Some researchers believe there is little hope mankind can stop the tide of consumption that is propelling climate change, despite an unprecedented international agreement to fight it.
In 2015, more than 190 countries gathered for the United Nations Climate Change Conference to agree on a plan of action, the “Paris Agreement” to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) — the threshold scientist agree we must stay within to avoid catastrophic climate change — but the goal is unrealistic and almost impossible to achieve, according to a new study by two Texas A&M University at Galveston researchers.
"It would require rates of change in our energy infrastructure and energy mix that have never happened in world history and that are extremely unlikely to be achieved," said Glenn Jones, a professor of marine sciences at Texas A&M and co-author of the paper. “The 21st century population-energy-climate nexus.”
“To even come close to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement, 50 percent of our energy will need to come from renewable sources by 2028, and today it is only 9 percent, including hydropower,” Jones said. “For a world that wants to fight climate change, the numbers just don't add up to do it.”
According to Jones and co-author Kevin Warner, a doctoral candidate in marine biology at Texas A&M, there are considerable headwinds already working against any possibility of meeting the goal agreed to in the Paris Agreement.
Jones and Warner point out that every hour of every day:
• and 9,300 more people inhabit the planet.
This break-neck pace of pressure on the planet and global climate has already resulted in record warming. According to Texas A&M, recent statistics show that the month of February 2016 was the warmest February ever, while 2015 was also the warmest year since records have been kept.
And humanity’s drain on the earth is poised to continue as our global population rapidly expands.
Jones estimates there there will be about 11 billion people on Earth by 2100 (compared to 7.2 billion today). Even more worrisome is that a person today uses about four times as much energy as a person did in the early 1900s, he said.
“By 2100, that figure goes up to five times,” he said. "So the question becomes, how will they be fed and housed and what will be their energy source? Currently 1.2 billion people in the world do not have access to electricity, and there are plans to try to get them on the grid. The numbers you start dealing with become so large that they are difficult to comprehend.”
In a possible sign of hope, Jones and Warner note that historically it is rare — if not not unheard of — for government officials to agree on making large-scale changes in such a short timeframe as is the objective of the Paris Agreement.
Whether it is out of concern for the negative impacts caused by climate change or a need to meet the energy demands of the growing population, change is bound to come, the researchers said.
By the year 2100, 87 to 94 percent of all energy used will need to be from renewable sources regardless of whether we achieve and maintain the goals of the Paris Agreement, Jones said.
"Our study does not present an either-or situation, rather the world will require a significant shift to renewable energy sources whether we care about global warming or whether we are more concerned with providing society's energy needs," he said. "Hopefully, our work will serve as a wake-up call."
Jones’s and Warner’s findings were published in the international journal Energy Policy.