Actions required to ‘fix’ the climate crisis

We can be quite clear on the types and scale of actions we need to take to ‘stop’ climate change. This is because what needs to happen is defined by the science - by the physics and chemistry that dictate cause and effect. It tells us what results we need to see now and over the next decade to achieve what is required. Precisely by how much and by when we need to act will evolve, and at the moment is not critical. What we know is the action required is much more, and must be taken much faster, than any government is planning for or that the market expects.

This area of rapid transformation has been well studied and analysed and we draw here on a number of such studies and plans. The objective is not to present a single perfect plan but to extract ideas from these studies to show the types of actions an emergency mobilisation implies, that it is possible to achieve, and in fact is not that difficult once we decide the alternative is not acceptable.

The key documents referred to (and from which these actions are extracted) are listed at the end. If you prefer to see what an integrated plan would look like, then we suggest reading one or more of those documents.

The examples of the type of ‘actions’ that need to take place (the ‘how’ we achieve the ‘what’) are arranged below in simple lists in the following categories. Links to sources are provided for each action or goal.

What is needed to restore a safe and stable climate?

the goal

Limit temp to 1.0 - 1.5 degrees (not 2 degrees – 2 degrees is not safe FN1 ), invest in rapid cooling options to reduce the risk of runaway feedback in the climate system, and then reduce emissions back to pre-industrial levels (350ppm) by end of century. Essentially we need to restore balance in the global carbon cycle. To achieve this we will need to get to zero emissions as fast as possible, so that our natural systems can recalibrate.

  • 50% reduction in GHG emissions in 5 years (2023) (1WP)

  • Zero emissions in 10-20 (2038) years or less (1WP) (TCM)

  • By end century reduce emissions back to pre-industrial (requiring net absorption of 6 GtCO2e/year from 2038) (1WP) (TCM)

Emissions reduction

Energy Efficiency

  • 80% cut in economy-wide total energy use, much of which can be accomplished through widespread electrification. TCM

  • Ration electricity and rapidly drive efficiency. 1WP; TCM

  • Energy intensity of the global economy must fall two-thirds by 2050. Improvements in energy intensity will have to accelerate from an average of 1.8 percent a year from 2010 to 2015 to an average of 2.8 percent a year through 2050. IRENA VOX

  • To conserve embedded energy in materials let no waste go to waste - limit production of virgin aluminium, cement, iron, plastics and forest products through international agreements to restrict their use through higher price or a special global emissions tax on virgin materials. Drive public recycling. 1WP

    Success = efficiency  > growth in demand

Transition to renewable Energy

Deliver rapid rollout of renewable energy and phase out energy derived from fossil fuels

  • Renewable energy (predominantly wind and solar) grow sixfold faster than they are currently, supplying 85 % of global electricity by 2050 (IRENA). Ecofys scenarios sees 100% global supply by 2040 and Jacobson & Delucchi believe full base load coverage could be achieved by 2030 at a lower cost than fossil fuels or nuclear.  1WP; VOX

  • Build a Continental Renewable Energy SuperSmart Grid by 2025 (distributed renewables generation, linked into a highly flexible grid capable of transporting electricity over vast distances and in all directions). TCM

  • Roll out of national feed-in tariffs. TCM

  • Erect a wind turbine or solar plant in every town with population > 1000. 1WP

  • Scale-up vehicle to grid systems (use electric vehicle (EV) batteries to provide decentralized storage of electrical energy as intermittent energy sources such as wind and solar come online). TCM

  • Close 1,000 dirty coal power plants within five years and all remaining within 10 years. 1WP

  • Retrofit 1,000 coal power plants with CCS within five years. 1WP

  • Expand the development of methane digesters (capture emissions from organic waste and convert to bio-gas and fertiliser) to ~70gW of installed capacity by 2050. DD

  • Maintain existing safe nuclear until renewables reach scale. TCM

  • Phase out fossil fuels in 10 years: End new fossil fuel exploration; ban new investment in fossil fuel infrastructure, use and production; ban new fossil fuel export projects and infrastructure; decommission all fossil fuel uses in 10 years and abolish fossil fuel subsidies. TCM

