Study shows wider possibilities for mitigating climate change

Emma Drake/Staff

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A recent study shows that the scope of possibly mitigating climate change is wider than previous models have suggested. 

“Recalibrating climate prospects,” a study published in the journal “Environmental Research Letters” on Dec. 2, shows opportunities available for aggressive action and recommends new approaches for modeling climate change prospects. This study was co-authored by Daniel Kammen, a professor in the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley as well as a professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy.

Kammen will be presenting the findings at the California side event of the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP25, on Dec. 7 and 8, according to a Berkeley News press release.

To meet climate goals, Kammen suggested considering including carbon pricing, decoupling electricity profits from total sales, removing fossil fuel subsidies, valuing nature and protecting low-income populations, minorities and endangered tribal areas, according to an email from Kammen.

Kammen also expressed in the email the value of accelerating the transition to electric vehicles, both in California and internationally, along with transitioning from cars to mass transit.

“IPCC’s (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a U.N. body) 2018 Special Report is a stark and bracing reminder of climate threats. Yet literature, reportage, and public discourse reflect imbalanced risk and opportunity,” the study said. “Climate science often understates changes’ speed and nonlinearity, but Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs) and similar studies often understate realistic mitigation options.”

The study found that although traditional climate change models often understate potential warming, the models that guide policymakers also understate realistic mitigation options. 

A key topic will be the progress on the commitments made five years ago at COP20 in Paris, Kammen said. He added that while the progress is not as far as it should be at the moment, the paper shows that the needed annual rates of cleaning the economy could be made.

The study has caused some controversy, according to Kammen.

“The paper I published Monday with Amory Lovins on clean energy and efficiency has been generating a lot of discussion, largely because it shows that there are reasons to be ‘hopeful’ (ie if we cared, we could do a lot to get on track for climate solutions), and hence is in contrast to the UN report issues just before the conference began,” Kammen said in the email. 

The researchers found that global decarbonization has trended on course with the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting warming to less than two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels before the end of the century. The real rate of decarbonization is significantly higher than the rate that is typically used in baseline assessments.

The study also suggests a reassessment of using pre-2011 energy data in future modeling. 

“Though trend is not destiny, the future is largely choice not fate, so despair is indeed as unwarranted as complacency,” the study said. 

Contact Taylor Rudman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @TaylorRudman.