreplaceable CO2 that is being stolen by greedy companies causing global cooling and catastrophic climate change.
MR166
3 / 5 (6) Mar 23, 2017
"How about we tax the rich based on CO2 concentration in the atmosphere? Lets start at 90% for 400ppm and they get down to 25% at 300ppm."

So you want to tax the "Rich" for the carbon the everyone in modern society emits eh. I read somewhere that carbon based fuels supply the average person with the equivalent of 200 slaves.

Do you know what happens when you tax the rich at a 90% rate, they just move to a more hospitable environment. Without fossil fuels You would be starving.
MR166
3 / 5 (6) Mar 23, 2017
That is the biggest fallacy of the progressive movement. Every problem of the earth and mankind can be solved by a new law or some sort of tax.
eddiebumtech
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 23, 2017
When you tax anybody it trickles down to those who can least afford it. Costs will just be passed on. People with less money usually have older homes and cars that are less efficient and cost more in energy making it harder to save money to upgrade. Although there are programs, it's still cheaper to do it yourself if you can save up the money.
howhot3
3.8 / 5 (4) Mar 23, 2017
Just tax the source of the problem. That is the purpose of a targeted tax; to punish the cause of a problem and reward the solutions with credits?
MR166
2.3 / 5 (6) Mar 23, 2017
"Just tax the source of the problem. That is the purpose of a targeted tax; to punish the cause of a problem and reward the solutions with credits?"

HH3 you just don't seem to understand how much the cost of living would rise if we were to tax carbon enough to actually reduce emissions by a substantial amount. Our whole way of live is dependent on fossil fuels. The US government is bankrupt for all intents and purposes and cannot possibly afford to subsidize the poor and middle class for the increased costs.
howhot3
4.2 / 5 (6) Mar 24, 2017
HH3 you just don't seem to understand how much the cost of living would rise if we were to tax carbon enough to actually reduce emissions by a substantial amount.

MR6, what are the options? Do nothing and die? Do nothing and hope? I understand very clearly what a carbon tax would do, and it would have the same impact on mankind as a gas tax that we already are paying. Basically nothing. It's nothing that will change government. It's just a tax like any other. You do it, carbon goes down and by 2100 we still have a functioning world.

A functioning world that I should add is better for everyone, rich and poor.

jjesterj
3 / 5 (2) Mar 24, 2017
Sounds like an effective way to keep the 3rd World, 3rd World.
humy
4 / 5 (4) Mar 24, 2017
Sounds like an effective way to keep the 3rd World, 3rd World.

Not really.
Why can't we give the 3rd World renewable energy technology and discouraging them making the same mistakes we have?
antialias_physorg
4.2 / 5 (5) Mar 24, 2017
How about we tax the rich...

Yeah, like that has ever worked.

Don't misunderstand, I'm all for taxing the rich, however the rich keep finding ways of
a) finding (or having someone create) loopholes so that they don't need to pay
b) roll down the cost to the poor so that the poor are effectively paying the tax
(i.e. socialise costs, privatize profits)

Why do you think they are 'the rich'? Because they work so hard?

Just tax the source of the problem.

I think every product and service should just have a label, color coded: "x amount of CO2 generated". And make it very public how companies are doing in relation with one another (monthly news segment or so).
Let people vote with their wallets.

EyeNStein
1 / 5 (2) Mar 24, 2017
I don't think the economy can stand any more significant taxation.
The central banks have not been holding interest rates so low so long that the banks are giving money away because they like it that way. (to the rich who can pay it back)
If we push the world economy into negative growth they would have to abolish cash to enforce the banks profitability.

There will be lots of talk, a few token tax measures and some renewable whistling into the wind but too little significant. And certainly nothing to help the worlds poor climb the energy consumption ladder we are on.

Do you think it is an environmentally sane policy to massively encourage fracking then carbon tax it as a solution to the problem??
MR166
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 24, 2017
Very few people in the US are willing to admit how bankrupt the country is and raising tax rates on the rich is not the answer. If you were the tax the rich at 100% you would only raise billions for a very short period of time while the US national debt grows by about 1 Trillion every year.

The national doubled under Bush 2 and doubled again under Obama. To make matters worse the nations standard of living fell despite all of that government spending. Despite what you were told job growth was negligible during that time and real wages fell.
MR166
3 / 5 (4) Mar 24, 2017
"The national doubled under Bush 2 and doubled again under Obama."

