Sit down before you read this.
Good. With all the dire warnings about climate-change coming from the most recent studies—from the Fourth National Climate Assessment released on Black Friday to an October report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which showed that catastrophic effects could hit by 2040—the latest news is even worse .
The study by Wood Mackenzie, a global consultant to the energy industry—both renewable and fossil energy—comes out and says what has been on many observers' minds: It can't be fixed.
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This isn't some pessimistic study that says the world can't transition off fossil fuels. It is intended to look at the best-case scenario of a convergence of trends toward electric cars, self-driving cars, and renewable power.
Even in its most optimistic scenario, the study says the Paris Climate Accord target of limiting global warming to 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), is out of reach. That is the increase that scientists have determined as the limit to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.
"Even with an accelerated pace of change, a ‘2-degree world’ remains out of reach in our accelerated scenario," says David Brown, a senior analyst at Wood Mackenzie. "Much more needs to happen around lowering non-power sector emissions to achieve such an outcome. Political momentum will be crucial, and at present climate leadership is lacking."
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In its most optimistic scenario, the study assumes that in the U.S., the European Union, and China, all new cars will be electric by 2040, and that will save 11 million barrels per day of oil globally. It says that peak oil consumption will arrive in 2031, five years ahead of earlier forecasts.
It assumes that by 2030, policies in advanced nations will favor self-driving, electric robo-taxis, which will then begin to take off. Those robo-taxis will have five times the utilization of private cars, freeing up land for development or preservation that would otherwise be used for parking lots.
In what WoodMac calls this "carbon-constrained scenario," demand for electricity for transportation will be 1.5 times larger than the total power demand in India last year—1,900 terawatt-hours.
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Such high power demand will provide incentives for renewable sources, which the study calls "clear winners," growing at an average annual rate of 11 percent through 2035, with wind and solar power growing nine-fold during that time. The study assumes that large-scale energy storage will become economically viable under such conditions and amount to 780 gigawatts by 2040.
Even under those conditions, Brown says, "Fossil fuel use will not disappear any time soon," amounting to 77 percent of all energy supplies, down 2 percentage points from WoodMac's base case scenario.
Emerging markets will require more natural gas, while coal use will be cut in half by 2040—even with no additional government restrictions.
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Brown says Europe is still "way ahead of other markets with its carbon regime," but even those countries need to accelerate their reductions.
With that as the best-case scenario, all that could be left to do is adapt to the effects of climate change while working to minimize its effects. Unfortunately, other studies have shown that it will be more expensive to adapt to climate change than to mitigate it.
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