Lancaster Engineers assess climate change emissions

Wind Turbine
Wind Turbine

The costs of climate change adaptation and mitigation has been estimated in a new study by an international team of researchers.

The paper published in PNAS is co-authored by Dr Denes Csala of Lancaster University who said: “Energy systems are complex and it is important to recognise the need for simulation modelling when we are trying to design longer-term energy transitions.

“Especially in the ongoing energy transition, when we are trying to design mostly renewable based climate compliant systems that are to supplant the fossil fuel driven system of today, there is a structural difference because most of the energy investment into the systems is upfront rather than over their lifetimes.

“Therefore it is important to quantify the emissions embedded into this transition period and previously these were poorly quantified but this paper gives a much better analysis.”

The results provide a holistic assessment of carbon emissions from the transition itself, and suggest that these emissions can be minimized through more ambitious energy decarbonization.

The researchers argue that the emissions from mitigation, but likely much less so from adaptation, are of sufficient magnitude to merit greater consideration in climate science and policy.

Here the researchers used a suite of models to estimate the CO2 emissions embedded in the broader climate transition.

For a gradual decarbonization pathway limiting warming to 2°C, selected adaptation-related interventions will emit approximately 1.3Gt CO2 through 2100, while emissions from energy used to deploy renewable capacity are much larger at approximately 95Gt CO2. Together, these emissions are equivalent to over two years of current global emissions and 8.3% of the remaining carbon budget for 2°C.

Total embedded transition emissions are reduced by approximately 80% to 21.2GtCO2 under a rapid pathway limiting warming to 1.5°C.

However, they roughly double to 185GtCO2 under a delayed pathway consistent with current policies (2.7°C warming by 2100), mainly because a slower transition relies more on fossil fuel energy.

Adapting to increasing climate risks while deploying renewables to stabilize the climate will require large amounts of energy and materials, which will initially cause emissions.

However, when renewables are rapidly deployed, the ongoing transition can be powered by cleaner energy, minimizing embedded emissions.

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