The global electricity sector must reach zero emissions by 2050 to give the world a “serious chance” of staying below a 2 degree global average temperature increase and avoiding dangerous climate change, Professor Nicolas Stern said today.
“The next 20 years are of vital importance if we are to have any serious chance of holding to 2 degrees and that’s what we’re implementing here,” Professor Stern, from the London School of Economics, told a side event organised by China at the Paris climate summit.
“To stay below a 2 degrees you would probably have to have close to zero emissions from the electricity sector by mid-century.” To stay below 1.5 degrees, which is currently still in the draft Paris agreement, “you would probably have to bring that forward 10 or 20 years,” he said.
Stern warned that delay was “extremely dangerous” because the concentrations of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere were so high, and with the scale of investments which would occur over the next 20 years due to rising populations and incomes.
“It’s very dangerous because we will be building over the next 20 years or so probably more than the infrastructure that we’ve got already”, Stern said.
“If we do that well we will be set for a very good future. If we do that badly you can forget about 2 degrees, it will be into 3 or 4 degrees.”
Stern, a former World Bank senior economist and vice-president, produced a ground breaking report on the economics of climate change for the British Labour government in 2006, in which he famously described climate change as the “the greatest market failure the world has ever seen”.
Stern on Thursday warned about underestimating the scale of the investment and the speed of change required.
The global economy will need to “cut emissions per unit of output by the middle of the century by a factor of seven or eight”, he said.
“We must make no mistake about the scale of the investments and the radical change that is necessary.”
The co-benefits, in economic speak, of this investment in clean energy and energy efficiency technologies would include air pollution which is “of fundamental importance.”
“We’re really only just learning about the scale of toxicity of emissions from coal, emissions from diesel. But we know already that those costs are immense, “ Stern said.
In China 4,000 people a day are killed by air pollution and India is far worse; 13 of the 20 worst cities for pollution in the world are in India, Stern said.
“Given that the EU is pushing here, correctly in my view, for an ambitious agreement, it’s time they raised their internal carbon price. I’d like to see 35 to 40 euros.
“They can do that by withdrawing some of the quotas and they been giving away too many quotas and you don’t have to be a professor at LSE (London School of Economics) to realise that crashes the price”.