*From Mark Chernaik of ELAW:*
As many of you are aware, today (8 October 2018) the IPCC released a new report predicting more dire and rapid changes to the earth’s climate if greenhouse gases cause a global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. NOTE: The report observes that that earth’s climate is already 0.87°C above pre-industrial levels. (The full report is available from the IPCC website at the link below.)
Global Warming of 1.5 °C: An IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/
Dozens of authors from many countries around the world contributed to the report. www.ipcc.ch/report/authors/report.authors.php?q=32&p=
For those challenging coal projects, Chapter 2 of the report (“Mitigation pathways compatible with 1.5°C in the context of sustainable development”) includes assessments relating to the future of coal that one could argue decision-makers around the world should heed in order to prevent the more dire and rapid changes to the earth’s climate. I’ve copied below material from Chapter 2 of the report relating to coal.
With regard to “1.5°C-consistent pathways” the IPCC states: “The share of primary energy from renewables increases while coal usage decreases across 1.5°C-consistent pathways (high confidence). By 2050, renewables (including bioenergy, hydro, wind and solar, with direct-equivalence method) supply a share of 49–67% (interquartile range) of primary energy in 1.5°C-consistent pathways; while the share from coal decreases to 1–7% (interquartile range), with a large fraction of this coal use combined with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).”
The implication of the assessment that by 2050 the share of energy from coal decreases to 1–7% of primary energy generation means that, by 2050, coal would only generate energy under very limited circumstances: for example, where its use could be combined with Carbon Capture and Storage, or where its use was the only possible source of energy. It can also mean that proposals for new coal-fired power plants should be withdrawn. It is already late 2018 and coal-fired power plants not already near completion would not commence operation until 2020, thirty years prior to when the share of energy from coal must decrease to 1–7%. New coal plants cost several billion dollars to construct. Limiting their operation to a period of less than 30 years would render many proposed projects economically nonviable as the payback period for the investment of constructing a new plant is several decades.
Please let us know if you have any questions or comments, in particular whether you would like help using the new IPPC Special Report “Global Warming of 1.5 °C” to challenge one or more specific coal projects.
“Executive Summary
“Properties of energy transitions in 1.5°C-consistent pathways
“The share of primary energy from renewables increases while coal usage decreases across 1.5°C-consistent pathways (high confidence). By 2050, renewables (including bioenergy, hydro, wind and solar, with direct-equivalence method) supply a share of 49–67% (interquartile range) of primary energy in 1.5°C-consistent pathways; while the share from coal decreases to 1–7% (interquartile range), with a large fraction of this coal use combined with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). From 2020 to 2050 the primary energy supplied by oil declines in most pathways (–32 to –74% interquartile range). Natural gas changes by –13% to –60% (interquartile range), but some pathways show a marked increase albeit with widespread deployment of CCS. The overall deployment of CCS varies widely across 1.5°C-consistent pathways with cumulative CO2 stored through 2050 ranging from zero up to 460 GtCO2 (minimum-maximum range), of which zero up to 190 GtCO2 stored from biomass. Primary energy supplied by bioenergy ranges from 40–310 EJ yr-1 in 2050 (minimum-maximum range), and nuclear from 3–120 EJ/yr (minimum-maximum range). These ranges reflect both uncertainties in technological development and strategic mitigation portfolio choices. {2.4.2}. ….
