In a Comment recently published in Nature, centre director Johan Rockström together with others argue for the need to raise ambition and action across key sectors to bend the greenhouse-gas emissions curve downwards by 2020. Photo: Pxhere

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climate change

"Three years to safeguard our climate"

Centre director Johan Rockström co-authors six-point plan for turning the tide of the world’s carbon dioxide by 2020


In a Comment piece recently published in Nature, Johan Rockström, toghether with Christiana Figueres, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Gail Whiteman, Anthony Hobley and Stefan Rahmstorf warn that the next three years are crucial when it comes to the need to to decarbonize the world economy. Aside from Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the US from the Paris agreement by November 2020, a more important reason is that if emissions continue to rise beyond 2020, or even remain level, the temperature goals set in Paris become "almost unattainable".

In the past three years, global emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels have levelled after rising for decades. This is a sign that policies and investments in climate mitigation are starting to pay off, but there is still a long way to go to decarbonize the world economy, Rockström and his co-authors say.

As 20 leaders of the world’s largest economies gather on 7–8 July at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, we call on them to highlight the importance of the 2020 climate turning point for greenhouse-gas emissions, and to demonstrate what they and others are doing to meet this challenge. Lowering emissions globally is a monumental task, but research tells us that it is necessary, desirable and achievable

Christina Figueres, lead author

Milestones within six sectors

To prioritize actions, Rockström and his colleagues have identified milestones in six sectors that the world needs to reach. "

"These goals may be idealistic at best, unrealistic at worst. However, we are in the age of exponential transformation and think that such a focus will unleash ingenuity."

The milestones are:

Energy. Renewables make up at least 30% of the world’s electricity supply — up from 23.7% in 2015 (ref. 8). No coal-fired power plants are approved beyond 2020, and all existing ones are being retired.

Infrastructure. Cities and states have initiated action plans to fully decarbonize buildings and infrastructures by 2050, with funding of $300 billion annually. Cities are upgrading at least 3% of their building stock to zero- or near-zero emissions structures each year9.

Transport. Electric vehicles make up at least 15% of new car sales globally and commitments for a doubling of mass-transit utilization in cities, a 20% increase in fuel efficiencies for heavy-duty vehicles and a 20% decrease in greenhouse-gas emissions from aviation per kilometre travelled.

Land. Land-use policies are enacted that reduce forest destruction and shift to reforestation and afforestation efforts. Current net emissions from deforestation and land-use changes from about 12% of the global total. If these can be cut to zero next decade, and afforestation and reforestation can instead be used to create a carbon sink by 2030, it will help to push total net global emissions to zero.

Industry. Heavy industry is developing and publishing plans for increasing efficiencies and cutting emissions, with a goal of halving emissions well before 2050.

Finance. The financial sector has rethought how it deploys capital and is mobilizing at least $1 trillion a year for climate action. Most will come from the private sector. Governments, private banks and lenders such as the World Bank need to issue many more ‘green bonds’ to finance climate-mitigation efforts.

"There will always be those who hide their heads in the sand and ignore the global risks of climate change. But there are many more of us committed to overcoming this inertia. Let us stay optimistic and act boldly together," the authors conclude.

Read the full Nature Comment here

Published: 2017-07-02


Figueres, C., Schellnhuber, H.J., Whiteman, G., Rockström, J., Hobley, A., Rahmstorf, S. 2017. Three years to safeguard our climate.Nature 546, 593–595(29 June 2017) doi:10.1038/546593a

Johan Rockström is the director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and a professor of environmental science at Stockholm University. He is an internationally recognized scientist for his work on global sustainability issues.


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