Should read, The national debt doubled under Bush 2 and doubled again under Obama.
tk5du
1 / 5 (1) Mar 24, 2017
The idea of taxing people for their CO2 emissions neglects to acknowledge that we already are taxed for it. About 40-50yrs ago, there was a cap & trade system put on the auto industry to reduce its emissions levels. For it to work, we had to pay more money for our cars to meet standards that would lower emission rates. Nonetheless, this article/paper is highlighting multiple, reasonable approaches to actually do away with the fossil fuel usage in general as solutions that all can support, not to tax.
gkam
1.7 / 5 (6) Mar 24, 2017
Track the rise of the National Debt with the tax cuts beginning with Reagan, when the entire 200 year-old debt was LESS than ONE trillion dollars.

Gee, what a coincidence!!
MR166
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 24, 2017
Gkam if you calculate the increase in national debt as a percentage of the nations GDP then the increase under Bush was worse and the increase under Obama was much worse. That is the only fair way to make a comparison. In your rush to condemn the Republicans you are missing the most important point. At least in the past an increase in government spending resulted in an increase in the GDP of the nation and an increase in REAL jobs. During the last 16 years this has not been the case. This does not bode well for US workers,
gkam
1 / 5 (5) Mar 24, 2017
I am tracking deficits and the National Debt to TAX CUTS.

Try it.

Start with Reagan, when the debt was less than one trillion dollars.
TegiriNenashi
1 / 5 (3) Mar 24, 2017
What kind of progressive thinking is when a member of the Animalia kingdom (human) gets a vote, but a member of Plantae doesn't? That is plain discrimination to me. And if you ask plants, they love 400 ppm.

News at 11: climaterish schizophrenia has been canceled for at least next 4 years. Eradicating it completely, however, is impossible: it would regrow slowly like weeds, or cancer, to give some purpose for new generation of alarmists.
MR166
5 / 5 (2) Mar 24, 2017
"I am tracking deficits and the National Debt to TAX CUTS."

So it is your opinion that increasing taxes across the board will result in more job creation, more taxes collected and reduced deficits eh.
MR166
5 / 5 (1) Mar 24, 2017
A large part of the problem is SS and medicare. The government spent all of the funds collected over the years and now it is time to pay out to the recipients. In 1950 there were 16 workers for every retiree, now there are 3.

Medical costs have increased WAY above the inflation rate.

These are systematic problems that have nothing to do with tax cuts.
gkam
1 / 5 (5) Mar 24, 2017
Track them and prove it.
ddaye
4.3 / 5 (6) Mar 24, 2017
How about we tax the rich...

Yeah, like that has ever worked.

In every advanced democracy that has a large middle class, yes, yes it has worked. Capital gains and top marginal rates were higher in the US when our middle class was growing, we became a superpower, workers could send kids to college debt free.
EyeNStein
not rated yet Mar 25, 2017
I was wrong earlier: There HAS been some significant spend on viable cost effective renewables - and long may it continue.

But its definitely environmental suicide to massively encourage fracking then carbon tax it, as if that's a solution to the problem.

I also like @AAP's suggestion of 'carbon' labelling goods and companies. But like organic food it would attract cheats and administrative overhead.
geokstr
1 / 5 (2) Mar 26, 2017
How about we tax the rich...

Yeah, like that has ever worked.

In every advanced democracy that has a large middle class, yes, yes it has worked. Capital gains and top marginal rates were higher in the US when our middle class was growing, we became a superpower, workers could send kids to college debt free.


Did you and gkam both do your graduate economic work at the St Karl of Marx University in Leningrad?

I've never seen such simplistic nonsense.
gkam
1 / 5 (5) Mar 26, 2017
"I've never seen such simplistic nonsense. "
------------------------------------------

You don't get presidential tweets?

I thought "graduates" of Trump U got all of them.
geokstr
1 / 5 (1) Apr 04, 2017
"You don't get presidential tweets? I thought "graduates" of Trump U got all of them.


I can't stand Trump, but you communistss should be happy. You should be dealing with President Cruz right now.

He would have hit the ground running - all Obama's Executive Orders and Memoranda would have been rescinded on day 1, ObamaCare repealed ond replaced with sensible reforms designed to put consumers in control on Day 2, every one of the 4,000 Obama poison pill holdovers identified and forced to resign on Day 3, the thousands of Obama radicals hired throughout government in top civil service positions scheduled to be re-assigned to garbage pickup in Bumfrack, Alaska until they resign on Day 4, all the hundreds of regulations enacted under Obama that each cost the economy over 100 million, gone on Day 5.

You wouldn't know what hit you. Instead we got the bumbling blowhard attacked with fake news about Russia, which has the Podesta bros and the Red Queen in its pocket,.
gkam
1 / 5 (3) Apr 04, 2017

My gosh, we tried all that authoritarian stuff in Germany and the Soviet Union. Maybe you forgot.

It didn't work out.

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