“ Pathways keeping warming below 1.5°C or temporarily overshooting it
“This subsection explores the conditions that would need to be fulfilled to stay below 1.5°C warming without overshoot. As discussed in Section 2.2.2, to keep warming below 1.5°C with a two-in-three (one-in-two) chance, the cumulative amount of CO2 emissions from 2018 onwards need to remain below a carbon budget of 550 (750) GtCO2, further reduced by 100 GtCO2 when accounting for additional Earth-system feedbacks until 2100. Based on the current state of knowledge, exceeding this remaining carbon budget at some point in time would give a one-in-three (one-in-two) chance that the 1.5°C limit is overshot (Table 2.2). For comparison, around 290 ±20 (1-sigma range) GtCO2 have been emitted in the years 2011-2017 with annual CO2 emissions in 2017 slightly above 40 GtCO2 yr-1 (Jackson et al., 2017; Le Quéré et al., 2018). Committed fossil-fuel emissions from existing fossil-fuel infrastructure as of 2010 have been estimated at around 500 ±200 GtCO2 (with ca. 200 GtCO2 already emitted until 2017) (Davis and Caldeira, 2010). Coal-fired power plants contribute the largest part. Committed emissions from existing coal-fired power plants built until the end of 2016 are estimated to add up to roughly 200 GtCO2 and a further 100–150 GtCO2 from coal-fired power plants are under construction or planned (González-Eguino et al., 2017; Edenhofer et al., 2018). However, there has been a marked slowdown of planned coal-power projects in recent years, and some estimates indicate that the committed emissions from coal plants that are under construction or planned have halved since 2015 (Shearer et al., 2018). Despite these uncertainties, the committed fossil-fuel emissions are assessed to already amount to more than half (a third) of the remaining carbon budget.
“2.3.5 Implications of near-term action in 1.5°C-consistent pathways
“Less CO2 emission reductions in the near term imply steeper and deeper reductions afterwards (Riahi et al., 2015; Luderer et al., 2016a). This is a direct consequence of the quasi-linear relationship between the total cumulative amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere and global mean temperature rise (Matthews et al., 2009; Zickfeld et al., 2009; Collins et al., 2013; Knutti and Rogelj, 2015). Besides this clear geophysical trade-off over time, delaying GHG emissions reductions over the coming years also leads to economic and institutional lock-in into carbon-intensive infrastructure, that is, the continued investment in and use of carbon-intensive technologies that are difficult or costly to phase-out once deployed (Unruh and Carrillo-Hermosilla, 2006; Jakob et al., 2014; Erickson et al., 2015; Steckel et al., 2015; Seto et al., 2016; Michaelowa et al., 2018). Studies show that to meet stringent climate targets despite near-term delays in emissions reductions, models prematurely retire carbon-intensive infrastructure, in particular coal without CCS (Bertram et al., 2015a; Johnson et al., 2015). The AR5 reports that delaying mitigation action leads to substantially higher rates of emissions reductions afterwards, a larger reliance on CDR technologies in the long term, and higher transitional and long-term economic impacts (Clarke et al., 2014). The literature mainly focuses on delayed action until 2030 in the context of meeting a 2°C goal (den Elzen et al., 2010; van Vuuren and Riahi, 2011; Kriegler et al., 2013b; Luderer et al., 2013, 2016a; Rogelj et al., 2013b; Riahi et al., 2015; OECD/IEA and IRENA, 2017). However, because of the smaller carbon budget consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C and the absence of a clearly declining long-term trend in global emissions to date, these general insights apply equally or even more so to the more stringent mitigation context of 1.5°C-consistent pathways. This is further supported by estimates of committed emissions due to fossil fuel-based infrastructure (Seto et al., 2016; Edenhofer et al., 2018).
“Table 2.5: Overview of key characteristics of 1.5°C pathways.
