The current world situation

Global warming insightCurrently, the average global mean temperature has reached approximately 1 degree Celsius above the world’s pre-industrialisation levels, with warming of ½ of a degree Celsius recorded since the 1960s.

The observed warming is said to be responsible for the extreme weather events occurring in various parts of the globe. The impact is already limiting the ability of developing economies to achieve their development priorities with clear evidence of loss and damage attributed to climate change.

At the forefront of the scientific debate is the effect of human activities on temperatures and precipitation. Heat and extreme temperatures, heavy rainfall and droughts are being experienced all over world. This in turn is already affecting the health and safety of hundreds of millions of people especially those in the low to middle income countries due to increases in the spread of diseases, reducing crop yields and rising ocean levels. In addition to rising ocean and sea levels, which increases the probability of reaching the tipping points for the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, ocean acidification impacts coral reefs and other marine and coastal ecosystems.

 

What effect would a reduction of 1.5 degrees Celsius have?

As an objective moving forward, we need to limit global warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius to significantly limit the impact of climate change world, more importantly in the most vulnerable areas. This in turn will reduce the risks associated with extreme heat from higher than normal temperatures especially in the tropical regions. Other risks that would be reduced include keeping projected sea level rises to under 1 metre through improving the sea ice and ice sheet systems and reducing the risks of passing the critical tipping points. It also will improve chances of saving the tropical coral reefs through natural adaptation. However, it does not guarantee the recovery of coral cover, which is currently being eroded. We also stand to improve our water and food resources. The benefits of this is avoiding further damages to marine life especially in tropical regions, rebalancing the flow of water in areas of the world to improve availability in dry regions such as the Mediterranean and avoid extreme flooding in prone regions such as South Asia. We will also see an improvement in tropical agricultural yield due to its vulnerability to climate change.

The challenge of ensuring that we keep temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees Celsius is only feasible if radical changes can made to how we currently do things. Modelling predictions state that the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit by 2100 can be met by peaking the total (Green House Gas) GHGs by 2020 and minimising total global CO2 and GHG emissions to zero by 2055 and 2065 respectively…….but how do we get there?

 

The Paris Agreement

At the 21st session of Conference of Parties (COP) and the 11th session of COP serving as the meeting of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP), which was held in Paris in December 2015, 195 countries adopted a legally binding global climate deal; the first of its kind1. 179 countries have so far ratified the agreement1. The agreement sets forth an action road map to bypass dangerous climate change by limiting global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius. The key elements of the agreement are as follows1:

  • It bridges climate-neutrality by year 2100 with today’s policies through focus on reducing emissions as a mitigation;
  • Specifically it was agreed that increases in global average temperature shall be kept well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels;
  • Aim to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius would significantly minimise the risks and impacts of climate change;
  • Recognition of the importance for peaking of global emissions and the need for this to happen as soon as possible although it is acknowledged that this will take longer for developing countries;
  • Implementation of solutions to rapidly reduce emissions there after in accordance with the best science available.

 

The Strategic Pathway for Reducing Emissions

The pathway to achieving below 1.5 degrees Celsius requires:

  • Quicker deployment of technology – the goal is to look at technologies that have the capability of reaching the 2 degrees Celsius limit and clear the pathway for faster deployment. Negative CO2 emission technology is critical to both 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius pathways. This necessitates the need to meet the reduction shortfalls in global GHG emissions.
  • Efficient Energy Mix – A country’s energy mix needs to be efficient in order to stabilise global emissions, combined with a reduced demand for energy, however the latter is unlikely to be the case due to a big shift in electrification.

A radical move away from fossil fuel use and towards large-scale low-carbon and efficient energy supplies is necessary. A radical move will involve the global phasing out of coal and a complete decarbonisation of the power generation sector including deriving and implementing contingency efforts in construction, and transport sectors as a priority. Coal as a fuel and its use exceeds the global emissions allowance thus, a rapid phase out would align the targets to that of the Paris Agreement. It is largely expected that the OECD countries will take the lead on this.

 

The role of Renewable Energy Technologies

Improvements in manufacturing and installation costs have resulted in the significant reductions in the costs of renewable energy projects. This changes the course and rate of deployment as observed for solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies, whereby we are seeing year on year increases of capacities to a world total of 400GW as at end of 20172. In the same manner, it is expected that radical technological advancements in energy storage utilising batteries would follow such path. Improvement in the economic modelling to account for these cost reductions, in addition to necessitating the upscale for investment in storage mediums should push rapid deployment of these technologies. Consequently, reductions in emissions will be as a result of significantly reducing our dependence for fossil fuels. Locations that hold the key for significant improvements in world emissions are Africa and Middle East. When advocating renewable energy sources such as solar PV technologies, these areas offer the highest capacity factor for converting solar energy to electricity. Whilst we have seen increases in capacity additions in places like India resulting for a total world capacity share of 9.3%, Africa as a continent still accounts for less that 1% as at end of 20172.

 

Transportation Systems – A Focus on our Skies

Since rail and road transport systems largely depend on an electrification strategy to drastically reduce emissions including oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and is based on increased power generation demand, the focus of the transport sector should largely be on aerospace and marine systems. However, the solutions for marine are not unique in concept as they largely draw on current renewable technologies for primary or hybrid propulsion. Thus, it is an issue of application within the marine sector and will be covered in future insights. The situation with aerospace is somewhat different and requires an acceptable level of disruption to the current technologies.  According to the European Commission Energy, Climate change and Environment policy, one of the fastest-growing sources of GHG emissions is aviation and this is unlikely to change due to our appetite for travel; in fact, the upward trend is expected to continue. Direct emissions from aviation make up 3% and 2% of the EU’s and global total GHG emissions respectively3. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) forecasts that aviation emissions would increase by 70% by 2020 from 2005 levels and could further increase by another 300-700% in the year 20503. With the current propulsion technologies at their limits in terms of design, the industry requires a drastic change in how efficiency as well as reduced fuel burn can be realised.

Future EGB insights will focus on the various technologies underpinned in the global strategy, to bring about the rapid reduction in global emission including the challenges faced in the conceptual phases, the realisation process and deployment.

 

About EGB Engineering

EGB Engineering is a UK based company with expertise in the field of power and propulsion. To find out more click here

References

  1. United Nations Climate Change, The Paris Agreement, https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement (website visited 6th August 2018).
  2. Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (Ren21), Renewables 2018 Global Status Report, accessed via http://www.ren21.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/17-8652_GSR2018_FullReport_web_final_.pdf (website visited 6th August 2018).
  3. European Commission, Reducing Emissions from Aviation, https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/transport/aviation_en (website visited 6th August 2018).