Environment

Existing power plants and vehicles have already consigned us to unsafe global warming

Existing power plants and vehi...
According to a new study, the power plants and vehicles already in operation are more than enough to warm the planet beyond safe levels
According to a new study, the power plants and vehicles already in operation are more than enough to warm the planet beyond safe levels
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According to a new study, the power plants and vehicles already in operation are more than enough to warm the planet beyond safe levels
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According to a new study, the power plants and vehicles already in operation are more than enough to warm the planet beyond safe levels

It's no secret that some dramatic changes are needed to arrest the trend of rising temperatures around the globe, but a new study has dug into the detail with some pretty disconcerting results. According to the authors of the paper, the energy infrastructure we've already constructed is more than enough to warm the planet beyond levels considered safe, and that's before we start to consider future power plants currently in the pipeline.

The Paris Agreement signed in 2015 implored governments around the world to take significant steps to limit global warming, with signees pledging to keep global temperatures from rising 2° C (3.6° F) above pre-industrial levels this century. More ambitiously, the agreement encouraged countries to aim for a maximum of 1.5° C (2.7° F) of warming, which would further reduce the risks of intense storms, flooding, sea level rise, decimated agriculture and other by-products of a warmer planet.

That we are on track to breeze past these limits isn't really news. A UN report published around a year after the agreement was adopted found carbon emissions were set to surpass them easily, projecting a temperature rise of around 3° C (5.4° F) by the end of the century.

The new study, led by researchers at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), sought to shed some light on these trends by taking stock of the fossil fuel-burning infrastructure already in place today, and how much it is likely to contribute to global carbon emissions over the coming decades. This was based on detailed data sets of infrastructure in place in 2018 and the assumption that power plants and boilers will run for around 40 years, and light vehicles for 15 years.

According to the team, business as usual will lead to around 658 gigatons of CO2 being released into the atmosphere over the lifetime of these sources, more than covering the whole carbon budget for 1.5° C of warming and accounting for around two thirds of the carbon budget for 2° C of warming. The researchers were also able to make adjustments to their calculations to determine what shutting down these sources early could mean, finding that the 1.5° C could still be avoided if existing power plants were retired after 25 years instead of 40.

"We need to reach net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by midcentury to achieve stabilization of global temperatures as called for in international agreements such as the Paris accords," says lead author Dan Tong, a UCI postdoctoral scholar in Earth system science. "But that won't happen unless we get rid of the long-lasting power plants, boilers, furnaces and vehicles before the end of their useful life and replace them with non-emitting energy technologies."

The team also looked at power plants that are planned or already under construction, and found these would add another 188 gigatons of C02 to the mix if they go ahead.

"Our results show that there's basically no room for new CO2-emitting infrastructure under the international climate goals," says co-author Steven Davis, a UCI associate professor of Earth system science. "Rather, existing fossil fuel-burning power plants and industrial equipment will need to be retired early unless they can be feasibly retrofitted with carbon capture and storage technologies or their emissions are offset by negative emissions. Without such radical changes, we fear the aspirations of the Paris agreement are already at risk."

The research was published in the journal Nature.

Source: University of California, Irvine

20 comments
Nobody
None of these learned idiots has a clue what they are asking for. What do you think destroying the economy will look like? We are already building windmills and putting up solar panels. There are already a number of hybrid and electric cars. We are already going in the right direction at an economically safe pace. All this climate paranoia will create more devastation than any real climate change. All this bull is nothing but a tax and power grab.
erl
Don't forget ocean liners and airplanes. The pursuit of money will kill this planet. And then we will go and kill the next one.....if we find one. Its the Human way. :)
jgb
Every 10 years we have gotten a new scare about our imminent demise and yet those deadlines always come and go with mankind still here. When will the lying stop and real science begin?
Bob Stuart
I've been posting this "news" for years. It only takes the back of an envelope for proof if your memory is bad. If your logic is short-circuited by greed, however, no proof will suffice. That's why the weather is going crazy - people and corporations resisting change while causing disaster.
Alex Krikke
Don’t worry, be happy, it’ll all work out, just not the way these scientists predict.
Nik
''Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few,..'' is a famous part of a speech by Winston Churchill. However, in this matter, ''Never in the field of false information, has so much BS been produced by so many, from so little!''
TKK
Doom and Gloom. First it was acid rain, then global warming, now climate change. Technology will save us, it will save the environment. Just check out the CO2 capture articles right here on New Atlas!
bwana4swahili
The sky is falling, the sky is falling... Yup, global warming is sure apparent when we've had the coldest, wettest spring/summer on record! Humans thrive on energy. Energy demand is increasing and will continue long into the future. Low density energy sources like wind and solar will NOT fill the gap. Besides, high density energy sources are also required to power society when the wind ain't blowing and the sun ain't shining! Of course this combination is great for energy producers; money in the bank. And all the while governments get fat charging carbon tax and other environmental tariffs to us normal folk. And just think of all those poor climate scientists that will be unemployed when climate change proves to be a big hoax. Oh the horror of it all...
RFM
It's sad that Nobody's (below) primary concern is his/her bank balance. Once again capitalism shows it's ugly face.
jerryd
Luckily for everyone most of those in 10 yrs will be stranded assets, unneeded as low cost RE takes over the market because it is 50-75% cheaper and clean as a bonus. If utilities don't and even if they do, homes, buildings, business will just make their own for much less, making 50-100%ROI/yr for 20yr+, most people will want a check from the utility than bill. Other countries will get free built RE with battery and only paying less, PPAs when made Vs coal they have to pay 4x/kwh for up front and then pay for coal for it's life. Which will they chose? Fact is there is little choice, the free to install, cheap /kwh RE wins by a long shot.