“Low-carbon investments in the energy supply side (energy production and refineries) are projected to average 1.6-3.8 trillion 2010USD yr–1 globally to 2050. Investments in fossil fuels decline, with investments in unabated coal halted by 2030 in most available 1.5°C-consistent projections, while the literature is less conclusive for investments in unabated gas and oil. Energy demand investments are a critical factor for which total estimates are uncertain
“ Evolution of primary energy contributions over time
“By mid-century, the majority of primary energy comes from non-fossil-fuels (i.e., renewables and nuclear energy) in most 1.5°C pathways (Table 2.6). Figure 2.15 shows the evolution of primary energy supply over this century across 1.5°C pathways, and in detail for the four illustrative pathway archetypes highlighted in this chapter. Note that this section reports primary energy using the direct equivalent method on a lower heating values basis (Bruckner et al., 2014). Renewable energy (including biomass, hydro, solar, wind, and geothermal) increases across all 1.5°C pathways with the renewable energy share of primary energy reaching 28–88% in 2050 (Table 2.6) with an interquartile range of 49–67%. The magnitude and split between bioenergy, wind, solar, and hydro differ between pathways, as can be seen in the illustrative pathway archetypes in Figure 2.15. Bioenergy is a major supplier of primary energy, contributing to both electricity and other forms of final energy such as liquid fuels for transportation (Bauer et al., 2018). In 1.5°C pathways, there is a significant growth in bioenergy used in combination with CCS for pathways where it is included (Figure 2.15). ….
“The share of primary energy provided by total fossil fuels decreases from 2020 to 2050 in all 1.5°C pathways, however, trends for oil, gas and coal differ (Table 2.6). By 2050, the share of primary energy from coal decreases to 0–13% across 1.5°C pathways with an interquartile range of 1–7%. From 2020 to 2050 the primary energy supplied by oil changes by –93 to +6% (interquartile range –75 to –32%); natural gas changes by –88 to +99% (interquartile range –60 to –13%), with varying levels of CCS. Pathways with higher use of coal and gas tend to deploy CCS to control their carbon emissions (see Section As the energy transition is accelerated by several decades in 1.5°C pathways compared to 2°C pathways, residual fossil-fuel use (i.e., fossil fuels not used for electricity generation) without CCS is generally lower in 2050 than in 2°C pathways, while combined hydro, solar, and wind power deployment is generally higher than in 2°C pathways (Figure 2.15).
“2.4.3 1 Industry
In 1.5°C-overshoot pathways, the carbon intensity of non-electric fuels consumed by industry decreases to 16 gCO2 MJ-1 by 2050, compared to 25 gCO2 MJ-1 in 2°C-consistent pathways. Considerable carbon intensity reductions are already achieved by 2030, largely via a rapid phase-out of coal. Biomass becomes an increasingly important energy carrier in the industry sector in deep-decarbonisation pathways, but primarily in the longer term (in 2050, biomass accounts for only 10% of final energy consumption even in 1.5°C-overshoot pathways). In addition, hydrogen plays a considerable role as a substitute for fossil-based non-electric energy demands in some pathways. ….
“2.5.2 Economic and financial implications of 1.5°C Pathways
“ Price of carbon emissions
“It has been long argued that carbon pricing (whether via a tax or cap-and-trade scheme) can theoretically achieve cost-effective emission reductions (Nordhaus, 2007; Stern, 2007; Aldy and Stavins, 2012; Goulder and Schein, 2013; Somanthan et al., 2014; Weitzman, 2014; Tol, 2017). Whereas the integrated assessment literature is mostly focused on the role of carbon pricing to reduce emissions (Clarke et al., 2014; Riahi et al., 2017; Weyant, 2017) there is an emerging body of studies (including bottom-up approaches) that focuses on the interaction and performance of various policy mixes (e.g., regulation, subsidies, standards). Assuming global implementation of a mix of regionally existing best practice policies (mostly regulatory policies in the electricity, industry, buildings, transport and agricultural sectors) and moderate carbon pricing (between 5–20 USD2010 tCO2–1 in 2025 in most world regions and average prices around 25 USD2010 tCO2–1 in 2030), early action mitigation pathways are generated that reduce global CO2 emissions by an additional 10 GtCO2e in 2030 compared to the NDCs (Kriegler et al., 2018b) (see Section 2.3.5). Furthermore, a mix of stringent energy efficiency policies (e.g., minimum performance standards, building codes) combined with a carbon tax (rising from 