A new journal article has shown that the 1.5°C target set out in the Paris Climate Agreement can be achieved with less negative emissions efforts than is often assumed, relying instead on increased renewable energy capacity, a reduction in methane emissions, and a greater focus on widespread lifestyle changes (read: less meat).
Achieving the aspirational target of reducing global warming to 1.5°C laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement has often led scientists and researchers to explain that, in addition to rapid greenhouse gas emissions reductions, objectives must also include negative emissions efforts — which include concepts such as reforestation and bioenergy with CO2 capture and storage.
However, as explained by researchers from Utrecht University and PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, negative emissions efforts — which is essentially an effort to reduce existing CO2 from the atmosphere — often require significant areas of land which, in turn, have significant consequences for global food supply and the local environment in general.
The new study, Alternative pathways to the 1.5 °C target reduce the need for negative emission technologies, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, lays out alternative pathways that turn away from negative emissions schemes.
Using the IMAGE model, PBL and Utrecht University explored alternative pathways to 1.5°C that don’t rely so heavily on negative emissions efforts and instead focus on lifestyle changes, reducing non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions such as methane, and obviously increasing the levels of renewable energy capacity in the world. All that being said, however, the researchers note that negative emissions efforts cannot be entirely eliminated.
Of the three potential alternative efforts laid out by the researchers, the one that will be the most controversial is the means by which humanity would attempt to reduce methane emissions, which naturally means modifying lifestyle choices so that we eat less meat. The justification goes further, explaining that less meat is actually recommended as part of a healthy human diet — though try explaining that to western civilization. But reducing meat consumption would reduce methane emissions, as well as reducing land needed to produce animal feed which, in turn, could be turned in to areas for reforestation or bioenergy production.
“We can use the results to compare the advantages and disadvantages of the standard scenario with those of the alternatives,” explained Detlef van Vuuren, project manager of the IMAGE project and professor at Utrecht University. “It is clear that each path comes with its own challenges. For example, a change in dietary habits entails a large-scale change in the global food system. In any case, each scenario shows a clear break with past trends.”