Research & Innovation 2015-16 - Page 97



Feature
“But there are many other issues. The article is
clear about whether the distribution is fair, and how
much adaptation may be needed – adaptation is
how we respond to impact. But the focus here is on
mitigation.”
In short, if countries continue with half-hearted
implementation, we’re on track to seeing
global temperatures rise by as much
as 3.1°C by 2100. This is a sobering
scenario, admits Winkler.
“Essentially what we’re saying is
that what’s been committed is
great; the Paris Agreement also
says more should be done,”
says Winkler. “If countries don’t
implement INDCs and stronger
efforts in future, then we won’t
get to the stated goal.”
The little that remains of a global
carbon budget that would keep
temperature increases well below 2°C
might be used up as early as 2030.
Joeri Rogelj, a researcher at the International
Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA),
who led the study, says: “The Paris Agreement …
puts in place a flexible framework for a long-term
transformation towards a low-carbon society. But
our analysis shows that these measures need to be
strengthened in order to have a good chance of
keeping warming to well below 2°C, let alone 1.5°C.”
Niklas Höhne, a researcher at both the New Climate
Institute in Germany and Wageningen University,
who also worked on the study, adds that reducing
emissions by between 3 and 4 percent globally
after 2030 would be needed to realise the Paris
Agreement’s goal.
“But in practice, switching to such stringent
reductions right after 2030 would be challenging,
and would require time – that means that in order to
ensure a chance of meeting these targets, we need
significant further action from countries before 2030,”
says Höhne.
What could happen if we don’t make the 2°C
threshold?
There’s a whole body of work dedicated to the impact
of climate change, and none of the predictions are
comforting.
“The consequences range across everything from sealevel rise to waterborne diseases,” says Winkler. “There
are huge impacts on water systems for agriculture,
with some areas getting wetter and others getting
drier, but generally the predictions for climate change
go along the lines of ‘the higher the temperature, the
more the risk of negative impact’.”
Do all INDCs aim equally high?
The short answer is, no, they don’t. But sometimes
there are good reasons for this. Winkler’s own
research focuses on the question of equity, and the fair
distribution of climate-change goals.
 “Essentially, it’s about political economy,”
says Winkler. “Fossil-fuel companies
have a vested interest in high
emissions. In our country, coal
is the issue. We use coal for
electricity. And 30% of our liquid
fuel comes from coal. In other
countries, the high-emissions
interests are in the agriculture
or forestry industries. Globally, it
is the big fossil-fuel companies
that need to imagine a very
different future.
“So when countries have a national
discussion, it’s effectively a national
negotiation, asking ‘What can we do?’
There’s a little bit of an effect of saying,
well, you know, if we take on a very large effort
of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and our
competitors don’t, then maybe we’re disadvantaging
our economy.
“That may be a valid concern, but you can also make
the argument the other way. To be competitive in the
future low-carbon society, we should be investing
proactively in energy efficiency, renewable energy
and all low-carbon technologies right now. But even
more fundamentally, we need to have a national
conversation about how the structure of our energy
economy needs to change. We need to position
South Africa to be a leader in some part of the future
low-carbon economy. That means taking a longterm perspective on near-term investment decisions.
Or more plainly, investing in the future.” Also, says
Winkler, some countries may put less lofty goals on
the international table; so that if they exceed these
more moderate goals, they look good.
“I think it’s fair to say that it’s mainly the fossil-fuel
industry that’s holding back greater ambition,”
Winkler concludes.
About fossil fuels
Renewable energy has come on in leaps and bounds
since Winkler arrived at UCT in 2000.
“From almost nothing, it’s grown really fast. We’re
now seeing a lot of renewable energy. Some
technologies, notably wind and photovoltaics (PV),
are now cheaper than new coal plants. However, other
renewable-energy technology, such as concentrating
Affordable, clean energy and climate action 92





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