11. Fossile bioenergy (Greetings from the Miocene)
The transformation from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources will not happen overnight. The challenge is enormous. A few numbers illustrate the magnitude of the issue. One gigatonne (Gt) is one billion tons.
About 1,600 Gt: this much CO2 has been released by humanity from the burning of fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas since the beginning of the industrialization. This does not include the 670 Gt of CO2 from land use, drying up moors and forest clearance. (Global Carbon Budget 2018).
Another 3,400 Gt of CO2 would be released in addition if mankind exploited all coal, oil and gas reserves. "Reserves" are known occurrences that are economically viable with current state of the art technology at current prices (BGR 2019)
50,000 Gt CO2 would be equivalent to all fossil resources. "Resources are known and suspected deposits whose exploitation would be technically not possible or unprofitable by today’s standard. (BGR 2019).
In 2017, 37 Gt of CO2 were released from fossil fuels and around 5 Gt of CO2 net from land use, mainly through forest clearing.
Out of these, 22 Gt remained in the atmosphere, with the rest was taken up by oceans and land ecosystems. This corresponds to an increase in CO2 in the atmosphere by almost 2.2 ppm. (Global Carbon Budget 2018).
Can the 1.5 degree goal be kept?
580 Gt: That was the remaining CO2 budget at the end of 2017; Humanity as a whole should not emit more to meet the 1.5 degree target with a 50% probability. However, there are still great uncertainties, as it is not really known which self-amplifying effects might kick in and when (Hausfather 2018), such as methane release from thawing permafrost soils for example.
If humanity continues as in 2015 to2018, the remaining budget of 580 Gt additional CO2 will have already been consumed by 2031.
Existing power plants, CO2-intensive factories, vehicles and aircrafts would emit 660 Gt of CO2 alone if they were used until the end of their expected lifetime.
Another 190 Gt of CO2 would be contributed by fossil-fuel powered plants already planned and under construction if they will run their full lifetime.
In order to achieve the 1.5-degree goal of the world community, it is not enough to leave the majority of fossil fuels that are already profitable today untouched. Rather, parts of the already existing fossil energy infrastructure would have to be shut down ahead of schedule. And anyone who takes 1.5 degree goal seriously should not access new deposits or build pipelines.
Literature and Links:
- BGR (2019): BGR Energiestudie 2018 – Daten und Entwicklungen der deutschen und globalen Energieversorgung (22). – 178 S.; Hannover. Online: https://www.bgr.bund.de/DE/Themen/Energie/Downloads/energiestudie_2018.pdf
- Eichhorn, Chr. (2019): Geplante Kraftwerke sprengen Klimaziele. Süddeutsche Zeitung 1.Juli 2019. Online: https://www.sueddeutsche.de/wissen/klimawandel-co2-emissionen-kohle-kraftwerke-1.4507114
- Global Carbon Budget (2018): 2018 Summary Highlights. Online: https://www.globalcarbonproject.org/carbonbudget/18/highlights.htm
- Hausfather, Z. (2018): Analysis: Why the IPCC 1.5 C report expanded the carbon budget. CarbonBrief 8. October 2018. Online: https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-why-the-ipcc-1-5c-report-expanded-the-carbon-budget
- Jackson R. B. et al. (2018): Global energy growth is outpacing decarbonization. Environmental Research Letters, Vol. 13, No. 12. Online: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aaf303
- Tong, D. et al. (2019): Committed emissions from existing energy infrastructure jeopardize 1.5 °C climate target. Nature 572, 373-377. Online: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1364-3
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