A greener, healthier, cheaper, safer world

Using the Global Calculator to put us on a pathway to curb dangerous levels of climate change.

01 Jan 2015

It’s an urgent priority for all Governments to work together to keep the risks from global warming to safe levels.

Many of the governments that represent the most vulnerable people1 have said that to do this we should keep climate change to below 1.5 degrees of global warming.

This position is also supported by the world’s largest environmental and development groups, such as Friends of the Earth International, Greenpeace, WWF, and Oxfam2.

Warming above this level will harm particularly the poorest people across the world, as well as harm fragile ecosystems and nature. Higher levels of warming also risk crossing dangerous thresholds, such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet or releases of vast amounts of greenhouse gases from permafrost.

Already, with just 0.8 degrees Celsius of warming, more extreme weather is wreaking havoc.

The new global calculator – produced by a number of international bodies including the UK Department of Energy And Climate Change, the International Energy Agency, the World Resources Institute, Climate-KIC and others3 – is an exceptionally impressive initiative that allows anyone to construct their own emissions pathway by making choices about how we produce energy, how much energy we use, how much we eat, what we eat, and much more.

One of its main benefits is that it shows there are multiple possible routes to a safer world; what is now needed is the political will and leadership to make sure we take one of these pathways.

Friends of the Earth has used the global calculator to construct a pathway that gives a 50:50 chance of avoiding a temperature increase of 1.5 degrees by 20504 .

This briefing describes the choices we have made to do so. Our pathway is work in progress. We look forward to seeing others produce 1.5 degrees pathways, rather than riskier 2 degree pathways. And we may tweak ours as we get to know the Global Calculator better, including the data behind it.

Our pathway

Our current pathway to 2050 has the following features:

A greener world – the amount of forests in the world increases from 3.7 million hectares (excluding commercial forests) to 5.4 million hectares. A win for biodiversity and for carbon storage, achieved through reductions in meat consumption that free up land.

A more energy-efficient world – a reduction in total energy use of around 50% – in manufacturing, transport and buildings – by being ultra-efficient in our need for and use of energy. As a result, for example, homes across the world in 2050 are on average larger, warmer in winter, and cooler in summer.

The global average distance travelled per person increases by 30% from current levels, but with a significant shift in the mode of travel towards public transport. There is significant growth of energy use in developing countries and a reduction in some but not all developed countries.

A world of healthier diets – our pathway has an increase in per capita calories consumed, but with daily meat consumption falling to an average of 45 grams, a 50% cut on global average consumption today (higher in developed countries, eg 75% in the UK).

For animal welfare and biodiversity reasons we have not significantly increased the proportion of meat from pigs and chickens – these are currently intensively reared and drive deforestation through consumption of soya animal feed.

We advocate animals being reared humanely and fed sustainably, with waste food and alternatives to soya included. And we support the development of high-quality meat substitutes when they result in lower environmental and social impacts.

Renewables powering the world – by 2050 all the world’s electricity needs are met through renewable energy, with substantial levels of energy storage to ensure reliable supplies. Gas and oil production will have been cut by 80%, with their use largely confined to industry, aviation and freight.

The use of coal and peat in electricity generation will be zero, as will nuclear power. Friends of the Earth and others are calling for a Global Feed-in Tariff to fund this transformation5 . We also see no growth in mega hydro dams, and minimal growth in bioenergy.

A world of 8 billion people – providing girls’ education to secondary level, giving them control over their reproductive rights, and achieving gender equity are necessary actions in their own right. They also lead to smaller families.

An increased focus on these rights is critical if the wellbeing of half the world’s population is to be taken seriously. Doing so may also enable the UN’s lower population projections for 2050 to materialise.

Friends of the Earth and the Population and Sustainability Network have identified a number of important policy changes for this issue6 .

A more equal world – the UK Government’s global calculator doesn’t provide options for how to share out resources in the future. Our pathway, to be fair and equitable, would require more equitable sharing of food, travel and other resources.

Currently much of the world’s resources are consumed by the one billion wealthiest in the world. If the wellbeing of 8 billion people is to be achieved without exceeding 1.5 degrees of warming, it will be necessary for resources to be shared much more equitably. This should also make the world a safer place7.

Cheaper – our pathway is considerably cheaper than the other example pathways in the global calculator because of its focus on energy-demand reduction and energy efficiency, although calculating costs accurately so far ahead is challenging, so this finding is not as strong.

Challenges

Our pathway has a focus on demand management, with a large number of ‘very ambitious’ (level 3) and ‘extraordinarily ambitious’ ( level 4) choices.

But increasing the odds of going over 1.5 or 2 degrees increases the risks of much more dangerous climate change – effectively playing Russian roulette, with humanity at stake. In this context ‘extraordinarily ambitious’ is exactly what world governments should be prepared to be.

We have no Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in our pathway. CCS has a greater carbon footprint than renewables, will be more expensive, and has other negative impacts such as air pollution from continued fossil fuel use. Apart from afforestation, we also have zero use of geoengineering techniques8 .

Our pathway is cautious in terms of crop yields, assuming zero increase by 2050. This is because climate change is forecast to decrease yields by 2% per decade, which is likely to offset any increases due to better crop varieties.

Likewise we have shunned overly optimistic projections of reducing land-use through increasing land-use efficiency. With very significant challenges from global soil degradation, existing over-abstraction of aquifers for irrigation, and rising sea levels, we are likely to lose land which, if we are lucky, may be offset with greater efficiencies on other existing land.

We have also been cautious on post-2050 emissions reductions, assuming only minor reductions beyond this date. Our pathway reaches net zero emissions by 2050, with remaining emissions offset by increases in forestry carbon stores. After 2050, emissions reductions are difficult – assuming high levels of reductions would be a risky bet.

Given the above, to have a reasonable chance of avoiding 1.5 degrees of global warming, as advocated by the majority of the world’s countries representing the majority of the world’s population, it is necessary to have an extremely strong focus on demand management.

Conclusions

A world with less than 1.5 degrees of global warming is much more desirable and much less risky than a warmer world – particularly for the poorest people across the world who will suffer most (although nobody is immune to the impacts, as extreme weather events have already shown).

The Global Calculator shows that, in theory at least, it is still possible to have a 50:50 chance of avoiding 1.5 degrees. To do so will require extraordinary efforts, particularly on demand management.

But the goal is worth it. A world than is greener, healthier, cheaper, safer and, necessarily, more equal. In other words, a better world.