  • Radical energy transition would mean a net boost in global GDP (relative to the reference case) in every year through 2050 & millions of net jobs. VOX IRENA

Issues with transition to renewable energy

  • Intermittency - solar and wind power are inherently uncontrollable. For instance, wind often blows with the greatest intensity at night, when electricity demand is lowest, and sunshine is limited in the winter. Storage, extra capacity, shifting demand times and reducing demand – are options for overcoming intermittency. TCM

  • Cooling and aerosols: If global fossil fuel combustion is rapidly eliminated the earth will experience a surge of global warming due to reduction in aerosols. Drastic cuts in short-lived warming agents (methane, black carbon, hydrofluorocarbons, and ground level-ozone), rapid sequestration of globally significant quantities of greenhouse gases, the use of solar radiation management cooling interventions (such as shooting aerosols into the stratosphere) to cool the planet or limit the warming surge - are options for controlling warming, but the latter are as yet unproven. TCM

Transport

  • Ban production of fossil fuelled transport modes (land, air & sea) within 10 years, reaching an average industry fleet-wide level of 0 grams/mile of all greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbons (TCM). By year 20, all transport is zero CO2e. 1WP

  • Cash for Clunkers - retire or retrofit motor vehicle fleet (in USA $2 trillion appropriation would likely be sufficient to fund an average $5,000 - $10,000 payment for every retired or retrofitted motor vehicle). TCM 1WP

  • Electrify everything! Rail System for freight; Continental High-Speed Rail Network for transport; Solar-Electric bus rapid transit systems VOX. Electricity rises from 21% of total global energy consumption today to 40% - 70% by 2050 IRENA/Ecofys. “We know how to radically increase the supply of zero-carbon electricity; increasing the supply of zero-carbon liquid fuels is much more difficult. So it makes sense to move as much energy use as possible over to electricity, particularly vehicles, home heating and cooling, and lower-temperature industrial applications”. VOX TCM

  • Car free cities legislation - Improved pedestrian and bicycle access including bike super-highways; incentivise pedestrian and cycle infrastructure and introduce petrol rationing (in WW2 fuel in USA was rationed to 4, then 3, then 2 gallons per week). 1WP TCM

  • Terminate all airport and highway expansion. TCM

  • Curb aviation – strand half the world’s aircraft in 5 years (10% reduction per year), reduce international air travel and shift toward rail and trans-oceanic vessels, rapid development of biofuels and electronic communication. 1WP TCM

  • Investigate viable alternatives for drastic emission reductions in long haul trucking, aviation and shipping - e.g.: electrification / non-destructively harvested perennial biofuels / shipping refashioned to incorporate sails, rotors, kites, renewable electricity, and a modest amount of non-destructively harvested perennial biofuels. TCM

Agriculture

  • Establish national food policies that decouple the industry from the health & well-being of the population, to eliminate competing interests. TCM

  • Bind 1 Gt CO2 in the soil in 5 years (2023). Incentivize soil carbon sequestration on a large scale - establish a system to pay landowners for soil carbon sequestration efforts at a rate of $150 per tonne carbon sequestered/acre/year, or higher. 1WP TCM

  • Cut meat & dairy consumption in half by 2020 (as per China 50% cut in meat consumption per capita for its 1.3 billion citizens by 2030) TCM 1WP. Implementation of the best available technologies for reducing non-CO2 emissions (in meat production) and full adoption of cultured meat by 2050 (1WP), back by pricing and campaigning (e.g. WW2 Meat free Tuesday). VOX

  • Return global grain-producing landscapes to perennial plants in the rotation for grain production – set a long-term goal of 80% deep-rooted long-lived perennials and 20% annuals. TCM

  • Subsidize a shift away from environmentally catastrophic conventional industrial agriculture and toward carbon farming and agroecology. TCM 

  • Provide education and financial support to citizen efforts to create biodiverse, carbon-sequestering gardens on public and private land, and on buildings (as green roofs).

