Global carbon intensity must fall five times faster to hit 1.5°C target

18th December 2020


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The global economy must decarbonise five times faster than it did last year to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, research by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) suggests.

PwC's Net Zero Economy Index – which is underpinned by BP's Statistical Review of World Energy – shows that an annual decarbonisation rate of 11.7% is now required to hit the 1.5°C target, five times the 2.4% rate recorded in 2019.

However, based on current trends in energy consumption and CO2 emissions generation, PwC estimates that this century's global carbon budget will be used up by the end of this decade.

The consultancy firm said that unprecedented decarbonisation progress is required over the next 10 years, with new solutions, investment, skills and technology needed across business, government and society as the world looks to generate growth post-COVID-19.

Dr Celine Herweijer, global climate change leader at PwC UK, warned that global emissions will rebound quickly as economies emerge from the pandemic, and that swift action is needed to rebuild with clean infrastructure.

“The wave of businesses, investors, and governments committing to ambitious net-zero targets in 2020 is a promising sign that a shared sense of urgency is emerging,“ she continued.

“We have just over two business cycles to transform every sector of the global economy to halve global emissions. Put simply, we are in the pivotal decade.“

For the last 10 years, PwC UK's index has modelled economic growth and energy-related CO2 emissions data against the rates required to achieve the aims of the Paris Agreement.

The latest findings show that progress in decoupling energy-related CO2 emissions growth from economic growth has slowed.

In 2019, global energy-related CO2 emissions increased by 0.5% with economic growth of 2.9%. Carbon intensity fell by 2.4%, which is above the long-term average decarbonisation rate of 1.5%, but falls way short of the progress required to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5°C.

Overall, the UK has had the highest long-term level of decarbonisation in the analysis, maintaining a rate of 3.7% over the duration of the 21st century.

However, to deliver on its net-zero emissions target, the country will need to invest an estimated £400bn in green infrastructure and renewable energy sources, while also decarbonising the rest of its economy.

Kiran Sura, assistant director in the Sustainability & Climate Change team at PwC UK, said: “The UK's new 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution, and enhanced nationally determined contribution to reduce emissions by 68% by 2030 against 1990 levels, are big steps forward in delivering the ambition required.

“These recent commitments reaffirm the UK's climate credentials and give it strength as joint COP26 president to guide the international community to collectively do more.“

Image credit: iStock

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