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Limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius ‘achievable’

Sept. 17, 2015 - 19:33 By Lee Hyun-jeong
Participants attend the DDPP conference in Paris on Monday. Attendants included SDSN executive director Guido Schmidt-Traub (from left), DDPP director Jim Williams, IDDRI scientific director Michel Colombier and IDDRI director Teresa Ribera. (Lee Hyun-jeong/The Korea Herald)

PARIS ― Deeply reducing greenhouse gas emissions is technically and economically feasible in the world’s largest economies and developing countries, an international research consortium’s report showed Thursday.

According to the “Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project’s 2015 Synthesis Report,” limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius is achievable as long as the countries keep the “three pillars” in their green policies.

“Our study shows that keeping three principles ― energy efficiency, low carbon-electricity and fuel switching ― can lead the world to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius using technologies that are already commercial or expected to be within the needed timeframe,” said DDPP director Jim Williams, at a conference held in Paris this week.

“We, however, don’t think this is an ultimate solution. The most important thing is the strong implementation by the government.”

The DDPP is a collaborative global research initiative formed in 2013 to lend scientific support to calls for more aggressive anticarbon moves, and understand how individual countries can transition to a low-carbon economy consistent with the internationally agreed goal of limiting anthropogenic warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius.

It consists of scholars from leading research institutions in 16 countries, which represent 74 percent of current global carbon emissions from energy. They are South Korea, the U.S, the U.K., Japan, China, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Russia, South Africa and Mexico.

The researchers develop the “deep decarbonization pathways” ― a sector-by-sector blueprint of changes over time in physical infrastructure ― that will inform decision-makers about the technological requirements and costs of different options for reducing emissions. The ideas are based on each country’s conditions and circumstances. Each country’s representatives are autonomous in defining their own scenarios and objectives in the analysis.

At the conference, the second such report was released, following the first submitted to the U.N. Climate Change Summit last year. It was also part of the efforts to urge the countries to take more ambitious moves against the climate change ahead of the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP-21) of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change to be held in December in Paris.

The conference is convened by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and Paris-based nonprofit policy research body Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relation.

Unlike other global projects with a target date of around 2030, the DDPP is targeting 2050 for the carbon cut plan in order to view the issue in the long run.

“It’s about legacy. The DDPPs are not forecasts of future outcomes but ‘backcasts’ that begin with an emissions target in 2050 and determine the steps required to get there. Having the long-term view will enable countries to think the consequence each of their short-term policies,” said Michel Colombier, the scientific director of IDDRI.

In the several sessions of roundtables of the conference, each country’s representatives shared their feasible carbon cut plans and sought better ways to promote the anticarbon moves.

The officials voiced that energy efficiency could reduce the energy intensity of the gross domestic product by an average of 65 percent, with nearly all countries making their economies two to four times more energy efficient in 2050 compared to 2010.

This could be accomplished through measures such as improving vehicle fuel economy, better building design and construction material and more efficient appliances and industrial processes, they said. Reducing fossil fuel-based electricity generation and introducing more mixes of renewable energy is essential as well.

In the case of Korea, the economic structure was pointed to as a challenging factor for decarbonization, as the export-led economic growth highly depends on manufacturing such as steel and petrochemicals.

As of 2011, Korea is the seventh-highest carbon emitter, while ranking 15th in terms of gross domestic product in 2012.

“The problem is that unlike many other developed countries, the economic growth of Korea has not been decoupled from the emissions. For Korea’s further growth, the government has no choice but to rely on such heavy industries,” said SDSN-Korea director Young Soo-gil, who is in charge of Korea’s report.

The energy-intensive heavy industries are already very energy efficient according to international standards, having little room to see further improvements in the heavy industries, he added.

The most practical decarbonization plan for Korea is, therefore, maximizing energy efficiency while seeking renewable energies, despite poor resources and environmental conditions, Young said.

Switching the source of fossil fuel from coal to natural gas while pursuing the carbon capture and storage technology, or CCS, is one feasible option, he said. CCS is a technology that can capture up to 90 percent of carbon dioxide emissions produced from the fossil fuels in electricity generation, preventing the carbon from entering the atmosphere.

As of this year, 53 coal-fired power stations are running across the country, supporting 40 percent of the nationwide electricity usage.

The report showed that CCS technology can lower Korea’s energy-related emissions by 86 percent by 2050.

CCS, however, currently needs further technological development and ample space to store the emissions, experts said.

“Korea is one of the leading countries in innovative technology development. It’s important for the industry sector, which is a key player in climate change efforts, to perceive that decarbonization is not an obstacle to businesses but an opportunity to advance their technology and participate in the global anticarbon moves,” said DDPP coordinator Henri Waisman.

By Lee Hyun-jeong, Korea Herald correspondent (