On Tuesday, I wrote about reports from PricewaterhouseCoopers on climate change and its impacts on business. One of those reports - Too late for two degrees?- presents some stark, stunning realities that go far beyond the world of profits, balance sheets, and stock prices.
The report estimates the required improvement in global carbon intensity to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations at 450 ppm and give us just a 50/50 chance of limiting warming to 2°C. It says, drily:
“This year we estimated that the required improvement in global carbon intensity to meet a 2ºC warming target has risen to 5.1% a year, from now to 2050.”
The context surrounding that number demonstrates the immensity of the challenge:
“We have passed a critical threshold – not once since 1950 has the world achieved that rate of decarbonisation in a single year, but the task now confronting us is to achieve it for 39 consecutive years.
The 2011 rate of improvement in carbon intensity was 0.8%. Even doubling our rate of decarbonisation, would still lead to emissions consistent with six degrees (Celsius) of warming. To give ourselves a more than 50% chance of avoiding two degrees will require a six-fold improvement in our rate of decarbonisation.”
PwC concludes that the consensus international goal of limiting warming to 2°C is “highly unrealistic:”
“Now one thing is clear: businesses, governments and communities across the world need to plan for a warming world – not just 2°C, but 4°C, or even 6°C.”
Can this unimaginable outcome be avoided? Only with a response that is both “radical” and “rapid”:
“The only way to avoid the pessimistic scenarios will be radical transformations in the ways the global economy currently functions: rapid uptake of renewable energy, sharp falls in fossil fuel use or massive deployment of CCS, removal of industrial emissions and halting deforestation. This suggests a need for much more ambition and urgency on climate policy, at both the national and international level.
Either way, business-as-usual is not an option.”
The report discusses the limited role of shale gas (p. 8):
“A shift to gas away from oil and coal can provide temporary respite, a necessary but not sufficient move to the low carbon challenge.”
However, it’s important to point out that gas is seen by the most pro-renewable thinkers as an essential transition fuel. And “radical and rapid” measures will require political compromise. The Council on Foreign Relations’ Michael Levi suggests that such steps will eventually require collaboration that extends far across party lines – and that will inevitably require some support for U.S. oil and gas.
Time is running out. Will we be wise enough to forge the right coalitions with the urgency needed?