Built environment

  • Overhaul built environment: provide assistance to low-income homeowners to make the switch to energy efficiency, as well as incentives and regulations that ensure landlords follow suit; encourage shift to transit-oriented development; mandate Passive House Standard (Passivhaus) for new buildings; mandate EnerPHit Standard for renovations (EnerPHit is a certified approach similar to Passive House, but for renovations and retrofits). TCM

Behaviour, Lifestyle & Population

  • Education of girls and family planning - Population growth can be curbed most effectively through access to family planning and education of girls. Considered most potent long-term climate policy, delivering 102.96 Gt CO2-e by 2050. VOX DD

  • Transition to less meat-intensive diet - (DD) If 50 % of the world’s population restricts their diet to a healthy 2,500 calories per day and reduces meat consumption overall, as estimated 26.7 Gt of emissions could be avoided from dietary change alone. If avoided deforestation from land use change is included, an additional 39.3 Gt of emissions could be avoided, making healthy, plant-rich diets one of the most impactful solutions at a total of 66 Gt reduced. VOX 1WP

  • Reduce food waste – 50% reduction by 2050.  Food and emissions rationing, improved storage solutions, interventions at retail and consumer levels and national food waste targets will not only reduce future food demand, but create avoided emissions equal to 26.2 Gt CO2. DD TCM

  • Implement emissions rationing system - all products and services that emit greenhouse gases are rationed using electronic cards (similar to credit or debit cards) and regular, equal greenhouse gas emissions allowances are freely issued to all citizens. Citizens would be able to sell their unused rations back to the government for cash. The government would then permanently retire the unused rations. TCM

  • Conserve for victory – reduce speed limits; encourage car sharing and pooling; incentivise employers to allow working from home and teleconferencing. TCM

  • Transition to less CO2-intensive transport modes (following the current modal split in Japan), less intensive use of heating and cooling (change of 1-2°C in heating and cooling reference levels) and a reduction in the use of several domestic appliances.

  • Launch a government and community led “shop less, live more” campaign to free up finance, manufacturing capacity and resources for critical activities & reduce (or at least stabilise), carbon-intensive activities. 1WP

  • Subsequent research focus on social and political barriers and strategies is vital. VOX

Cooling and emissions removal

Global cooling

In order to reduce the risk of triggering runaway positive feedbacks urgent initiative are required to lower the temperature immediately in parallel to activities listed above.

  • Albedo modification and solar radiation management (e.g.: White roofs campaign) – only reversible methods should be researched. 1WP TCM

  • Extremely drastic cuts in emissions of short-lived warming agents such as methane, including capture (or burning to convert to less potent C02) methane from agriculture and landfill. TCM 1WP

  • Extremely rapid sequestration of greenhouse gases through global ecosystem restoration. TCM

  • A global switch to veganism combined with a gigantic reforestation and afforestation effort on former pastureland and grassland. TCM

  • Restoring water cycles to cool the planet

Negative emissions

IPCC 1.5°C report has faced criticism as it relies heavily on ‘negative emission’ (ways of pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere - primarily via BECCS, which is not yet proven effective at scale), to delay / buy time for more radical reduction measures. While the ‘radical’ measures outlined above will reduce warming, some negative emissions will be required to limit temperature increase to around 1.5 degrees warming, so “investment in the development of CDR options remains an important strategy if the international community intends to implement the Paris target”.

  • Bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration TCM

  • Large scale afforestation & reforestation TCM 1WP

    • Cut deforestation and other logging by 50 per cent in 5 years (2023) and net deforestation completely by 20 years. 1WP

  • A half-earth conservation and ocean-protection program to halt the ongoing mass extinction of species and turn ecosystems into effective carbon sinks – prioritising key location in the biosphere based on their uniqueness and need for preservation. TCM

  • Carbon sequestration on agricultural lands TCM 1WP

    • Bind 1 Gt CO2 in the soil in 5 years (2023). Incentivize soil carbon sequestration on a large scale - establish a system to pay landowners for soil carbon sequestration efforts at a rate of $150 per tonne carbon sequestered/acre/year, or higher. 1WP

  • Rapidly rollout any geo-engineering projects with short-term benefits – be they reduction in temperature or removal of CO2 – after careful scrutiny of the environmental impacts both in the short term and in the long run. 1WP

Resourcing and coordinating emergency mobilisation

Feasibility

 Are these radical measures ‘realistic’? There are two parts to this question:

1.       Is it technically and economically possible to rapidly reduce global GHG concentrations to a level that will bring warming back to 1-1.5 degrees?

