Policy ForumCLIMATE POLICY

A roadmap for rapid decarbonization

+ See all authors and affiliations

Science  24 Mar 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6331, pp. 1269-1271
DOI: 10.1126/science.aah3443

eLetters is an online forum for ongoing peer review. Submission of eLetters are open to all. eLetters are not edited, proofread, or indexed.  Please read our Terms of Service before submitting your own eLetter.

Compose eLetter

Plain text

  • Plain text
    No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Author Information
First or given name, e.g. 'Peter'.
Your last, or family, name, e.g. 'MacMoody'.
Your email address, e.g. higgs-boson@gmail.com
Your role and/or occupation, e.g. 'Orthopedic Surgeon'.
Your organization or institution (if applicable), e.g. 'Royal Free Hospital'.
Statement of Competing Interests
CAPTCHA

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.

Vertical Tabs

  • Historical perspective on a “carbon law”
    • Jan Kunnas, economic environmental historian, KTH, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm

    The lessons from history inspire hope that halving gross anthropogenic carbon-dioxide emissions every decade as suggested by Rockström et al. can be achieved.

    One inspiring example of humankind solving a problem threatening our very existence is the story of ozone-depleting chemicals, where the United States took the lead without waiting for other countries. Regarding climate change, acid rain is probably a better source for learning, as it is also due to energy production. This time Sweden showed example for others to follow. Accordingly, Finland introduced active measures to decrease sulphur dioxide emissions resulting in an 87 percent emission drop in just two decades 1980—2001. In other words, much more than the suggested carbon law.
    In both cases a few countries first made unilateral cuts. Their example together with active lobbying eventually led to successful international treaties. In the end the actual costs for dealing with the emissions were much lower than at first anticipated, which made it easier for less eager countries to follow.

    History can be repeated, if we so decide. As countries follow the example of first movers, the development of global GHG gases can be a combination of falling curves stacked upon each other, leading to the necessary and fast emission decline worldwide. Someone must, however, show the example for others to follow, be that a large or a small country, or even an individual. Finally, what might seem like an impassa...

    Show More
    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: Carbon law and AI/automation risks

    The carbon law roadmap and 2050 timeline more or less parallel the timeline to the significant risks to humanity coming from research on automation and artificial intelligence (AI). For example, a study by Müller and Bostrom (1) suggests within 50% chance meeting or exceed human capacities by 2050. At this point of ‘singularity’, it is thought AIs can design and reproduce themselves beyond human capacities, meaning human loss of control of ‘superintelligent’ AI systems. It stands to reason that adopting such a compelling call for radical investment in decarbonisation at scale would mean radical investment in automation technologies and AI able to enhance development and upscaling of decarbonisation technologies. This in turn would compound the risks from AI reaching critical thresholds. The urgency of the need to decarbonise may also impose disincentives for developing safeguards. For example, a poorly safeguarded AI programmed to find the most efficient pathway to atmospheric decarbonisation may conclude that disabling humanity (as the dominant producer of emissions) is the most effective way doing so. In a related theme, related research on automation trends projects the loss of need for mass human labour many occupations (e.g. nearly half the US workforce) in the next 20 years (2). Thus, any mass uptake of the roadmap would need be done very carefully to ensure humanity stays relevant and unharmed in a decarbonised Earth (3)!
    .

    1. V. C. Müller, N. Bost...

    Show More
    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: "A roadmap for rapid decarbonization"

    It is a very good idea but there are at least two obstacles; (1) The program will quickly run into an almost insurmountable obstacle, that we have already adopted CO2 sources during whose "useful lives" the "budget" for staying within 2 degrees of warming will be exceeded, cf. the predictions of the IEA in 2011, which have subsequently been confirmed. That means that acts such as the shutdown of working, economically and technically viable coal-fired power plants will be necessitated. (2) Decarbonization will not cause temperature reduction, and even the present greenhouse-caused temperature increase of one degree has been sufficient to precipitate albedo warming that is self-perpetuating. Loss of the Arctic sea ice is already too far along to prevent a greater-than-1 per cent decrease in global albedo, which would seemingly result, in a total temperature increase from the present greenhouse warming and that single event of albedo warming, to exceed two degrees.

    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: A Road map for rapid decarbonization

    The authors propose a road map for rapid decarbonization, at great expense, based upon the unproven hypothesis that greenhouse gas accumulations are the cause of climate change.

    Nothing could be farther from the truth. There has NEVER been any warming due to greenhouse gasses.

    However, man made global warming DOES exist. It is caused by the removal of anthropogenic Sulfur Dioxide aerosols from the troposphere due to Clean Air efforts.

    Climate change can be halted, at essentially no expense, simply by prohibiting further reductions in anthropogenic SO2 aerosol emissions.

    For proof of the above, Google: "Climate Change Deciphered"

    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: Roadmaps

    Both this article and Professor Kelly's comments illustrate the contradiction between how nations and politicians set climate goals versus how they govern. After so long, I too assume that "disruptive" innovation is unlikely. I agree with Dr. Kelly's fossil fuel-dominated view of future energy supply. I add that recent trends to cheaper fossil fuel prices could result in either an accelerated achievement of predicted changes and impacts, if savings go to individuals only, or these resources could be used to assist, low emission electric power generation, existing capture and geological storage deployment, and the development of distributed emission capture and cheaper synthetic fuels. Compared to capture and storage, we spend about five times as much on conversion technologies, none of which address emission volumes and most of which are non-commercial. Unrealistic roadmaps justify continued, likely false, hope for transformations that have until now wasted time and diverted resources from tackling the volumetric reality of GHG emissions. Failure is always an option. It also seems to be the path we have chosen.

    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: Decarbonization

    When will analyses of decarbonisation get a grip on the engineering integrity and economic reality of energy sources?
    We have had 40 years of renewable energy research since the oil shocks of the1970s, and 20 years since climate change became an issue. There has been remarkably little progress with only of order 1% of global energy demand being met by the wind and solar revolutions, and no technical breakthroughs (as opposed in incremental improvements) over that period.
    If this paper has been printed 20-40 years ago we would now have ample empirical evidence to show that it will simply not work.
    Take a look at the late David MacKay's book (from on line at withouthotair.com) and you see the elementary physics arguments in terms of the very dilute nature of the energy incident on the earth and in the wind (factors of millions less density than fossil fuels).
    I make a firm prediction here: Less than 10% of the energy needs of the world's megacities in 2050 (home to over 50% of the then world population) will come from solar, wind, tidal, biomass, ...;. energies and the rest will come from fossil fuels (with our without carbon capture and sequestration) and nuclear fuels.
    Please no more of rhetoric not grounded in reality.

    Competing Interests: None declared.

Related Content