Professor Urge-Vorsatz Co-Authors Study Countering Climate "Doomism"

An antidote to the “doomism” lately fashionable among both climate activists and skeptics has been co-authored by CEU’s Diana Urge-Vorsatz. ‘Recalibrating climate prospects’ appears in Environmental Research Letters, the prestigious environmental studies journal. Professor Urge-Vorsatz, of CEU’s Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy, describes the paper as an antidote to the climate “doomism” reinforced by recent reports by international organizations such as the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme  (UNEP).

The paper concurs that the global climate emergency requires strong, broad, and rapid action. Yet powerful tools to mitigate climate change offer far more effective solutions, sooner, at lower cost, than those that are included in most of the models that now guide climate policy. 

“Our analysis shows that if we add the rates of recent developments in energy efficiency and renewable energy into decarbonization indicators, these developments are less distant from what is needed for reaching ambitious climate goals than has been shown in previous research” Professor Urge-Vorsatz said. 

“The paper’s significance is that continuing and strengthening recent trends in the improvement in energy efficiency and renewables could place ambitious climate goals back in reach. These options, especially those around energy efficiency, however, are hard to spot in the big global climate solution models, and as a result get little attention,” she added.

The authors point out that policymakers can't make choices they don’t know exist, and so the modeling gap diverts policy attention and investment to slower, harder, costlier options that buy less and later mitigation, increasing risks. With few and recent exceptions, Integrated Assessment Models that convert climate science into consequences and choices have understated what we can do to reverse climate change. At the same time, despair and complacency are equally unwarranted; the paper’s core message is ‘keep calm and carry on’. 

The paper goes on to argue that nearly all the models that currently shape policy choices severely play down the impact of efficient energy usage. These models also systematically minimize the speed at which reliable and profitable modern renewable energy supplies can replace fossil fuels. Moreover, they focus only on technologies and devices rather than on whole systems, and on microeconomics rather than complex social processes. The current models downplay how efficiency and renewables together can not only augment but displace fossil fuels—often at a profit—and free up enormous amounts of investment to fund other needs.

The best model avoiding these flaws found in mid-2018 that efficiency-centric strategies could robustly achieve the Paris Agreement’s aspirational 1.5˚C goal and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, cut 2050 supply costs by more than a trillion dollars per year, and require no carbon removal except by natural systems. Detailed and rigorous assessments of the world’s top carbon-emitting economies—China and the United States—reached similar conclusions.