Are we still on time to mitigate global warming?
We are not out of the current crisis, is it already time to worry about the next one?
The truth is, it never really went away. Global warming, a gradual increase in the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere generally attributed to the greenhouse effect, has been on everyone’s minds for decades.
Global temperatures have increased by 1.9 degrees Celsius since 1880. Its consequences could be deathful for the planet as we know it. The big question is, are we still on time to stop it? Scientists estimate that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius would reduce the odds of initiating the most dangerous and irreversible effects of climate change.
At McKinsey’s, they’ve done the maths, and their expert team believes it is possible to mitigate climate change through decarbonization (ie. limiting the amount of CO2, methane and nitrous oxide that gets released into the atmosphere); but it would require drastic measures to be taken in a very short span of time.
Of course, there is a wide range of variables to consider as well as its complex interaction making any modeling extremely difficult. Nevertheless, any of the scenarios considered by McKinsey require drastic changes in several areas.
Modern agriculture systems contribute 20% of global GHG emissions, with soil emitting more Co2 than plants can currently take. If we add population growth to the equation and therefore, a sustained food consumption increase, agricultural emissions will raise between 15 to 25% by 2050. Most of these, about 70%, come from ruminant meat. In order to limit warming to the 1.5 degrees pathway, we’d need to reduce the share of meat by half (from 9% as currently predicted to 4%) by 2050.
That wouldn’t be sufficient, we’d also need to come up with new and more efficient systems and cultivation methods. Currently, one-third of global food output is lost in either production or consumption, needing a 20% reduction.
Deforestation comprises 15% of global emissions; on McKinskey’s most optimistic scenarios where fossil emissions have been reduced and all industrial sectors are rapidly decarbonizing, deforestation would still need a 75% decrease by 2030. Needless to say, rapid reforestation is a must. Plenty of organizations and businesses are fighting for deforestation to end by either campaigning or tree planting; some non-profits such as trees.org help farmers create sustainable farming in different areas. However, we lack urgent government intervention and policymaking to step into sustainable agriculture.
Road transport counts for another 15% of greenhouse emissions; the creation of a worldwide electric transportation infrastructure would be extremely important to reduce these as well as policies to help reduce the mileage of personal vehicles. Space and water heating in buildings and apartments would need to transition into an electric system leaving behind traditional gases.
Another important measure would be electrification acceleration within mid to low industrial operations. By 2030, 90% of current power sources would need to shift to clean energy. In order for this math to work, it would mean electrifying at more than twice the current rate.
Coal mining and oil and gas companies would need to find the necessary infrastructure to tackle fugitive methane, the natural gas that’s released through these industries activities. While this is easily doable for the second with favorable economics, coal-mining solutions exist but aren’t regularly implemented and ready solutions are not currently available.
Renewable energies, bioenergies, and hydrogen produced by renewable energy would play a huge part in decarbonization. Nevertheless, they would have to be implemented at a much faster rate than they currently are with solar panels’ capacity being 8 times larger and wind turbines 5 times.
What else would be needed?
Finally, even if all these measures were implemented at the necessary rate, we would still need to find a solution to capture, use, and store carbon multiplying 2016’s numbers 125 times and potentially through innovation and government policies.
All the above numbers account for about 50% of the issue; the remaining 50% can be found within subcategories of these main areas and are applicable to specific industries.
So many questions in these areas are likely to emerge over the next months and years. Whether leaders and businesses will be able to adapt at the needed pace remains unknown but what’s clear is that solutions are needed urgently.
If reading this left you wondering what it is that you can do, there are some easily actionable steps you can take from reducing your meat consumption to the use of public transportation rather than private vehicles.
Educating yourself on the topic and leading by example will never go old. This article aims to be an eye-opener of how much we don’t know and how little time we have to fix it; but there’s so much more important information out there, waiting for us to make good use of it.
Moreover, let’s not forget that although corporations have a big say on whether or not we make it through this, we are the ones consuming from them; if that stops, they’ll have no choice but to make changes.
Educate yourself and don’t be afraid to speak up.