Climate change: scenarios and challenges
In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the “Special Report on the impacts of Global Warming of 1.5°C”. The report comes under the scope of the more wide-ranging actions under the Paris Agreement to keep the average rise in global temperature well below 2°C in relation to pre-industrial levels and to try and limit the increase to 1.5°C, given that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.
According to the Special Report, human activity has already caused global warming of around 1°C compared with the pre-industrial period, with visible effects such as the intensification of heat waves and extreme meteorological events, a rise in sea levels and coral reef decline, a fall in biodiversity, the thinning of arctic sea ice and continental glaciers, a fall in crop yields.
With current production rates, greenhouse gas emissions will cause a temperature rise of +1.5°C by 2040, exceeding +2°C in subsequent years with catastrophic effects for our planet.
Keeping global warming below 2°C, with the ambitious and challenging goal of keeping it to 1.5°C, will be decisive because it will make it possible to reduce the complex impacts on ecosystems, health and well-being.
It is therefore vital to reduce the global CO2 emissions produced by the human activity: a goal that can only be achieved through forward-looking actions in all areas of society and in all sectors of the economy and industry facilitating a journey towards decarbonisation, a journey which should be guided by rapid interventions and solutions which have immediate, if not definitive, impacts, taking into consideration that a tonne of CO2 eliminated now is equivalent to at least 30 times the amount less in 2050.
The scientific community has identified several priority areas involving energy production and consumption. For example, one of the mainstays of the strategy outlined is to increase the quantity of electricity produced from renewable sources: it is estimated that in 2050 between 63% and 81% of electricity should be produced from renewable sources, replacing coal and oil. Other energy sources, such as natural gas, nuclear power plants and biomass will be fundamental in providing for global energy demand, guaranteeing that consumer demand is met and covered in full. Specifically, gas, a flexible and programmable energy source, can be used in multiple innovative applications or to replace fossil fuels with greater emissions. In particular, the use of natural gas in cities offers decisive advantages in terms of fighting air pollution, producing zero particulate gas emissions and virtually zero emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. Natural gas produces 40% less climate changing emissions compared with coal and 20% less than oil. A tangible example is the city of Beijing, as reported in the Global Gas Report published by Snam in 2018 where, in 2017, thanks to a reduction in the use of coal in the residential and industrial sector and subsequent implementation of the use of natural gas instead, there was a significant improvement in air quality with a 54% reduction in the particulate emissions.
What’s already changed with 1°C rise
Keeping global warming at 1.5°C rather than 2°C can make a lot of difference
Fewer risks related to extreme temperatures and heat waves
Reduction in the global rise in the sea level by 10 cm less, which will limit the exposure of around 10 million people to the risks associated with flooding and damage caused to coastal infrastructure
Less health risks, especially related to heat waves, concentration of ozone and transmission of diseases such as malaria and dengue fever
Less loss of biodiversity, ecosystems, number of extinct species (50% for plants and invertebrates and 66% for insects)
In many areas of the planet, less heavy rain and risks of flooding and/or low rainfall and drought
Reduction in the increase in the temperature of the ocean and related risks of acidification and fall in oxygen levels, which would limit the irreversible loss of marine life, with consequences for fish and aquaculture
Lower levels of poverty and risks to more vulnerable populations, especially for indigenous populations and communities that depend on agriculture and fishing for their subsistence
Less risk of food security, linked to the reduction in crop yields (corn, rice and wheat) and sustainability of livestock
New solutions for fossil fuels and renewable energy
First of all, it will be necessary to reduce the amount of energy produced using fossil fuels and to direct investments and research efforts towards greater production from renewable energy sources.
The guidelines provided by the international scientific community coincide with the direction taken by the European Union and the Italian government, which have made a commitment to limiting global warming. In 2017 the Italian government published the National Energy Strategy (SEN): the ten-year plan for anticipating and managing the energy system change.
The 2017 SEN outlines the actions which have to be achieved by 2030, through a route that is also consistent with the long-term scenario of 2050 established by the European Road Map, which includes the reduction of emissions by at least 80% compared to 1990. In order to achieve these objectives, the interventions involve various strategic areas such as energy efficiency, renewable energy, sustainable mobility, the circular economy, carbon capture and storage, the improvement of infrastructure and interconnections. With the publication in December 2018 of the “Clean Energy for All Europeans” package, the European Commission updated the new climate targets, identifying the main target as achieving the rate of at least 32% of energy to be produced from renewable sources by 2030.
Energy efficiency and reducing consumption
The commitment of governments and society to the reduction of demand for energy, the more efficient use of energy and the reduction of waste will also be vital, with significant investments directed at the overhaul and replacement of energy transportation infrastructures that are already obsolete.
The objective of the strategy adopted by the Ministry of Economic Development and by the Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea is to make the national energy system more:
Competitive, continuing to reduce the gap between Italian and European energy prices;
Sustainable, working to achieve the decarbonisation targets defined at European level and aligned to the goals set by COP21;
Safe, continuing to improve supply security and the flexibility of the energy infrastructure and strengthening the national energy independence.
The objectives identified in the SEN include specific attention aimed at the natural gas sector for which new investments must be allocated to ensure the flexibility, adequacy and resilience of networks, greater integration with European infrastructures, diversification of sources and procurement routes and a more efficient management of flows and peak demand.
Carbon capture and storage
In order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the excess CO2 in the atmosphere will also have to be removed. It will actually be very difficult to achieve and maintain zero emissions by 2050 without the CO2 capture and storage technology.
In the same way, the national energy and climate plan (PNEC), in the process of gaining approval (an EU instrument prepared by the individual member states), intends to implement strategies for a profound decarbonisation of the energy system and promote the circular economy, energy efficiency and the rational and fair use of domestic resources.
The challenge set by climate change does not respect national borders, but requires ambitious solutions coordinated at an international level, and cannot be separated from support from the private sector, cities and local communities. This awareness has also influenced the financial world which questioned the need to develop financial instruments which accompany and incentivise the adoption of sustainable practices.