Rethinking Climate Change
RethinkX, an independent think-tank that analyzes and forecasts the speed and scale of technology-driven disruption and its implications across society, has released a new report – Rethinking Climate Change - How Humanity Can Choose to Reduce Emissions 90% by 2035 through the Disruption of Energy, Transportation, and Food with Existing Technologies.
The report analyzes how, if we make the right choices, disruptive technologies can enable the world to eliminate 90 percent of carbon emissions within the next 15 years, and go beyond net zero after 2040.
The reports states that with the right societal choices these three disruptions can eliminate the overwhelming majority of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide within 15 years. These technologies will also make the cost of carbon withdrawal affordable, meaning that moonshot breakthrough technologies are not required to go beyond net zero from 2035 onwards.
We already have the energy, transportation and food technologies needed to reduce over 90% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide in the next 15 years. With the right societal choices, we can stop climate pollution at the levels needed to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius.
- Technology disruptions, including automobiles, cameras, and smartphones, have happened quickly and exponentially, making legacy industries obsolete within 10 to 15 years. Adopting a technology disruption mindset will allow policymakers to recognize the speed of the most critical disruptions, making more informed choices about where to focus action for maximum impact.
- We can achieve a net-zero future on time, and opening up enormous opportunities for carbon-free prosperity, if policymakers make intelligent choices to enable these highest-impact technologies and stop supporting legacy industries that are getting in the way. If they are not decisive in this regard, we’ll lose precious time in responding to this crisis, which will mean far more significant planetary risks and trillions of dollars worth of otherwise avoidable losses.
- Policymaker choices should strategically target and support the highest impact technologies and avoid other “scattershot” climate approaches that are far more costly and unfeasible, such as clean coal and carbon capture, as well as remove barriers that are stymying disruptive technologies. This approach can allow markets to do the bulk of the deployment work.
- Highest impact technology sector opportunities include:
- ENERGY: The largest, most immediate opportunity is in the energy sector (57.6% of GHGs), which is rapidly being transformed by affordable, scalable low-carbon technologies in the form of solar PVs, wind power, and lithium-ion storage batteries.
- TRANSPORTATION: The transportation sector (16.2% of GHGs) will face dramatic disruptions as electric vehicles (EVs) and autonomous EVs enable transportation-as-a-service and bring an end to internal combustion engines and private vehicle ownership.
- FOOD: Rapidly advancing technologies will drive disruption in the food sector (18% of GHGs) from precision fermentation and cellular agriculture, which will eventually replace meat and animal-based food products – freeing up the 2.7 billion hectares of land they rely on.
- Energy, transportation, and food technologies will achieve significant GHG reductions within their sectors, but their potential is exponentially more effective when factoring in the impact of various feedback loops between these sectors.
- Disruptive technologies can help close the wealth and technology gaps between rich and developing countries. For example: rapidly scaling solar, wind, and batteries would help deliver electricity to billions of people who have no electricity today.
- The report outlines three different scenarios for policymakers:
- THE ‘GET SERIOUS’ SCENARIO: This most ambitious response, where policymakers proactively accelerate the disruption of energy, transportation, and food technologies over the 2020s and reforest just 20% of land freed up by food sector disruptions, would enable a GHG emission decline of over 60% by 2030 and 100% before 2035. The changes would also dramatically bring down the costs of carbon sequestration. By 2040, carbon emissions would be 20% below ‘net zero’.
- THE ‘BE SENSIBLE’ SCENARIO: By choosing to deploy and scale only those core technologies available today with positive economic impacts, humanity can achieve the GHG emissions reductions well within the timeline needed to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, as called for under the international Paris Climate Agreement. By removing barriers to deployment and support for incumbent monopolies, 90% GHG reductions can be achieved by 2035. We can then reach net zero by 2040 through passive reforestation on land freed up by the food disruptions, and can continue to draw down carbon from the atmosphere below ‘net zero’ from there onwards.
- THE ‘GET STUCK’ SCENARIO: Policymakers might unwittingly or otherwise delay the disruptions, an approach with some of the markings of our situation today, such as subsidies and financial support for fossil fuels, utility monopolies, and the livestock sector, resulting in emissions rising for another five years and global temperatures exceeding 2 degrees Celsius – placing us squarely in the “climate danger zone.”
- The report provides a decision-making framework to help policymakers evaluate the ‘mitigation-readiness’ of climate solution technologies. This will help them effectively target commercially available and competitive technologies today to achieve the most extensive, fastest emissions reductions.
Download the Report (pdf).
Earlier reports from RethinkX;