Global warming can be limited to 1.5 C by changing how we travel, heat homes, use devices

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Global warming can be limited to 1.5°C by unprecedented improvements in the energy efficiency of everyday activities, according to new research from an international team of scientists at IIASA.

A new study published in Nature Energy shows that dramatic transformations in the way we move around, heat and cool our homes, and buy and use devices and appliances in our cities can raise living standards in the global South to meet U.N. Sustainable Development Goals while also remaining within the 1.5°C target set by the 2015 Paris Agreement. Improved living standards for all need not come with a large increase in energy demand at the expense of the global environment.

The study is also the first ever to show how the 1.5°C target can be reached without relying on unproven technologies such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (CCS) which remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and bury it.

Arnulf Grubler, lead author of the study and IIASA acting program director, says, "Our analysis shows how a range of new social, behavioral and technological innovations, combined with strong policy support for and low-carbon development, can help reverse the historical trajectory of ever-rising energy demand."

Study co-author Charlie Wilson, from IIASA and also the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, U.K., adds: "A rapid downsizing of the global energy system between now and 2050 makes it much more feasible to transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewables and electricity to provide for development needs while limiting the impacts of ."

The team examined a wide range of innovations at the fringes of current markets that could help reduce emissions if they became mainstream. Drawing on detailed studies of energy used in transport, in homes and offices, and in the manufacture of consumer goods, they found evidence of two- to four-fold reductions in the amount of energy required to move people and goods around, to provide comfort in buildings, and to meet the material needs of growing populations, particularly in the global South.

They identified a number of key innovations, for example, shared and 'on-demand' fleets of more energy efficient electric vehicles with increased occupancy can reduce for transport by 60 percent by 2050 while reducing the number of vehicles on the road. Single digital devices such as smartphones serving a wide range of functions combined with younger generations' preferences for accessing services instead of owning goods can limit the otherwise explosive growth in global energy demand to a mere 15 percent by 2050 for a digital economy with over twice the number of devices than are in use today.

Strict standards for the energy performance of new buildings as well as renovations of existing buildings can reduce energy demand from heating and cooling by 75 percent by 2050. In addition, shifting to a healthier diet with less red meat but similar calorific intake can significantly reduce emissions from agriculture, while increasing forest cover by 2050 equivalent to the size of Italy and Bangladesh combined.

"Changes in the ways that we as the final users of energy go about our daily lives have knock-on effects on the ways that goods are manufactured and transported around, offices and malls are built, and food is grown. It is us as energy users who ultimately define the potential for transforming our energy system to meet climate targets," says Grubler.

The study found that if the total global is reduced by 40 percent by 2050, with a strong emphasis on electrification, current rates of renewable energy deployment projected on into the future could more than meet the world's needs without having to rely on unproven technologies such as CCS to capture and store greenhouse gas emissions from burning or plant matter.

"Not only does our scenario show how to meet the 1.5°C climate target based on evidence on what is already possible, it also shows how this dramatic reversal in global emission trends supports a wide range of development objectives in the global South, from rising living standards to cleaner air and improved health," says Wilson.

However, the team emphasizes that making this scenario a reality will require unprecedented efforts by policymakers to tighten standards, by businesses to develop and roll out low-carbon innovations, and by individuals and households to embed new forms of activity into their daily lives.

"The global community from world leaders and multinational corporations down to individual consumers and citizens need to act in concert to avoid dangerous climate change while improving human wellbeing. Our scenario offers a roadmap as to how this can be achieved," says Grubler.

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More information: Arnulf Grubler et al, A low energy demand scenario for meeting the 1.5 °C target and sustainable development goals without negative emission technologies, Nature Energy (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41560-018-0172-6
Journal information: Nature Energy

Citation: Global warming can be limited to 1.5 C by changing how we travel, heat homes, use devices (2018, June 4) retrieved 22 October 2019 from
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Jun 04, 2018
Don't need much energy efficiency in heating - just a shift in the energy source. Storage boilers for heating systems can sink vast amounts of renewable energy very cheaply, as long as the price of power is reasonable.

Striving for extreme energy efficiency in buildings is apt to create other problems, because these so-called "bottle houses" are mold traps - by avoiding heat leaks, you have to close the structures up with plastic vapor barriers and that always creates spots and corners where the moisture just collects up. Elsewhere, the barriers tend to break, the sealing tapes dry up and come loose etc. and the whole system fails sooner or later. Then you've got a rotting house with poor insulation and a huge repair bill - negating the energy savings.

Jun 04, 2018
For example, a cubic meter of water can store 80-90 kWh of energy at temperatures useful for space heating. Somewhat less if you need higher heating power.

A heat pump can then save at least half the cost of heating it up, so even as you're heating with electricity you're not paying more than for gas. Potentially much less.

Then there's this:

A whole town in Canada can heat itself 97% on solar power, all year round (seasonal storage) with $60 a month heating bills to the residents - and no special energy efficiency measures being taken. Just goes to show again that not all green solutions need involve up-ending the whole social order, and the ones that don't actually work better.

Jun 04, 2018
I just don't think that this is true.

Jun 04, 2018
I built a house that needs no heating nor cooling even in our extreme climate (USDA Zone 3). It can be -45°F outside and it is +45°F inside just because of it's passive design, even through long periods of minimal solar gain such as our winters.

I subsequently built a USDA inspected butcher shop using the same techniques taken to the sixth level of that and I have no heating nor cooling system in the butcher shop. When the regional head of the USDA inspected our facility he told me how impressed and amazed he was. Not only is our building energy efficient but it was low cost to build, low maintenance, easy to maintain and clean and it was designed and built by our family - the ultimate homeschool project.

The non-secret to my buildings is I use high thermal mass inside of insulating envelopes in repeating shells with control of the air flow so that I can shift the energy of the seasons around the calendar using passive techniques. The buildings just work.

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