A new report released today by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon shows how 15 countries including Australia could together cut  emissions in half while tripling economic output. 

The Deep Decarbonisation Pathways project involves modelling teams from all of the major emitters including Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, the UK, and the USA.  These countries account for 70 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The aim of the project is to show how the world can still limit global warming to two degrees to avoid the worst of climate change risks and impacts. 

As a global first, national teams of local experts have prepared detailed analyses of how each country could make deep cuts to carbon in its energy and industrial systems. For most of the 15 countries, the scenarios are more ambitious than what has been modelled in detail by national teams before. 

The Pathways to Decarbonisation report is to be presented at the UN Climate Leaders’ Summit in New York on September 23.  A comprehensive Australian report on Australia’s pathway to a low carbon economy by 2050 will be released in Melbourne in mid-September.

Climateworks Australia and the Australian National University jointly lead Australia’s involvement in the project, drawing on modelling from the CSIRO and Victoria University’s Centre of Policy Studies. 

Climateworks Executive Director, Anna Skarbek said the report shows all 15 countries can achieve deep emissions reductions by 2050 using known technologies and while achieving sustainable economic development.  

“The solutions differ according to countries’ characteristics, but all show great increases in energy efficiency across the economy, a nearly carbon free power system, and switching to low carbon energy sources in transport, buildings and industry,” she said. 

“For example, the US report shows energy emissions reduce by 85% while GDP nearly doubles. Its power system in 2050 is 40% renewables, 30% nuclear and 30% carbon capture and storage (CCS) on coal and gas, and oil use is reduced by 88% between 2010 and 2050. 

“China’s report shows that coal is only 20% of China’s total primary energy consumption in 2050, compared to about 70% in 2010.   In addition, the output of cement and crude steel are anticipated to peak by 2020.”

Ms Skarbek said Australia has more renewable energy options than most countries, and can achieve near-zero carbon electricity through renewables alone, or alternatively could introduce some CCS or nuclear in the mix. As electricity is decarbonised, electricity can replace petrol and gas in vehicles and buildings and some industry processes. Remaining fossil fuel use can be shifted to bioenergy. 

“Australia’s 2050 pathway delivers a 71 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions from energy, while the economy grows by almost 150 per cent. Through additional land-based carbon sequestration, it would keep Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions within the 2-degree budget identified by Australia’s Climate Change Authority,” she said.

ANU Centre for Climate Economics and Policy Director, Frank Jotzo said the report found that all 15 national deep decarbonisation pathways showed continued strong economic growth over the same period.

“GDP is expected to grow three and a half fold by 2050 across the 15 countries.  At the same time, the 15 pathways achieve a 45 per cent decrease in total CO2-energy emissions, and a 56 per cent decrease in emissions per capita,” he said.

“The analysis shows that economic growth can be decoupled from carbon emissions in each of these major countries. That includes China, India, Indonesia, Brazil and others that are still rapidly developing.

“Decarbonisation would mean that the energy system and some aspects of land management look quite different from what they would under a high-carbon scenario. But for every declining technology there are new opportunities arising, and most of the economy would simply motor on. Cleaning up the world’s energy system does not stand in the way of economic prosperity.”

Dr Jotzo said that the current focus of the international climate negotiations is on emission targets to 2025 or 2030. Yet when countries do a “backcasting” exercise with a longer time horizon like 2050, they can see what strategies could actually achieve the 2°C limit agreed by all governments in 2010.

“Preparing economy-wide decarbonisation trajectories also helps focus on where more innovation is needed. For example, decarbonisation strategies for freight and industry are less well developed and understood than for the power sector and for buildings” he said.

This week’s China Update conference at the ANU will hear from a lead researcher on the China Deep Decarbonisation modelling team. Associate Professor Fei Teng of Tsinghua University will present modelling that shows China’s carbon emissions peaking and then decreasing, while GDP per capita increases six-fold until 2050.

For further information about the project or to obtain a copy of the UN interim report go to: deepdecarbonization.org