Australians must cut their overseas holidays, turn off their airconditioners and drive more slowly to give the world a shot at reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says.
The IEA has mapped out the changes that nations, industries and individuals must make to bring down the rate of carbon emissions quickly enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Australians must cut their overseas holidays to help reduce emissions, the IEA says.Credit:Getty Images
Much of the attention has focused on the actions outlined for fossil fuels, such as ending new extraction projects for coal and gas immediately and phasing out coal power from 2030 onwards. But missed in the media reports on the IEA, Net Zero by 2050 – A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector had a wake-up call for long-haul international flyers and consumers in wealthy countries.
The IEA, traditionally a champion of fossil energy, identified about 40 per cent of global emissions that require “massive policy support” to drive uptake of clean technology such as switching the energy grid to renewables and promoting low-carbon steel.
It identified another 55 per cent of emissions reductions that depend on individual uptake of low emissions technologies such as rooftop solar panels or electric vehicles.
But it says the final 8 per cent of global emissions must come from behavioural change because wholescale transformation of carbon emissions cannot be achieved without “active and willing participation of citizens”.
“It is ultimately people who drive demand for energy‐related goods and services, and societal norms and personal choices will play a pivotal role,” it said.
The IEA said people in wealthier regions had higher levels of energy use, which means their behavioural changes play an especially important role in “reducing excessive or wasteful energy consumption”.
Under the road map, business air travel (which fell to nearly zero during the pandemic) is capped at 2019 levels, which avoids about 110 million tonnes of carbon emissions (Mt).
The message will be particularly jarring for Australian citizens, who rank among the highest spending overseas flyers per capita, spending $39 billion a year on international tourism in 2019, particularly when the federal government has pledged more than $350 million to help open new gas fields.
Long-haul personal leisure flights of six hours or more are capped at pre-COVID, 2019 levels. An average long‐haul flight produces 35 times more emissions than an average regional flight of less than one hour, according to the roadmap. Long haul travel comprises just 2 per cent of leisure flights but capping their growth would save 70Mt a year by 2050, according to the IEA.
The changes in flight patterns mean effectively a cut to personal air travel due to global population growth and increasing affordability for leisure trips in developing economies.
The roadmap assumes about 15 per cent of regional flights can be shifted to high speed rail, on average depending on the location, which would rise to 17 per cent by 2050 with expansion of rail networks. This would save 45Mt in 2050 – because high speed rail will run on zero emissions electricity.
In road transport, limiting car drivers speeds to 100km/h would reduce car emissions by 3 per cent or 140Mt in 2030.
Because carbon emissions accumulate in the atmosphere over time, adding to long-term global heating, it is necessary to reduce greenhouse output rapidly to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees – instead of waiting until zero-emission electric cars.
Between 20 to 50 per cent of car trips in cities switch to public transport, walking or cycling saves 320Mt by around 2035, depending on the city. A shift away from single-driver trips towards ridesharing in large cities saves a further 185Mt. These changes reduce car ownership and save 40Mt in steel production.
Regulations covering heating temperatures in offices and default cooling temperatures for air conditioning units, which reduce excessive thermal demand.
The IEA said if these behavioural changes aren’t adopted global emissions would be 1.7 billion tonnes of carbon emissions in 2030 and 2.6 billion tonnes in 2050, which would “further increase the already unprecedented ramp‐up needed in low‐carbon technologies”.
Chief executive of the ClimateWorks thinktank Anna Skarbek said the world must cut emissions in half by 2030 to have a chance of limiting global warming to under 2 degrees, and both large-scale policies and personal choices can make significant decarbonisation contributions.
Individual choices aren’t only significant because of the emissions saves, Ms Skarbek said, because consumer trends “influence major players like investors, product suppliers, system operators” and “the pace of change demands more from our decision-makers”.
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