Ocean Mist

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18 Dec 2015

A new industrial revolution

Posted by Michael Keating

The Dec. 12 Paris Agreement on climate change was nothing less than the starting gun for the next industrial revolution. The conference, known as COP 21, set a very ambitious target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions enough to slow global warming. The target is to keep the global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius, and to seek to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. The planet’s temperature has already risen by almost 1 degree C since the industrial revolution began 200 years ago. So far, 188 countries have offered climate action plans, but experts calculate these would at best hold the rise to 2.7C.

COP21,Paris,2015The agreement reached by 195 countries calls for a carbon neutral world before the end of this century. This means limiting the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally. Scientists believe the world will have to stop emitting greenhouse gases completely in the next half-century in order to achieve this goal. This means switching virtually all electricity generation, heating, cooling, cars, trucks, aircraft and ships to renewable energy. People born today will need to be driving electric cars, heating their homes with renewable energy, such as geothermal or biofuels, and eating a much less meat intensive diet. This is change on an almost unimaginable scale. Fossil fuels will essentially become obsolete, except if cost effective technologies can capture carbon dioxide before it goes into the air. The energy sector needs to be flipped on its head. Now more than 80 per cent of world commercial energy comes from coal, oil and natural gas. We have to reverse that. Given the lag time needed to design and build major energy projects, we need to start a major shift immediately. Fossil fuels will be needed for decades during the transition, but there needs to be a steady phase down and out for almost all uses.

It will take vast amounts of money. The agreement includes a commitment for developed countries to create a $100-billion-a-year fund by 2020 to help developing countries cope with climate change. This includes support both for technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to adapt to the inevitable climate change already triggered by past emissions. At the climate conference, billionaires Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson and other high-profile entrepreneurs launched the Breakthrough Energy Coalition. They pledged to spark a “new economic revolution” based around clean energy after launching a new investment drive for renewables. The group will mainly invest in early-stage clean energy companies across a range of sectors, such as electricity generation and storage, transportation and agriculture. The initiative was announced in conjunction with Mission Innovation, an effort from 21 governments to double the amount of public money going into clean energy innovation. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has launched an international solar alliance of over 120 countries.

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