Two reports suggest 1.5C target for global warming is hanging by a thread

UN report says fossil fuel production planned by world’s governments ‘vastly exceeds’ the limit needed to keep the rise to 1.5C

A banner advertising the November  Cop26 climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland. Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Bloomberg

A banner advertising the November Cop26 climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland. Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Bloomberg

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Expectation is building for next month’s Cop26 climate talks in Glasgow, with the mantra of many climate activists – “keep 1.5 degrees alive” – getting louder by the day.

Keeping global warming to within 1.5 degrees is the key target of the Paris agreement, tied into a commitment by almost 200 countries to reduce carbon emissions to enable that to be achieved.

Two reports published on Wednesday suggest that 1.5-degree target to avoid irreversible global impacts is hanging by a thread – and with it notions of halving emissions by 2030 and achieving net-zero by 2050.

The first by the International Energy Agency, however, is more optimistic and sets out a pathway with 400 milestones for the global energy sector to reach climate neutrality provided urgency, innovation and international collaboration is in the mix.

The UN Environment Programme report is starker; fossil fuel production planned by the world’s governments “vastly exceeds” the limit needed to keep the rise in global heating to 1.5 degrees. Global production of oil and gas is on track to rise over the next two decades, with coal production projected to fall only slightly.

The IEA backs an immediate increase in wind and solar and a fully renewable energy system by 2040. In this scenario total annual energy investment surges to $5 trillion by 2030. By 2050 global energy demand is around 8 per cent smaller than today, but it serves an economy more than twice as big and a population with 2 billion more people.

Almost 90 per cent of electricity generation comes from renewable sources, with wind and solar PV together accounting for almost 70 per cent. Most of the remainder comes from nuclear power.

Solar is the world’s single largest source of total energy supply. Fossil fuels fall from almost four-fifths of total energy supply today to slightly over one-fifth.

Fossil fuels that remain are used in goods where the carbon is embodied in the product such as plastics, in facilities fitted with carbon capture, and in sectors where low-emissions technology options are scarce.

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