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Chapter Seven - The Need For Technology To Fill The Gap

Naturally, examining the issue of population reduction is contentious - and very probably unrealistic. It is  not even entirely clear whether or not it would be successful since selecting the 'victims' would be a very difficult choice to make.  As history has shown, wars, pandemics and other social ills would not kill in sufficient numbers to 'solve' the climate crisis.  A global war followed by a  worldwide pandemic on a scale of The Black Death might approximate but the randomness of those affected could disrupt severely the functioning of civilisation and might even propel us into a new Dark Age where technologies are abandoned.  We cannot afford for this to happen.

A more humane approach to population number is to assume that the central U.N. projections of 0%p.a. for the West and 0.8%p.a. for the R.O.W. remain unassailable although by 2050 the total population figure could be 1bn less as a result of education and family planning measures.  We must, therefore, revisit the annual decarbonization (including energy efficiency) needed given a growing global population and average economic real growth rates.

The U.K.

In the U.K., with a population growth of 0.8%p.a., an annual full decarbonization rate (inlcuding energy efficiency) of 5.8% sustained over the coming 30-year period of 2020-2050, would be required (Table 7.1).  There is some optimism here since the increased decommissioning of coal-fired power stations in 2015 part facilitated this.  A move to renewables and nuclear power would further accelerate this, and once solar power reaches parity with coal, in terms of cost, decarbonization rates could soar.

Table 7.1  Technology-focused interventions, over the period 2020-2050, to achieve CO2 emission reductions to meet the 1.5C target - with a further 60% reduction by 2050 in the U.K.

Variable        CO2           Population          GDP/Capita      Energy/GDP        CO2/Energy

U.K.              -3%            +0.8%                 +2.0%               -2.0%                   -3.8%

The U.S.A.

In the U.S.A., the decarbonization rates (including energy efficiency) needed are much higher and at 12%p.a. are more than double those of the U.K.  This is because the U.S.A. delayed decarbonizing its economy (compared to the 1990 base), and also its population has grown in the meantime.  Further population growth is projected for the next 30 years if the Pew Centre's estimates for natural growth and immigration are considered - although Presidential intervention may change this.  Population growth has not been factored into Table 7.2 but any growth would increase the required decarbonization totals.

Table 7.2  Technology-focused interventions, over the period 2020-2050, to achieve CO2 emission reductions to meet the 1.5C target - with a further 95% reduction by 2050 in the U.S.A.

Variable        CO2           Population          GDP/Capita      Energy/GDP        CO2/Energy

U.S.A.           -10%            +0%                 +2.0%               -2.0%                   -10.0%

R.O.W.

For the R.O.W. (non-Western countries), decarbonization (including energy efficiency) rates would need to be realized at 7.3%p.a. from 2020 onwards; allowing for 0.8% population growth and 2.5% real economic growth (Table 7.3).  This would allow living standards to approach those of the West.

Table 7.3  Technology-focused interventions, over the period 2020-2050, to achieve CO2 emission reductions to meet the 1.5C target - with a further 70% reduction by 2050 in the R.O.W.

Variable        CO2           Population          GDP/Capita      Energy/GDP        CO2/Energy

R.O.W.          -4%            +0.8%                 +2.5%               -2.5%                   -4.8%

Can These High Rates Be Achieved?

All of these rates are very high and exceed both France's move to nuclear energy and the collapse of heavy industry in the former U.S.S.R..  To realise them will require nothing less than a new Industrial Revolution over the coming three decades and a total commitment to economy decarbonization.  Global co-operation is an imperative together with technology transfer to obviate isolationism.  And, coupled with new technology, we must effect behavioural change - not forgetting that we must also consume less and strive for economic growth 'of the right kind'.

The 2018 IPCC report stated that it is 66% likely that the 1.5C target put forward in Paris in 2015 lies beyond our capabilities.  But this should not be interpreted as meaning we should not try!  The targets will only get harder the longer we delay.  The time for action is NOW!

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