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ETC maps pathway to 1.5 C ahead of UN climate summit as existing pledges fall short

Highlights

Sees cheap, feasible actions by 2030 to cut CO2

Identifies 20-23 GtCO2e of emissions reductions

Targets include methane, coal, electrification

The Energy Transitions Commission has set out a "technically feasible" pathway to limiting global warming to 1.5 C, warning that current national commitments fall well short of giving even a 50% chance of meeting this target.

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The measures focus on methane emissions reductions, ending coal-fired power generation, accelerating road transport electrification, decarbonizing heavy transport, industry and heating, and halting reforestation and starting wide-spread reforestation, the ETC said in a report Sept. 30.

"A 1.5 C pathway is not yet out of reach, but we are running out of time to make it attainable," the report said.

"There are technically feasible and reasonably cost-effective actions which would give the world a 50% chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 C while delivering a 90% chance of limiting warming to 2 C."

The report, Keeping 1.5 C Alive: Closing the Gap in the 2020s, comes just weeks before the UN COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, which the ETC hopes will catalyze global action this decade.

The ETC said current total greenhouse gas emissions are around 55 gigatons of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e), which would continue to rise under a business-as-usual scenario.

The ETC's analysis finds that policies already in place could deliver an emissions reduction to as low as 51 GtCO2e by 2030.

A further 2-5 GtCO2e of reductions are found in new nationally determined contributions, to achieve a total 46-49 GtCO2e in 2030.

"However, reductions in total emissions to somewhere around 25-30 GtCO2e by 2030 would be needed to put the world on a pathway which would limit global warming to 1.5 C," the ETC said.

"The world, therefore, faces an 'emissions gap' of around 20-23 GtCO2e between what needs to be achieved and what is likely to be committed to in NDCs agreed for COP26," it warned.

Feasible actions

But almost all of this gap could be closed by "feasible actions" set out in the report, the ETC said.

The ETC's report focuses on actions it says are close to costless, or entail costs easily met by developed countries. They could also be progressed by a relatively small number of governments or companies without need for comprehensive international agreement, it said.

Since the Paris agreement in 2015, significant technological developments, improvements in scientific understanding and reductions in costs have greatly increased the potential for rapid emissions reductions.

ETC Chair Adair Turner said such recent developments were cause for optimism.

"I am much more confident now that we can get to net zero by 2050, but worry that the pace of action will be too slow in the 2020s," he told S&P Global Platts in an interview Sept. 27. "That's what this report is about: how there's a believable set of actions, which could speed it up within this decade."

"It's absolutely technologically possible," he added.

COP26 President-Designate Alok Sharma urged countries to submit enhanced plans to address the areas set out in the report.

"To keep the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 C alive, the world must act now to halve emissions over the next decade," Sharma said in a statement Sept. 30.

"This report sets out a clear and credible action plan of achievable emissions to get us on a 1.5 C pathway," he said.

Electrification and hydrogen

In transport, technological progress and cost reduction in battery electric vehicles make a more rapid electrification possible. The ETC sees a move to passenger EVs as delivering savings versus internal combustion engine vehicles within the next decade.

"Agreement at COP26 to ban all sales of ICE light-duty vehicles by 2035, combined with city-based action to restrict the use of existing ICE vehicles beyond defined future dates, could lead to 20% of cars on the road as electric and deliver around 2.0 GtCO2 reductions by 2030, with an additional 0.6 Gt of savings possible from low or negative cost action to improve heavy-duty truck efficiency," the report said.

In heavy industry, heavy transport and buildings, low-carbon hydrogen, CCS and electrification could decarbonize steel, cement, chemicals, aviation and shipping.

Recent technological advances made net-zero emissions by 2050 feasible at a "trivial" cost, the ETC said, and suggested a 10% share of shipping and aviation fuel coming from low-carbon sources could deliver 0.2 GtCO2/year of additional abatement by 2030.

On hydrogen, Turner said demand-side incentives were now key to accelerating uptake for the fuel.

"We are seeing signs that electrolyzer costs can and will come down quite dramatically," Turner told Platts.

"The biggest thing is actually supporting demand for green hydrogen. So really getting the shipping industry to accelerate the process, pushing the steel industry to start producing green steel from green hydrogen."

Methane emissions

The ETC said more attention should be given to methane emissions, especially in the short term, given its higher potency as a greenhouse gas.

Methane breaks down faster than CO2 in the atmosphere, but is more potent than CO2 in the short term, with analysis from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggesting around 40% of global warming so far has been caused by methane.

For this reason, the ETC puts a strong emphasis on reducing methane emissions as a pathway to rapidly slowing global warming.

"Methane emissions could be cut by 40%, delivering about 130 million mt of reduction not already included in current NDCs," it said.

This is mainly from fuel production, transport and use, pipeline leaks and coal use.

The ETC urges an acceleration in phasing out global coal use, calling for a halt to new coal plants and scrapping most of the 300 GW of new coal capacity in the pipeline.

"Power sector CO2 emissions were over 13 gigatons in 2019, with 9.5 gigatons of this arising from coal-fired power," it said, with a further 40 million mt of methane emissions related to coal, equivalent to 3 GtCO2e on a 20-year view.

Turner said voluntary carbon markets played an important but ancillary role in the drive to decarbonization, particularly for categories of carbon credits that reflected genuine reductions in CO2 emissions.

Platts assessed CORSIA-eligible carbon credits in the voluntary carbon market at $7.10/mtCO2e on Sept. 29, up from below $1/mtCO2e when the assessment started in January.

The ETC said the biggest uncertainties around the implementation of its proposals were in nature-based solutions and retiring existing coal assets, as these both relied on rich countries and companies supporting accelerated action in lower-income economies.