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Updated Net Zero Roadmap offers grounds for cautious optimism
With ambition and international cooperation, the 1.5 °C target remains within reach.
Kia ora, welcome to Future Proof. I’m Ellen, thanks for joining me this week.
Clean tech boom ‘grounds for optimism’
In 2021, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released an ambitious roadmap to get the global energy system to net zero by 2050, and limit warming to 1.5 °C as per the Paris Agreement. The pathway for the sector was narrow, but possible, with 400 milestones laid out for countries to hit.
Two years on, the IEA has updated their Net Zero Roadmap and there are “increasing grounds for optimism”. Despite record high global emissions in 2022, “extraordinary advances in clean tech”, particularly solar and EVs, are keeping the 1.5 °C dream alive. The pathway has narrowed further, but remains feasible – if we can muster ambition and international cooperation.
“Keeping alive the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C requires the world to come together quickly,” IEA executive director Faith Birol said in a statement. “The good news is we know what we need to do – and how to do it.”
What we need to do: Four big asks
The IEA, an organisation with member countries representing 80% of global energy demand, lays out four key goals to rapidly bend the emissions curve downward by 2030. We need to: triple renewables capacity; boost energy efficiency – doubling our improvement rate each year; rapidly electrify transport and home heating; and cut the energy sector’s methane emissions (like those big leaks from oil and gas fields) by 75%.
We’ll also need to see global annual spending on clean energy triple by the early 2030s to US$4.5 trillion. Alongside this, innovation in carbon capture tech and hydrogen needs to ramp up, alongside investment in infrastructure and electricity grids. Innovation is advancing rapidly: back in 2021, the roadmap relied on tech not yet available on the market to deliver nearly half of emissions reductions for net-zero by 2050. That figure has dropped to 35% in the updated scenario.
What we won’t need: more fossil fuels. “There is no need for investment in new coal, oil and natural gas,” the report states plainly, warning that pursuing domestic oil and gas expansion is risky – both climate-wise, and commercially.
And if we fail to act with the “fierce urgency” required? The IEA analyses a “delayed action” case, finding we’d have to rely on “expensive and unproven at scale” carbon capture tech. By the end of the century, the world would end up spending US$1.3 trillion (in 2022 dollars) every year on carbon capture – assuming it even works.
Isn’t this just more of the same?
If the green tech boom has you feeling skeptical, here’s a different perspective: the folks at The Kākā spoke to environmental historian Catherine Knight, who is concerned by the green growth narrative because we can’t fully decouple GDP from emissions. Instead, Knight would like to see acknowledgement of the limits of growth, and a refocusing to sufficiency, wellbeing and keeping within ecological limits.
When this clash between “go faster” green growth and “slow down” degrowth comes up, I always turn to this New Yorker piece from environmentalist Bill McKibben. “We have no choice but to build renewable energy, and its attendant appliances, and to do it fast,” he writes. “But it would be a shame to waste the vast effort entailed simply trying to recreate our current society on a lower-carbon basis, because we’d soon run into the other barriers that the degrowth activists warn of.” In other words, do both. Do everything, everywhere, all at once.
What’s going on in the climate election
Should the government spend big money to help businesses (often, big businesses) decarbonise? Should the Climate Change Commission set unit prices in the ETS? And what about agriculture? These were some of the questions tackled by reps from Labour, National and the Greens in a climate debate on RNZ this past week. Also on RNZ, climate change correspondent Eloise Gibson speaks to an economist calling for mandatory climate impact reporting for government budgets.
In other environmental beats: oceans spokespeople for some major parties fronted for an “Our moana, our future” debate organised by WWF New Zealand, addressing hot topics such as marine protected areas, bottom trawling, and offshore oil and gas exploration. And the Predator Free NZ Trust canvassed the parties’ views on New Zealand’s “moonshot” goal to be predator free by 2050, and how we might get there.
Would you pay a meat tax?
Agricultural emissions are “high steaks”, but could be reduced through introducing a tax on meat products based on the size of their carbon footprint, according to new research. Plus, it could be palatable to consumers, have co-benefits for health, and be implemented in a way that’s fair for all, with money raised going back to low-income households or to developing low-carbon foods.
Missing: Seven-to-ten New Zealands’ worth of sea ice
Antarctic researchers convened for an emergency summit yesterday, to discuss “deeply alarming” record low levels of sea ice around the icy continent this winter. This is a big deal because Antarctica and the Southern Ocean play critical roles in regulating the planet’s climate. Although the group stopped short of declaring a tipping point had been surpassed, there are fears the record low conditions could continue next year. The scientists are calling for urgent emissions reductions to maintain a liveable planet.
Dogs at polling booths is back for 2023
In 2020, we showcased big dogs, small dogs, long dogs, short dogs, hairy dogs, happy dogs, nervy dogs, silly dogs, stylish dogs, sleeping dogs – and we’d be barking mad not to do it all over again. On election day, The Spinoff will again bring you nothing but live pupdates until 7pm. On October 14, send your photos of dogs at voting places around the motu (no humans please) to email@example.com.
We’re focusing on on-the-day dogs, but will consider any particularly fetching advance-voting dogs, especially if they’re voting from abroad.
A group of Esk Valley locals is replanting 15,000 seedlings after Cyclone Gabrielle washed them away.
The final 21.5 million “hot air” carbon credits are goneburger, the government announces.
There are just 126 southern New Zealand dotterels left. This team is attaching trackers to dotterels to solve the mystery of their secret breeding site.
The EU has launched the world's first emissions border tax system for imported steel, cement and other goods, in an effort to stop unsustainable offshore production undermining its green transition.
In recent weeks, UK PM Rishi Sunak has announced sweeping U-turns on the country’s key decarbonisation initiatives, abruptly recasting the UK as a climate laggard.
Helpful explainer from Wired: Why rain is getting fiercer on a warming planet.
How slowing down ships in the Hauraki Gulf saved whales, including critically endangered Bryde’s whales.
What El Niño means for this summer (no, it’s not all sunshine).
To finish this issue, I love this story about earthworms – particularly its delightful headline: ‘If earthworms were a country, they’d be the world’s fourth largest producer of grain’. Earthworms’ soil-enhancing superpowers boost crop yields by 140 million tons of food every year, according to a new study. That’s equivalent to one slice of bread in every loaf. Also note this very important quote: “They don’t respond well to tractors chopping them in half,” Fonte says. “Despite popular belief, you don’t get two earthworms.”
Worm wishes for your week ahead,
Got some feedback about Future Proof or topics you’d like covered? Get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org