Without a doubt, the issue of how to get the pandemic under control and post-COVID-19 recovery plans is the world’s top priority. While it is necessary and urgent to address the pandemic, this should not distract us from another threat facing the planet: the climate crisis.
The pandemic forced COP26 to be postponed until November 2021 (a summit in which definitive consensus was expected to promote ambitious climate action). However, efforts to combat the climate emergency must not be slowed down.
Achieving the goal of the Paris Agreement requires reaching net-zero emissions
To achieve the objective of the Paris Agreement to limit the increase in the global average temperature between 1.5°C and 2°C, and thus avoid devastating consequences for the planet, it is necessary to reach net-zero carbon emissions between 2050 and 2070. China’s recent announcement to become carbon neutral by 2060, the Costa Rica Decarbonization Plan and the long-term decarbonization strategies under design in Chile, Colombia and Peru are a sign of commitment towards this goal.
Current national emission reduction commitments (known as NDCs) are not enough to reach the global goal, and could lead to global warming of more than 2°C. It is essential to have NDCs that are more ambitious and aligned with long-term strategies to decarbonize economies and generate up to 15 million new jobs in the region during the transition. And how do we ditch carbon? Six academic teams from Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru asked the same question.
Through the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPLAC), teams analyzed what transformations are necessary in each country to achieve net-zero emissions in the second half of the century, identifying the following key areas for reducing emissions: the generation of electricity, passenger transport, and agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU). The results of each team are published in a special edition of Energy Strategy Reviews and compiled in a synthesis report.
Achieving economic growth and decarbonization at the same time is possible
The analysis addressed both development and emission reduction objectives. Studies show that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) can be decoupled from greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The deep decarbonization scenario shows that most countries achieve solid economic growth while emissions per unit of GDP decrease by around 80% in almost all cases.
How is this accomplished? It can be achieved through the generation of clean electricity and the switch to zero emission fuels; urban planning, change of transport mode and electrification of passenger transport; and intensive sustainable agriculture and reforestation.
Regarding electricity, the six teams looked at the electrification of vehicles, buildings and industry, for which clean electricity generation increases between 182% and 428% by 2050. In addition, decarbonizing electricity production is achieved with different mixes in each country of wind, solar, hydraulic, nuclear, and fossil fuel or biomass energy with carbon capture and storage.
In most countries, a key factor for the decarbonization of passenger transport is the reduction of the use of cars and motorbikes in favor of public transport. This is achieved through urban planning to reduce distances and times between activities; the development of efficient, affordable and safe public transportation; and behavioral changes towards local activities and teleworking.
Still, motorized individual mobility is not going away, making the switch to zero-emission cars necessary. Electrification of vehicles is key to decarbonization. For example, all teams contemplate some level of shift towards electric city buses. Zero-emission technologies are required to become the new standard for the international transportation industry to enable their mass production and ensure affordability.
On the other hand, achieving net-zero emissions from agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU) is a challenge given the growing demand for food and agricultural exports in most countries. Decarbonization in this sector is achieved mainly through the reduction of emissions from land use change. Thus, considering emissions from land use change, Mexico and Costa Rica are already net carbon sinks, while in Argentina, Colombia and Ecuador, the teams estimate net negative emissions for 2050.
Peru presents positive emissions from deforestation that outweigh the negative ones from afforestation and reforestation. The Peruvian team was the one that most discussed policy instruments to achieve decarbonization in this sector, including the allocation and application of user rights for primary forests, sustainable forest management, reforestation in degraded areas, incentives and training for indigenous communities for the conservation of forests, and improvements in the management of protected natural areas.
Decarbonization is a key element for sustainable recovery
Studies such as DDPLAC are fundamental for the formulation of national climate policies, long-term strategies for carbon neutrality and updating NDCs. The IDB is already supporting governments in Colombia, Chile and Peru, in the analysis of decarbonization pathways to define long-term strategies through the innovative technique of Robust Decision Making (RDM). This enables decarbonization options that are aligned with the development objectives in each sector to be defined jointly with various groups of actors across the economy.
On the other hand, the economic stimulus for the post-pandemic reactivation is an opportunity to integrate long-term sustainability aspects including decarbonization and resilience criteria. Using decarbonization strategies to guide a sustainable recovery can create jobs and generate economic and social benefits, ensuring short-term recovery and building a more sustainable and inclusive future. It’s time to get a move on!
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