2.       Is an agreement to achieve such a plan politically conceivable?

The answer to the first question is yes. The conclusion of several analyses indicates that based on current knowledge and technology, limiting warming to 1.5 degrees with limited overshoot is completely achievable at an acceptable cost. It would be very disruptive to parts of the economy and to many people, and it would require considerable sacrifice, but it certainly ‘solves the problem’.

On the second question, it would require a level of mobilisation and global cooperation similar to that of a world war, but society is capable of – and critically, experienced in – such mobilisations when it finally decides to solve a problem. The dominant view is now emerging that climate change threatens the viability of civilisation and the collapse of the global economy -  a crisis response will soon follow and society’s framework will change from ‘what is politically possible’ to Churchill’s ‘what is necessary’.

The most challenging area of achieving ‘what is necessary’ on the climate emergency is global distribution of actions, costs and benefits. Like in any war, this will inevitably end up as a compromise between real power, equity and what can be achieved. Key elements required are outlined below:

Governance and Leadership

  • Establish a multinational command structure (‘Climate Emergency Command’) – controlled by those countries participating in the emergency response. Combine the expertise and the lessons of institutions like the IMF (for professional advice on macroeconomics), the IPCC (for advice on climate issues) and various multi-national military commands. The climate war command would have a variety of powers including the authority to ensure that funds are distributed according to a harmonised global strategy, and to impose equivalent tariffs on imports from any countries that do not agree to the tax. 1WP

  • Create the global ‘Climate Stability Commission’ to determine the CO2 concentration required to stabilise the climate as the science develops, to investigate and agree necessary geo-engineering projects to achieve stabilisation, and to monitor their implementation. 1WP

  • At a national level, governments will need to establish new agencies and institutions designed to coordinate and guide the rapid response to the climate emergency and restructuring of the economy. The agencies must operate on a transparent, inclusive, and fair basis. TCM

Funding and resources

As in WWII, global government should mobilize their considerable financing powers to make ample funds available for all aspects of the Climate Emergency response.

  • Introduce carbon tax of US$100 per tonne of CO2 levied at source on all fossil fuels (i.e. coal, oil and gas) - start at US$20/tonne in year 1 and increasing by US$20/tonne per year over a five-year duration (Note: VOX says uniform carbon tax should apply to all regions and sectors). This would initially raise some US$800 billion per annum, increasing to US$1,900 billion per annum in year 5. This would be around 1-3 per cent of GDP at the time (less than the amounts put into stabilise the global economy during the finance crisis in the Fall of 2008). Tax raised should be used for two purposes: to fund the emergency response (i.e. the development and implementation of the various actions described above) and to alleviate the resulting hardship – primarily among the poor (globally speaking). 1WP

  • Economic mobilization – will direct the collective force of industry away from consumerism and toward a singular national purpose (e.g. WW2. just four days after the bombing of Pearl Harbour, the auto industry was ordered to cease production of civilian vehicles). Profit-seeking behaviour is either subordinated to or channelled toward the national mission. It is characterized by large-scale deficit spending (spending more than taxes collected), sweeping command-and-control regulations, increased taxation in order to control inflation and re-direct private sector activity, and strong government controls over the distribution of raw materials and basic goods. Although corporations can play a constructive role in mobilization, they do not drive the change process. The government does. Done well, economic mobilization has many benefits, including increased equality, full employment, and increased attention to the importance of cultivating every person. TCM

Mobilising Defence Forces

With its enormous resources and institutional understanding of the logistics of war mobilization, the defence agencies can play an important role in the Climate Emergency response including: Addressing their own emissions; converting defence engineering and manufacturing to emergency response manufacturing (e.g.: wind & solar components, advanced batteries, geo-engineering), redirect spending from nuclear weapon modernisation towards a climate emergency response (U.S program worth about $1 trillion). TCM

Global equity and fairness in the face of physical, economic and social change

A key challenge will be in softening the problems for those hardest hit by expensive or unavailable energy, food, transport and housing.

