Many celebrated the Paris climate meeting as being a turning point and were extatic of the new “ambitious” 1.5 degrees warming target. This target will be quickly reached and then exceeded massively. I think it is a cynical move to avoid acknowledging the colossal failure of the policies during past decades. If we are to have a reasonable change to stay below 1.5 degrees, cumulative emissions should stay below approximately 1000G tons. We have already emitted about 600 and are adding more at a rate of about 40 Gt per year so the “ceiling” will be crossed in short order.

NGO:s have been especially excited on the new target and for example Greenpeace kindly suggests their own plan (+GWEC+SolarPower Europe lobby groups) as a way forward.
We will push our beautifully simple solution to climate change – 100% renewable energy for all – and make sure it is heard and embraced. From schoolyards in Greece, to the streetlights of India, to small Arctic communities like Clyde River in Canada, we will showcase the clean, renewable solutions that are already here, and pressure our governments to make them available for everyone, fast.Kumi Naidoo

However, since GP plan implies much greater warming than 1.5 degrees, it is unclear why this plan should be followed. Let me elaborate.

Energy [R]evolution scenario is in fact quite critical of bioenergy. While this doesn’t often translate to consistent behavior at the organizations grass root level at least some understanding does exist. Report says:

  • Any bioenergy project should replace energy produced from fossil fuels. considering the entire production chain, above- ground and below-ground carbon stock changes and any indirect land use changes (ILUC), the net greenhouse gas emission reduction of such a project must be at least 50% compared to a natural gas reference, 60% compared to an oil reference and 70% compared to a coal reference. This net emission reduction must be realized within 20 years.
  • “Greenhouse gas emissions as a result of indirect land use change (ILUC) must be integrated in the greenhouse gas calculation methodology of crops (including trees) for bioenergy, grown on agricultural land, by determining crop- specific ILUC-factors.”

They continue…”Despite this, all bioenergy is accounted for as climate neutral leading to an enormous carbon accounting error. Therefore, carbon accounting schemes should stop assuming ‘carbon neutrality’ of bioenergy and account for the net direct and indirect greenhouse gas performance of bioenergy as outlined in the sustainability criteria for bioenergy presented in this document.” (As an aside for my Finnish readers I would like to point out that GP sustainability criteria effectively exclude pretty much all forrest bioenergy here. It remains to be seen how long it takes for this realization to diffuse into local Greenpeace and other NGO:s.)

This is great and I agree! But then… why is that on pages 317-318, where E[R] scenario numbers are given, climate impacts of  bioenergy and biofuels are absent?

Emissions also from outside energy sector

Emissions also from outside the energy sector.

The report is also very silent on the emissions outside energy sector. For example, large fraction of the GHG emissions are due to agriculture. If we add the GHG emissions that Greenpeace+friends do not count, this would probably add roughly 10Gt of CO2 emissions a year.

I conclude with a short movie summarizing what Greenpeace+GWEC+SolarPower Europe figures actually imply. The first two columns are based on CO2 emissions reported in E[R] scenario. Third one adds 10G tons of GHG emissions that the report seemed to brush aside. It has always been clear that Greenpeace scenarios are widely unrealistic (for large number of reasons), but as is clear, E[R] scenarios are also inconsistent with the 1.5 degree target they celebrate. In fact, given that large fraction of emissions are unaccounted for the scenarios are unlikely to be consistent even with the earlier 2 degrees target. Other scenario builders typically add massive amounts of CCS with bioenergy to get negative emissions later on the century. Greenpeace is opposed to CCS (well of course) so we can safely assume the cognitive dissonance will only get worse.  Since the substance is lacking on NGO proposals, should we really be outraged if substance is also missing from the official policies? Is anybody actually serious about this?

Estimate of the cumulative emissions in Greenpeace E[R] scenarios. (3rd column adds 10Gt of yearly GHG emissions from missing bioenergy emissions, agriculture etc.) Last column indicates the level below which we have reasonable chance to stay below 1.5 degrees.

Note added 2.5.2016: Careful commenter pointed out few stupid mistakes in the original post. There was a confusion between C and CO2 on the one hand and on the other the earlier limit for cumulative emissions was too high. The mistakes had a tendency to cancel each other out. Now the underlying data is fixed accordingly. E[R] advanced scenario has some change of staying below 2 degrees by 2050, but as mentioned before it leaves out a large fraction of existing GHG emissions and thus cannot be used to estimate actual climate impacts.