Climate modelling has become an activity which anyone can engage themselves with, thanks to the The Global Calculator, an international initiative funded by the UK Government’s International Climate Fund and the EU’s Climate-KIC, and supported by organisations including the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
By adjusting a series of levers revolving around the world’s land, energy and food systems, the online tool gives you options to change the levels of carbon dioxide which will be emitted in each scenario, and attempt to get the levels of carbon dioxide to below the line which signifies a 50 per cent chance of keeping temperatures rises below two-degrees, as set out by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The challenge is to get under that line, without making unrealistic or unmanageable predictions about people’s future lifestyles and consumption habits.
“We wanted to know if it’s possible for people’s lifestyles around the world to be improved whilst staying underneath that two-degree warming level”
Alternatively, you can select from a series of pathways set out by a number of organisations, including the International Energy Agency (IEA), Shell, and Friends of the Earth, to see what ultimate impact they will have upon the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.
‘We wanted to know if it’s possible for people’s lifestyles around the world to be improved whilst staying underneath that two-degree warming level,’ a DECC spokesman told Geographical. They reveal the tool was designed to be ‘as simple as possible, but no simpler’, therefore making it possible for anyone to use.
An accompanying report to the release of the tool, entitled Prosperous living for the world in 2050: insights from the Global Calculator, highlights four potential pathways which the tool predicts would just prevent the planet’s carbon dioxide emissions from exceeding the UNFCCC’s target, but without making unrealistic predictions about changes to people’s lifestyles.
The first of these pathways is Distributed effort, which calculates the impact of decarbonisation, evenly spread across all sectors, with continued UN predictions of global levels of urbanisation and population growth.
The second is Consumer reluctance, which, as a result of a very low take-up of low-carbon alternatives to existing technologies such internal combustion, sees a large growth in the usage of both nuclear power and carbon-capture and storage (CCS), as well as significantly higher food yields from existing agricultural land, and high afforestation.
Thirdly, Low actions on forests, shows that a future where high proportions of land aren’t given over to growing areas of forest will make it very difficult to meet the two-degree target, forcing ambitious action across other sectors.
Finally, there’s Consumer activism, where high levels of concerns amongst much of the world’s population enables decarbonisation without requiring either nuclear power or further rises in food yields, and instead seeing a decrease in meat consumption and disposable consumption.
“Meeting the UNFCCC’s targets is achievable whilst also maintaining high standards of living for all the world’s population. However, it will require significant decarbonisation”
The DECC spokesman emphasised how the results of the tool show that there is no one solution, but instead requires different sectors to work together. It also expressed surprise at the impact of humanity’s diet and land use on carbon emissions, especially the role of afforestation, and meat consumption. As the report states, ‘In 2050, if everyone switched to the healthy diet as recommended by the World Health Organisation (2,100 calories on average, of which 160 calories is meat), this could save up to 15GtCO2e in 2050, as the freed up land is used for forest or bioenergy. This carbon saving could be comparable in scale to around a third of total global CO2 emissions in 2011.’
Ultimately, the report reveals that meeting the UNFCCC’s targets is achievable whilst also maintaining high standards of living for all the world’s population, up to a potential ten billion people, including those in developing nations. However, it will require significant decarbonisation of our sources of energy – dropping by at least 90 per cent by 2050 – as well as expanding our existing forest cover by five to 15 per cent by that same time.