  • To alleviate hardship, primarily among the poor half the proceeds of the global tax on carbon should be directed to this purpose. They would start at US$45 per person year and increase to US$225 within 5 years. This compensation could be supplemented by rationing systems to ensure each global citizen receives a fair share of those goods and services that temporarily will be in short supply – for example, food, power and fuel. 1WP

  • Shift subsidies from fossil fuel to human employment. Phasing out over five years all subsidies that support greenhouse gas emissions, and use the proceeds to help soften transitional unemployment problems. By some estimations, these subsidies amount to US$4.7 trillion – more than enough to matter. 1WP

  • Develop adaptation plan for low lying coastal areas (dikes, staged retreat, floating cities, flood and saline resistant agriculture and a resettlement plan for millions of climate refugees – significant international cooperation will be required to overcome these challenges and avoid the worst geopolitical threats. 1WP

  • Mitigation strategy for large-scale famine. Climate change is very likely to impact negatively on the world’s agriculture, particularly towards the middle of the century. Disaster relief organisations and the military should make concrete plans for such developments and their geopolitical implications. 1WP

  • Develop the global economy with a focus on sustainability, the elimination of poverty and closed loop, zero waste and zero net CO2e production and consumption. Shift economic policy to a focus on quality of life vs material growth for its own sake. 1WP TCM


Footnotes

[FN1] For more information on the impacts of 2 degrees warming compared to 1.5 degrees warming see: 

IPCC (2018). SR15: Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty. https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/

Warren, R. etal (2018).  Risks associated with global warming 1.5°C or 2°C. Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research Briefing Note https://tyndall.ac.uk/sites/default/files/publications/briefing_note_risks_warren_r1-1.pdf

Shindell, D. etal (2018). Quantified, localized health benefits of accelerated carbon dioxide emissions reductions. Nature Climate Change, Vol.8 pp291-295. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-018-0108-y

The scenarios and actions outlines in this section have been derived from:

1WP: Randers, J & Gilding, P (2010). The one degree war plan. Journal of Global Responsibility, Vol. 1 No. 1 pp 170. https://paulgilding.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/one-degree-war-plan-emerald-version.pdf

DD: Hawken, P (2017). Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming. www.drawdown.org, Summary of solutions by overall rank, last accessed 4 July 2019. https://www.drawdown.org/solutions-summary-by-rank

Ecofys: Ecofys/Navigant (2018). Energy transition within 1.5°C – A disruptive approach to 100% decarbonisation of the global energy system by 2050. White Paper. https://www.navigant.com/-/media/www/site/downloads/energy/2018/navigant2018energytransitionwithin15c.pdf

IRENA: IRENA (2018). Global Energy Transformation: A roadmap to 2050. International Renewable Energy Agency, Abu Dhabi. www.irena.org/publications.

Jacobson & Delucchi: Jacobson, M.Z. & Delucchi, M.A. (2009). A path to sustainable energy by 2030. Scientific Scientific American Magazine. Nov, pp. 39, 42-43. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-path-to-sustainable-energy-by-2030/

TCM: Silk, E (2016) The Climate Mobilization Victory Plan. Published by The Climate Mobilization August 2016, revised March 2019. https://www.theclimatemobilization.org/victory-plan

VOX: Roberts, D (2018). What genuine, no bullshit ambition on climate change would look like – how to hit the most stringent targets, with no loopholes. Published by www.vox.com. Updated Oct 8 2018. https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/5/7/17306008/climate-change-global-warming-scenarios-ambition