10 USD2010 tCO2–1 in 2020 to 27 USD2010 tCO2–1 in 2040) is more cost-effective than a carbon tax alone (from 20 to 53 USD2010 tCO2–1) to generate a 1.5˚C pathway for the U.S. electric sector (Brown and Li, 2018). Likewise, a policy mix encompassing a moderate carbon price (7 USD2010 tCO2–1 in 2015) combined with a ban on new coal-based power plants and dedicated policies addressing renewable electricity generation capacity and electric vehicles reduces efficiency losses compared with an optimal carbon pricing in 2030 (Bertram et al., 2015b). One study estimates the price of carbon in high energy-intensive pathways to be 25–50% higher than in low energy-intensive pathways that assume ambitious regulatory instruments, economic incentives (in addition to a carbon price) and voluntary initiatives (Méjean et al., 2018). A bottom-up approach shows that stringent minimum performance standards (MEPS) for appliances (e.g., refrigerators) can effectively complement carbon pricing, as tightened MEPS can achieve ambitious efficiency improvements that cannot be assured by carbon prices of 100 USD2010 tCO2–1 or higher (Sonnenschein et al., 2018). The literature indicates that the pricing of emissions is relevant but needs to be complemented with other policies to drive the required changes in line with 1.5°C-consistent cost-effective pathways (Stiglitz et al., 2017; Mehling and Tvinnereim, 2018; Méjean et al., 2018; Michaelowa et al., 2018) (low to medium evidence, high agreement) (see Section 4.4.5).
“ Investments
“…. Investments in unabated coal are halted by 2030 in most 1.5°C projections, while the literature is less conclusive for investments in unabated gas (McCollum et al., 2018). This illustrates how mitigation strategies vary between models, but in the real world should be considered in terms of their societal desirability (see Section 2.5.3). Furthermore, some fossil investments made over the next few years – or those made in the last few – will likely need to be retired prior to fully recovering their capital investment or before the end of their operational lifetime (Bertram et al., 2015a; Johnson et al., 2015; OECD/IEA and IRENA, 2017). How the pace of the energy transition will be affected by such dynamics, namely with respect to politics and society, is not well captured by global IAMs at present. Modelling studies have, however, shown how the reliability of institutions influences investment risks and hence climate mitigation investment decisions (Iyer et al., 2015), finding that a lack of regulatory credibility or policy commitment fails to stimulate low-carbon investments (Bosetti and Victor, 2011; Faehn and Isaksen, 2016)
“FAQ 2.2: What do energy supply and demand have to do with limiting warming to 1.5°C?
“Summary: Limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels would require major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in all sectors. But different sectors are not independent of each other and making changes in one can have implications for another. For example, if we as a society use a lot of energy, then this could mean we have less flexibility in the choice of mitigation options available to limit warming to 1.5°C. If we use less energy, the choice of possible actions is greater. For example we could be less reliant on technologies that remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.
“To stabilise global temperature at any level, ‘net’ CO2 emissions would need to be reduced to zero. This means the amount of CO2 entering the atmosphere must equal the amount that is removed. Achieving a balance between CO2 ‘sources’ and ‘sinks’ is often referred to as ‘net zero’ emissions or ‘carbon neutrality’. The implication of net zero emissions is that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere would slowly decline over time until a new equilibrium is reached, as CO2 emissions from human activity are redistributed and taken up by the oceans and the land biosphere. This would lead to a near-constant global temperature over many centuries. Warming will not be limited to 1.5°C or 2°C unless transformations in a number of areas achieve the required greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Emissions would need to decline rapidly across all of society’s main sectors, including buildings, industry, transport, energy, and agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU). Actions that can reduce emissions include, for example, phasing out coal in the energy sector, increasing the amount of energy produced from renewable sources, electrifying transport, and reducing the ‘carbon footprint’ of the food we consume.
— Mark Chernaik, Ph.D. Staff Scientist Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW)