World Bank advocates long term thinking on climate change

The large-scale electrification of transport will help the world become carbon neutral by 2100. [Jonathan Deamer/Flickr]

Switching to a zero-carbon economy is more than just a dream, according to the World Bank. But costs will be high for countries that fail to act quickly. EURACTIV France reports

The objective of reducing global net carbon emissions to zero by the year 2100 is more than just “science fiction,” according to Stéphane Hallegatte, one of the authors of the World Bank’s report “Decarbonising Development: Three Steps to a Zero-Carbon Future“.

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions is already one of the main aims of the international climate negotiations. But the World Bank wants to see governments adopting more ambitious targets.

Objective 2100

“It is vital that we set a carbon neutral course if we want to stabilise climate change,” explained Stéphane Hallegatte, Senior Economist in the World Bank’s climate change team.

“And we have to do it by 2100 to limit global warming to +2°C,” he added. “Today, we know how to achieve this.”

>> Read: UK accused of hypocrisy over plans to limit enforcement of EU climate goals

In the report, the World Bank suggests several measures that could be employed to make the global economy carbon neutral by the end of the century. Countries must decarbonise electricity, implement massive electrification (using that clean electricity) and, where that is not possible, switch to lower-carbon fuels, increase efficiency and produce less waste in all sectors, and improve carbon sinks (such as forests, vegetation, and soil).

“The goal is to reach zero emissions in 2100, not to reduce emissions at the margins in the next decades. It implies a very different set of measures, including structural and spatial transformations to our economies,” said World Bank Group Chief Economist for Climate Change and the report’s lead author Marianne Fay.

The first signs of this transition are beginning to show: electrical capacity from renewable energies increased by more than fossil fuel capacity in 2014.

An increasingly expensive transition

On top of identifying the necessary measures, the World Bank stresses the urgency with which countries need to act. The action required to reach zero net emissions will be fairly affordable for countries that move quickly, but costs will rise for those that delay.

The report states that “if mitigation is postponed until 2030, costs would rise an average 50% for the 2030–50 period, and 40% for the longer term (2050–2100)”.

A focus on short term objectives ending in 2030, the report’s authors argue, “would lead to emission reductions based on the cheapest options,” which may not be able to bring about complete decarbonisation by 2100.

Climate negotiations

This is clearly meant as a warning to the participants of this December’s COP 21 climate negotiations in Paris. The international climate conference will aim to arrive at a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

>> Read: COP 21 national contributions behind schedule, France warns

The first national contributions to the COP 21 focus on short term objectives. “We must not lose sight of the long term objectives at the COP 21, that is the most important thing,” said Stéphane Hallegatte.

The European Union has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 40%, Switzerland by 50% and Norway by 40%, all by 2030. The United States has opted for a different course, and committed to a reduction of between 26% and 28% by 2025.

>> Read: Paris to host COP 21 dry run

“But certain national contributions, like the one from Mexico, do include a 2050 target,” Stéphane Hallegatte said.

Negotiations on climate change began in 1992, and the UN organises an annual international climate change conference called the Conference of the Parites, or COP.

The 20th COP took place in Lima, Peru, from 1 to 12 December 2014, and Paris is hosting the all-important 21st conference in December 2015. The participating states must reach an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the object of which was to reduce CO2 emissions between 2008 and 2012. Agreeing on a framework, whether legally binding or not, is the priority between now and December.

  • December 2015: COP 21 in Paris

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