Zero carbon emissions by 2050?

The second week of the negotiations in COP20 has started with the ‘Elements for a draft negotiating text’ which was published this morning. This is the first draft of what could ultimately become the Paris Accord. It covers mitigation, finance, adaptation, capacity building, technology transfer, timeframes and institutional arrangements.

For each theme there are different options – seven different options in the case of the length of the commitment period. But, after the preamble, the first big topic in the negotiating text is mitigation. One of the paragraphs refers to full decarbonisation by 2050.

The net zero approach also has the benefit of being much easier to communicate. Current targets refer to different reductions compared against different baselines or different business as usual growth scenarios. Depending on the country, we assume slow to moderate long term economic growth.

On average countries would need to decarbonise their economies at 6.2% every year to stay within the 2 degree carbon budget.

Roughly speaking, 6.2% should be the difference between your economic growth and your emissions reductions, so, if your economy is growing at 2% each year, your emissions need to fall by about 4% per year.

Achieving zero emissions by 2050 would require revolutions in every sector of every country over decades. This includes the steel, cement and chemicals sectors, which look more challenging than electricity decarbonisation.

Negotiators here in Lima will no doubt add to the text this week rather than refine and reduce it. Over the coming year, they will decide whether to include the net zero target.

Some recognise that the emissions targets pledged in 2015 are unlikely to add up to 2 degrees. Already, some delegations are asking ‘what’s the narrative coming out of Paris going to be?’

They may well get a deal there, but what are the chances that it will be a 2 degree deal?