Tuesday, 21 Sep 2021

How 90pc of world’s carbon emissions could be eliminated by 2035: report

Most of the world’s carbon emission reductions in the next 15 years can be achieved by ending vertically-integrated energy monopolies and removing livestock farming subsidies and protections, and regulatory hurdles for electric and self-drive vehicles.

This is the conclusion of a new report from San Francisco independent technology disruption think tank RethinkX, which says 90 per cent of emissions from the carbon-intensive energy, transportation and food industries could be eliminated by 2035 largely by removing barriers to market forces, rather than through “onerous” state interventions.

The 72-page report urges policymakers to accelerate deployment of the highest impact disruptive technologies already existing rather than the “whack a mole” approaches of techno-fixes like clean coal, behaviour change or carbon taxes “which only treat symptoms and cannot solve the underlying problem”.

“This means the bulk of emissions reductions can be achieved largely by removing barriers to market forces, rather than through onerous state interventions. This includes ending vertically-integrated utility monopolies in the energy sector, removing livestock farming subsidies in the food sector, and eradicating regulatory hurdles to electric and autonomous vehicles.

“Giving up economic prosperity now to solve climate change has the problem backwards,” said RethinkX co-founder and report co-author James Arbib.

“We could end up destroying the capital needed to build out the new energy, transportation and food systems, which would protect the very incumbent carbon-intensive industries we need to replace.

“The focus should be on enabling the disruptions that are best poised to transform these three sectors currently responsible for over 90 per cent of emissions,” said Arbib, a London-based technology investor who founded RethinkX with Silicon Valley entrepreneur and educator Tony Seba, to analyse and forecast the speed and scale of technology disruption and its societal implications.

The report said that by 2035, technologies across solar, wind and batteries, electric and on-demand autonomous vehicles operated under transport as a service, along with precision fermentation and cellular agriculture, would provide energy, transportation and food two to 10 times cheaper than the fossil fuel-derived products they replace.

“Like the emergence of the Internet, these three disruptions will trigger a cascade of consequences that will transform the entire global economy, decimating trillions ofdollars of investor value in existing industries, while creating trillions more in new business opportunities.”

The report said the greatest barrier to fighting climate change was society’s “mindset”.

“Conventional thinking views emissions mitigation through a linear, reductive lens that fails to appreciate the character, speed and dynamics of change in both natural systems and human systems.

“As a result we have seen a consistent pattern of mistakes and corrections over time where each year the underestimated threat of climate change is corrected in the direction of ‘worse than we originally thought’ while the underestimated potential of technology to address it is corrected in the direction of ‘better than we originally thought’.

Conventional thinking and “band aid” approaches had consequently wasted time, attention and resources. Band aids included subsidies and taxes, biofuels, clean coal and clean diesel, said the report.

Using “well-established” cost curves, the report claimed to show how disruptive technologies were rapidly becoming cheaper than carbon-intensive industries in the three sectors, therefore presenting “an overwhelming competitive threat” to the economic viability of those industries.

“While the disruptions will therefore be driven by economics, crucial societal decisions at government, investor, business and other levels can either accelerate or delay the disruptions, with major ramifications for whether the world avoids dangerous climate change,” it said.

“We can either accelerate the energy, transportation and food disruptions and solve the climate crisis by ushering in a new era of clean prosperity, or we can waste decades and trillions of dollars propping up the incumbent system,” said co-author Seba.

The report showed how historical technological disruptions – including automobiles, digital cameras and smartphones – had happened quickly, making legacy technologies obsolete within 10-15 years.

“Policymakers and investors must therefore embrace a disruption mindset to understand the pace and scale of change over the next decade and make optimal decisions about how to deploy public and private resources to address climate change.

“Societies can choose to accelerate deployment to reach net zero global emissions before 2035, going on to achieve 20 per cent negative emissions by 2040 – the safest pathway for avoiding climate risks and the fastest for achieving the maximum benefits of the new clean energy, transportation and food system.”

However, if societies choose instead to protect incumbent fossil fuel firms, utility monopolies and the livestock sector, global emissions would rise rapidly for another five years leading global temperatures to exceed the 2C pathway, “placing humanity within the climate danger zone”, said the report.

“Although these disruptions are ultimately inevitable due to economic forces, how slow or fast these technologies scale globally falls largely on policymakers and their willingness to act quickly – or not,” said co-author Adam Dorr, a research fellow at RethinkX.

Societal choices mattered because technology alone was not enough to achieve net zero emissions and avoid the danger of climate change, he said.

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