Experts have warned that we must move much more quickly towards a low-carbon world, if we are to have any chance of limiting global warming to 2oC this century.

Changes in electricity, heat, buildings, industry and transport are needed rapidly and must happen all together, according to researchers at the universities of Manchester, Sussex and Oxford in a new study published in the journalScience.

To provide a reasonable (66%) chance of limiting global temperature increases to below 2oC, the International Energy Agency and International Renewable Energy Agency suggest that global energy-related carbon emissions must peak by 2020 and fall by more than 70% in the next 35 years. This implies a tripling of the annual rate of energy efficiency improvement, retrofitting the entire building stock, generating 95% of electricity from low-carbon sources by 2050 and shifting almost entirely towards electric cars.

This challenge necessitates the ‘rapid and deep decarbonisation’ of electricity, transport, heat, industrial, forestry and agricultural systems across the world – but despite the recent rapid growth in renewable electricity generation, the rate of progress towards this wider goal remains slow. In addition, many energy and climate researchers remain wedded to approaches that focus on a single area.

The new study explains how the pace of the low-carbon transition can be accelerated using what it describes as ‘key lessons’ – focusing on the big picture rather than individual elements, aligning multiple innovations & systems, offering societal & business support and phasing out existing systems.

Professor Frank Geels from The University of Manchester, lead author of the study, explains: “Our ‘big picture’ framework shows that policymakers need to stimulate developments, as well as building political coalitions, enhancing business involvement and engaging with civil society.”

Professor Nick Eyre from the University of Oxford, End Use Energy Demand Champion for the UK Research Councils’ Energy Programme, adds: “Accelerating transitions is critical if we are to achieve the goals of decarbonising and saving energy faster, further, and more flexibly. This international quality study shows the importance of whole systems thinking in energy demand research.”

Professor Benjamin K. Sovacool from the University of Sussex, a co-author on the study, says: “Current rates of change are simply not enough. We need to accelerate transitions, deepen their speed and broaden their reach. Otherwise there can be no hope of reaching a 2 degree target, let alone 1.5 degrees. This piece reveals that the acceleration of transitions across the sociotechnical systems of electricity, heat, buildings, manufacturing, and transport requires new approaches, analyses and research methods.”


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