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Prof. Zhang Qiang published a paper showing committed emissions from existing energy infrastructure jeopardize 1.5?°C climate target

2019-08-26

On August 15th, an international joint research team consisting of Professor Zhang Qiang from the Department of Earth System Science at Tsinghua University and Associate Professor Steven J. Davis at the University of California, Irvine, published a paper entitled "Committed emissions from existing energy infrastructure jeopardize 1.5 °C climate target" in journal Nature. The paper is the first comprehensive assessment the “carbon lock-in” effects of existing and proposed energy infrastructure.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a special report on October 8, 2018. The Report assesses the possible impact of a 1.5°C increase in the global average surface temperature and the emission reduction path to achieve a 1.5°C temperature control target. It is pointed out that the global average surface temperature is now about 1°C higher than the pre-industrial level. With the 1.5°C temperature control target, there is only 420-580 Gt of CO2 emissions quota left. there is a tension between dwindling carbon-emissions budgets and future CO2 emissions that are locked-in or ‘committed’ by existing and proposed energy infrastructure.

The research joint research team led by Prof. Zhang Qiang use detailed datasets of existing fossil-fuel energy infrastructure in 2018 to estimate regional and sectoral patterns of committed CO2 emissions, the sensitivity of such emissions to assumed operating lifetimes and schedules, and the economic value of the associated infrastructure, and suggest that the most cost-effective premature infrastructure retirements will be in the electricity and industry sectors, if non-emitting alternatives are available and affordable.

Committed annual CO2 emissions from existing and proposed energy infrastructure

 

The research shows that, if operated as historically, existing infrastructure will cumulatively emit about 658 Gt of CO2 (with a range of 226 to 1,479 Gt CO2), higher than the carbon budget under 1.5°C temperature control target. If built, proposed power plants (planned, permitted or under construction) would emit roughly an extra 188 (range 37–427) Gt CO2.. Therefore, committed emissions from existing and proposed energy infrastructure reach about 846 Gt CO2, thus represent more than the entire carbon budget that remains if mean warming is to be limited to 1.5°C. Together, power and industry infrastructure represent more than 75% of total committed emissions, but less than 25% of the estimated economic value of CO2-emitting energy infrastructure. Nevertheless, the estimates suggest that little or no new CO2-emitting infrastructure can be commissioned, and that existing infrastructure may need to be retired early (or be retrofitted with carbon capture and storage technology) in order to meet the Paris Agreement climate goals.

This study points out the difficulties and urgency of global response to climate change. In the future, we must strictly limit high-carbon energy investment, accelerate the development of renewable energy, shorten the service life or equipment utilization rate of active high-carbon infrastructure, and promote carbon capture technologies. Starting from power, industry, and transportation infrastructures, make the rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes to the low-carbon sustainable development and achieve global temperature control targets.

Professor Zhang Qiang from the Department of Earth System Sciences of Tsinghua University and Associate Professor Steven Davis from the University of California, Irvine, are both corresponding authors of the paper. The Ph.D. student of the Department of Earth System Science, Tong Dan, who’s now a postdoctoral fellow of the University of California, Irvine, is the first authors of the paper. The research was supported by the National Science Fund for Distinguished Young Scholars.

 

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