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Reducing carbon emissions while maintaining economic growth

According to a new study led by University College London (UCL), achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 would be possible without damaging the economy. Moreover, the experts argue that, with stringent public policy, the Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels by 2100 is feasible, and could be achieved while maintaining robust economic growth.

Although some researchers have repeatedly claimed that resolving the climate crisis is not consistent with continued economic growth in rich countries, the current situation in the European Union already shows strong evidence that curbing global warming while maintaining economic growth is in fact possible. Between 1990 and 2016, for instance, EU’s economy grew by more than 50 percent, while carbon dioxide emissions fell by 25 percent.

“Continuing global economic growth is clearly compatible with achieving the temperature target in the Paris Agreement,” said study lead author Paul Ekins, a professor of Resources and Environmental Policy at UCL. “Governments now need to step up to put in place the policies to stimulate the investments that are required to turn these projections into reality.”

Professor Ekins and his colleagues modeled various scenarios to slow the growth of global primary energy demand, so that, by the end of the 21st century, demand is only 30 percent above its 2020 levels. Moreover, they also modeled the deployment of renewable technologies needed to decarbonize electricity almost completely by the end of the century while producing seven times as much power as the world used in 2010, and to replace the use of fossil fuels in the transportation and heating industries. In addition, they modelled the global phasing down of coal, taking as an example the way in which the United States has reduced its use in recent years.

The result of these simulations is clear: under all the scenarios taken into consideration, it would be possible to reach net-zero emissions without reducing economic growth, while also limiting temperature increases to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. However, in order to achieve this, national governments and policies worldwide would need to stimulate significant increases in energy and resource efficiency, and to rapidly deploy low-carbon technologies and strong environmental policies.

The study is published in the journal Oxford Open Energy.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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