Greenhouse gas emissions could be halved in the next decade if a small number of current technologies and behavioural trends are ramped up and adopted more widely, researchers have found, saying strong civil society movements are needed to drive such change.
Solar and wind power, now cheaper than fossil fuels in many regions, must be scaled up rapidly to replace coal-fired generation, and this alone could halve emissions from electricity generation by 2030, according to the Exponential Roadmap report from an international group of experts.
If the rapid uptake of electric vehicles in some parts of the world could be sustained, the vehicles could make up 90% of the market by 2030, vastly reducing emissions from transport, it said.
Avoiding deforestation and improving land management could reduce emissions by the equivalent of about 9bn tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by 2030, according to the report, but contradictory subsidies, poor planning and vested interests could stop this from happening.
Key to any transition will be the growing social movements that are pressing for urgent action on climate breakdown. By driving behavioural change, such as moving away from the overconsumption of meat and putting pressure on governments and companies, civil movements have the power to drive the transformation needed in the next decade, say the report’s authors.
“While the scale of transformation is unprecedented, the speed is not,” said Johan Rockström, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “This is now a race against time, but businesses and even entire industries have made many significant transitions in less than 10 years.”
Social movements will be a top priority because consumers can put pressure on the companies whose goods they buy, and public support makes it possible for political leaders to adopt bolder policies. Countries including the UK, France, Sweden and Norway have adopted a net-zero-carbon target for 2050.
Owen Gaffney, the director of strategy at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, a co-author of the report, called on digital platforms such as Facebook, Amazon and Google to play a part.
“Given that [these platforms] are now mediating behaviour and consumption, they might do more to support societal goals, for example around advertising and the promotion of high-carbon [activities]. Governments might look here too as a place for policy innovation.”
He said governments also needed to do more to support behavioural change, from dietary choices to making public transport more available.
However, the detailed policy measures required to meet 2050 net-zero-carbon targets have yet to be worked out by national governments. The report’s authors believe they can demonstrate that taking action now across sectors such as energy generation, buildings, transport and food production and consumption will make it possible. Putting off taking action will result in higher costs and make more rapid change necessary in the future, they say.
The report did not examine the potential costs but Gaffney pointed to a study last year by the New Climate Economy that estimated the economic benefit of a lower-carbon future at $26tn (£21tn) by 2030. The UK’s Committee on Climate Change has estimated the cost of reaching net zero at 1-2% of GDP by 2050.
The need to move to net zero carbon by 2050 – effectively reducing most of the world’s output of carbon dioxide emissions, and increasing the absorption of carbon by vegetation and other means – is based on the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
In its report last year, the body of leading climate scientists found there would be dire effects if temperatures were to exceed 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, and found reducing carbon to near zero by mid-century was the best way to avoid this.
The organisations behind the Exponential Roadmap report included academic institutes, green campaigning groups and private sector companies.