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Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development (IGSD)

Durwood ZAELKE
Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development (IGSD)

Time is running out to reduce climate emissions enough to keep the planet from breaching the 1.5°C guardrail

for relative safety, according to the IPCC’s special 1.5°C report published in October. Under current trends, we will push the planet past the 1.5°C guardrail in as little as 12 years, and add 50% more warming than we are experiencing today.

The IPCC’s 1.5°C report warned of dire consequences from passing this fast approaching limit, and is a major advance over previous efforts to alert world leaders and citizens to climate risks. Even so, it failed to alert the world to the risk that the warming we are about to experience will set off self-reinforcing feed back loops.

The report outlines an ambitious path to relative safety that relies on three strategies: (1) reducing CO2 with clean energy and energy efficiency; (2) reducing HFC refrigerants and other short-lived climate pollutants, including black carbon and methane; and (3), scaling up strategies to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

A strategy that combines both energy efficiency to reduce CO2 and reductions of HFCs has the potential to avoid up to 1°C of further warming. Half of this can come from a fast phase down of HFCs under the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, while the other half can come from improvements in energy efficiency of cooling equipment.

This heroic goal was confirmed by the quadrennial assessment of the Scientific Assessment Panel (SAP) of the Montreal Protocol released in November. The SAP calculated that the initial HFC phase down schedule of the Kigali Amendment will capture most—but not all—of the 0.5°C available from switching refrigerants. Leapfrogging over HFCs during the ongoing phase down of HCFC refrigerants could capture the rest, and add up to another 53 billion tons of avoided CO2-eq.

In addition to stunning climate benefits, improving the energy efficiency of cooling equipment can save $2.9 trillion from 2017 to 2050 (as less need for capacity translates into lower investment, fuel and operating costs) according to the International Energy Agency’s report on the “Future of Cooling.”

There are several strategies that can help capture the full climate prize of up to 1°C of avoided warming. The first is to ensure that all Parties ratify the Kigali Amendment as soon as possible, and then implement the HFC phase down as a matter of urgency, including pursuing leapfrogging strategies.

Other strategies include improving and deploying strict energy performance standards worldwide, ensuring that public procurements insist on super efficient cooling equipment, based on a life cycle performance analysis of products; developing private “buyers clubs” to do the same for private sector purchasing; deploy import restrictions to ban inefficient cooling equipment; and challenging the industry to make the most efficient equipment through prizes and other incentives.

In the immediate future, all countries can sign on to the Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s submission to the Talanoa Dialogue. This submission sets out a path, through fast cuts in short lived climate pollutants emissions and deployment of energy efficient cooling equipment, to quickly reduce the rate of near-term warming.

Is keeping the planet under the 1.5°C guardrail impossible? “Impossible isn’t a fact; it’s an attitude,” Christiana Figueres reminded us. So let’s adjust our attitude, and aggressively pursue this 1°C of avoided warming.

Maxime BEAUGRAND & Durwood ZAELKE ,Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development (IGSD)