Study suggests new understanding of transition to a clean economy
a calendar icon
March 7, 2023
min read

Study suggests new understanding of transition to a clean economy

New study reveals a new understanding of the transition to a clean economy. Learn more about the challenges and opportunities

The Paris Agreement: Out of reach?

Study suggests new understanding of transition to a clean economy

A study published this month in Nature Climate Change by researchers, Muttitt, Price and Welsby has concluded that we’re not in the right trajectory in terms of decarbonisation. In order for us to attempt to keep temperatures in the 1.5-degree mark set out in the Paris Agreement, coal power generation would need to phase out in India, China and South Africa, more than twice as fast than any previous power transition in history. They state that the phasing out of coal would also require the fast reduction of gas and oil use to keep the 1.5-degree goal within reach, which would direct attention towards the developed countries. Researchers analysed historical trends in energy transition. They found that fast transition has historically been more difficult to develop in poorer and larger countries. The smaller and more advanced technologically and industrially a country is, the faster can they transition their economies, once again reinforcing the link between socioeconomic capacity and phase-out feasibility. When they do occur in poor countries, fast transitions tend to be triggered by external events and more often than not, cause social and economic damage to those countries.

Transition: What is possible?

Study suggests new understanding of transition to a clean economy

According to them, the world record for the fastest transition gives an idea of what it can be possible to achieve. This means that it is highly unlikely for China, India and South Africa to break the record more than twice over, considering China is a gigantic country, which makes transition slower. India and South Africa on the other hand are both large and mostly lacking in infrastructure necessary to accelerate the transition so one can expect it to be even slower there. They state that to keep the temperatures under 1.5 degrees, the coal phasing out needs to happen by 2050, otherwise even if other emission intensive industries are stopped, the temperature will still go above 1.5 degrees. Thus, phasing coal out is a dire necessity:

“Phasing out coal use as quickly as possible will bring benefits to all countries, both by limiting warming and avoiding the severe health damage caused by air pollution from coal power plants. “

These researchers also found that in order to keep the temperature from rising above 1.5 degrees, developed countries would have to reduce emissions roughly 50% faster than in standard scenarios. This means that oil and gas emissions need to be reduced at even faster rate than coal emissions. Researchers conclude that it might be a good idea to focus more on cutting gas and oil emissions, since transition can happen far faster in developed countries than in underdeveloped countries where coal is used more. This research maps out a very realistic path towards transition using historical trends and data. Whilst the study doesn’t mention it, there’s also the possibility of us being able to transition faster than ever before due to technological advancements and investment in renewable energy which has increased in recent years. These factors can accelerate the pace of transition and make the consequences smoother in large parts of the population. We have reasons to be optimistic but as the research shows, we need not celebrate small steps towards transition any longer. We need to take pace and acceleration into account because we are on a race against time itself to save our planet.