In 2015, almost 200 countries agreed at a United Nations summit to a radical shift away from fossil fuels with a goal of limiting a rise in average global temperatures to well below 2.0°C above pre-industrial times while “pursuing efforts” for a safer threshold of 1.5°C.
Reuters Newsagency reports economic development and industrialisation around the world has resulted in an expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure, such as power plants and pipelines.
As a result the world is currently on track for at least a 3.0°C rise.
The paper published in the journal Nature by scientists from United States and Chinese universities used data from existing and planned fossil fuel energy infrastructure as of the end of 2018 to estimate future carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
They found that future emissions from that infrastructure, such as power plants and pipelines, are larger than the amount that can be emitted under a 1.5°C limit.
“Our estimates suggest that little or no additional CO2-emitting infrastructure can be commissioned and that infrastructure retirements that are earlier than historical ones, or retrofits with carbon capture and storage technology, may be necessary, in order to meet the UN sponsored Paris Agreement climate goals,” the paper said.
Infrastructure lifetimes would need to be reduced to less than 25 years and capacity factors to less than 30 per cent, for example.
Without such changes, the goals of the global climate pact, the Paris Agreement, are in jeopardy, the study said.
Last year, a UN-backed panel of scientists said human made CO2 emissions would have to reach “net zero” by mid-century to contain warming at 1.5°C.
The amount of electricity from renewable energy would need to surge and decrease from coal and gas, using technology to capture carbon and store it underground.
As of the end of 2018, 579 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired generation capacity, 583GW of gas- and 46GW of oil-fired generation capacity was proposed to be built over the next several years, the Nature study said.
If the existing fossil fuel infrastructure around the world continues to operate as it has in the past, it will emit around 658 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2, the study added.
More than half of these emissions are projected to come from the electricity sector.
Infrastructure in China, the US and the European Union represents around 41 per cent, nine per cent and seven per cent of those emissions, respectively.
If built, power plants that are planned, permitted or under construction globally would emit an additional 188Gt of CO2.
“Committed emissions from existing and proposed energy infrastructure (about 846Gt CO2) thus represent more than the entire remaining carbon budget if warming is to be limited to 1.5°C, with a probability of 50–66 per cent (420–580Gt CO2),” the scientists said.
The authors of the Nature paper are from the Tsinghua University in China, the University of California, Carnegie Institution for Science and Global Energy Monitor in the US.