For our new report Who’s Getting Ready for Zero we looked at lots of very low- and zero-emission scenarios from around the world. These studies, which focus on a range of scales from global to city-level, allow us to envisage and plan for a zero emissions future.
It could be argued that focusing on longer-term goals, like zero-emissions by mid-century, takes our eye from the pressing task of reducing emissions here and now. However, the merit of such scenarios is that they allow us to understand what a zero emissions world will be like and, therefore, make the right choices now to achieve an efficient and as-rapid-as-possible transition to the future we need.
Below are three key lessons for the action we take now from the zero emissions scenarios we’ve studied.
Lessons for now from zero emission scenarios
1) There’s lots we can do now to reduce emissions that we will definitely need in a zero emissions future, such as installing zero carbon sources of electricity like wind and solar; improving building energy efficiency; increasing the use of public transport, cycling and walking; requiring highly energy efficient appliances, vehicles and machinery; and changing farming and eating habits to make our diets lower-carbon and more sustainable. We should focus on these things rather than expanding short-term ‘solutions’ that may become redundant or be counter-productive, for example, using poorly sourced biomass for heat or baseload power generation, or first generation biofuels for vehicle fuel.
2) We can make smart short-term choices to enable the move to zero emissions, even if the full transition comes later. For example, we will need to electrify much heating using heat pumps, so we should make buildings ready for this technology by installing appropriate heat distribution and storage, even if the technology is not installed in the first instance. We will also need to be much more energy and resource efficient in manufacturing and building, so we should be designing and using products whose components are easily reusable and recyclable. There are many examples we can find like this and they will make the transition to zero-emissions faster and more efficient.
3) We need to understand the fundamentals of a what a zero-emissions future looks like, and build this knowledge into our planning and research & development. For example, many of the studies highlighted in our report show that we can produce abundant clean electricity in a zero-emissions future. However, the availability of solid, liquid and gas fuels will be more constrained. We should therefore, wherever possible, begin to design out the need for these fuels, such as by exploring alternatives to material manufacture that requires high temperature processes, or transportation systems that require high density fuels. We also know that land will be a precious resource in a zero-emissions future, potentially proving food, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, materials or bioenergy, so we need to carefully examine current and future land use in terms of what it delivers.
So there’s lots we can take from very low- and zero-emission scenarios and modelling to inform the decisions and actions we take now.
In addition, we should not underestimate the importance when thinking about zero-emission futures of having a clear, positive and exciting goal to work towards. Such a goal may be vital in enthusing people and motivating the action we need now and in the future – this is something we will be exploring in our new project Zero Carbon: Making It Happen.