Existing Carbon Emitting Infrastructure to Push Planet to 1.5˚C

Without adding any new carbon emitting infrastructure, the planet is already well on its way to 1.5˚C, new research found.
Donna Fuscaldo
A polar bear on a melting ice cap as the planet continues to warm SeppFriedhuber/iStock

In order to stabilize the global warming of the planet, carbon dioxide emissions need to near zero by 2050. But even if we were to halt all new production of energy consuming infrastructure, the existing ones are poised to heat up the earth to 1.5˚C

What's more, if we add new facilities to the mix, they will be responsible for nearly two-thirds of the carbon dioxide that will push the planet above 2˚C


That's according to new research, which found that if the existing global infrastructure is operated as it has historically, it will emit around 658 gigatonnes of C02. More than half of the carbon emissions will come from the electricity sector and from the infrastructure already in place in China, the U.S., and the European Bloc. The researchers found China is responsible for 41% of the emissions, the U.S. 9% and the EU countries for 7% of the total. 

Existing Infrastructure To Hurt The Paris Agreement Goals 

While the researchers stressed that this is just an estimate, they did say that it may be necessary to add little or no C02 emitting infrastructures and to retire older infrastructure early to meet the climate goals the Paris Agreement calls for. 

With that historic agreement, which President Donald Trump has since pulled the U.S. out of, 195 countries agreed to stop global warming to well under 2˚C by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. President Trump cited the negative impact on the U.S. economy for pulling out of the accord signed by former President Barack Obama. 

The urgent warning shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. Scientists have been cautioning since 2010 about the perils of all the carbon dioxide emitting infrastructure the world has built. Nine years ago the scientific community said the world had built enough of it to increase temperatures by 1.3˚C. They said extreme action was necessary but it has been nearly a decade and things have gotten worse. 

At 2 ˚C Most Of The Coral Reefs Are Gone 

So what does a planet with 1.5˚C looks like?  For around 14% of the population across the globe, it could mean more severe heat, the melting of two million square miles of Arctic permafrost and the end to about 70% of the coral reefs around the world. If it jumps to 2˚C the number of people exposed to heat waves will surge greatly, 40% of the Arctic permafrost will melt and coral reefs will cease to exist.  

To combat the warming calls for drastic action. But getting the world, particularly China and India to shut down coal plants that are only in the first decade of operations can be tough. They cost billions to build and operate for many decades. Retrofitting the existing plants to capture emissions or finding other ways to offset the emissions are options. But they cost money and take time. 

The researchers estimate the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions is to turn to non-emitting alternatives in the electricity and industry sectors.  

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