According to new Australian research that highlights the alarming implications of rising energy demand the world is on track to reach dangerous levels of global warming much sooner than expected.
University of Queensland (UQ) and Griffith University researchers have developed a “global energy tracker” that predicts average world temperatures could climb 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2020.
The new modelling is the brainchild of Professor Ben Hankamer from UQ’s institute for molecular bioscience and Dr Liam Wagner from Griffith University’s department of accounting, finance and economics, whose work was published in the journal Plos One today.
A landmark United Nations sponsored climate deal struck in Paris last year saw almost 200 countries agree to work to limit temperature rises to “well below two degrees” and work towards limiting the increase to 1.5°C.
But findings from the Australian researchers predicted that barrier would be reached by 2020 if the status quo were maintained.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted a global mean surface temperature rise of 0.3°C to 0.7°C from 2016 to 2035 in its 2014 report.
The solar and biofuels expert from the UQ and an energy economist from Griffith University took the novel approach of calculating carbon dioxide emissions per person, factoring in reactions to increases in energy efficiencies.
UQ’s Professor Hankamer said even as technologies improved to deliver energy more efficiently, attempts to drag billions of people out of poverty would mean more people needed more energy.
“What politicians will often say, is they want to have constant economic growth, they want poverty alleviation,” he said.
“Both of those things require more energy therefore there’s going to be an increased demand and you’re going to start going up more quickly and as a result you’re going to be releasing CO2 more quickly.
“A lot of the models don’t take this individual energy use into consideration and so as a result they don’t show that same effect.”
Professor Hankamer and Griffith energy economist Dr Wagner’s research combined predictions of increases in population, economic growth and rising energy use per person with existing models used to determine the effects of CO2 emissions on temperature rise.
“The bit other researchers often weren’t taking into consideration is because things become cheaper and because we can, we buy more stuff.”
Professor Hankamer called for governments to focus on the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy if there was to be any chance of constraining warming and lifting people out of poverty.
“There are estimates of about US$500 billion in fossil fuel subsidies being provided every year and maybe a cost-neutral solution would be to start thinking about transitioning some of that funding towards the renewable sector,” he said.
Professor Hankamer added; “you either have the choice of enforcing people into poverty or you transition from fossil fuels into renewable energy.”