Scientists at Utrecht University in the Netherlands have modelled a way to hit tough global climate targets without resorting to the extensive use of negative emissions technology such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).
Most 1.5 degree climate scenarios – a temperature limit that would save low-lying islands from rising sea levels and avert the worst economic and ecological impacts of climate change – rely heavily on negative emissions technology to make the numbers add up.
But such technology is still relatively unproven and commercially challenging, while planting more foreststo act as carbon sinks takes time and eats into the available land to grow food.
Researchers at Utrecht University claimed to have found a way around this challenge last week, with the release of a new paper explaining how the 1.5 degrees target can be reached with a radically scaled down use of negative emissions technology.
Using computer modelling, the scientists found that by using more renewable power and cutting down on agriculture emissions the world can hit 1.5 degrees with substantially less use of negative emissions technology.
Animal production, for example, is responsible for up to 14.5 per cent of global emissions, as well as demanding extensive land and water use and playing a role in deforestation. If humans limited intake of meat and dairy to a healthy amount the pressure to use negative emissions would ease substantially.
Detlef van Vuuren, project manager of the IMAGE project and professor at Utrecht University, acknowledged that such lifestyle shifts may be difficult to deliver. “It is clear that each path comes with its own challenges,” he admitted. “For example, a change in dietary habits entails a large-scale change in the global food system. In any case, each scenario shows a clear break with past trends.”
But the paper notes that such alternative scenarios offer many other global benefits in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, such as improving health and global food supply.
The paper also stressed that ongoing investment in negative emissions technology would be necessary in any scenario in order to meet the 1.5 degree target.