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A family in Tarialan, Uvs Province, Mongolia, uses a solar panel to generate power for their ger, a traditional Mongolian tent. United Nations Photo

Developed countries will need to invest more resources in green energies and less in fossil fuels in order to meet the goals set by the Paris Agreement, according to a study published earlier this year in Nature Energy.

The research was led by David McCollum, 2016 Baker Research Fellow in Energy and Environment in UT’s Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy.

The study compared six model-based scenarios, each attempting to map the required investments needed to fulfill the world’s current climate goals. Although the results of each varied slightly, there is a stark trend that appears throughout: fossil fuel investments must decrease in favor of green energy, and the amount of money invested in green technology must increase substantially.

The research is centered primarily around article 2.1 of the Paris Agreement, which aims to hold the increase of the global average temperature to well below 2°C. The same article also calls for strengthening the international response to limit the global temperature from surpassing 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, an even more difficult goal to accomplish.

According to McCollum, the current global budget for green technology is nowhere near what it needs to be to reach these climate goals.

“The build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is a cumulative problem, and our ‘emission budget’ is dwindling pretty quickly,” said McCollum. “At the current level of global annual emissions, we will burn through the remaining budget for 1.5°Cin a decade or less. For 2°C we have a few years more to spare.”

As part of the climate agreement, many countries have pledged a specific amount of money toward reaching climate goals. While these contributions are a step in the right direction, the study finds that they are insufficient: to even reach the original pledges, an additional $130 billion must be invested by 2030, and to achieve either 2°C or 1.5°C, investments of $320 billion and $480 billion, respectively, will be needed.

The solution: countries trying to reach these goals must attempt to reallocate their energy investments.

“The largest increases will be seen in the renewable electricity sector (solar, wind, hydro) and in the area of energy efficiency,” said McCollum. “In addition, investments into electricity transmission, distribution, and storage are likely to see major increases from today. On the flip side, major disinvestments will be seen in fossil electricity generation—particularly coal—oil refining, and extraction of coal, oil, and natural gas.”

Last year, President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the climate agreement. Article 28 of the Paris Agreement stipulates a four-year exit process, which means that the United States must maintain certain commitments until the year 2020. What the US withdrawal could mean in the long term, however, is uncertain.

To McCollum, one thing is clear: the future of energy investment is in the hands of world leaders and voters. “Whether governments and citizens have the appetite for large-scale changes is the larger question.”

CONTACT:

Andrea Schneibel (andrea.schneibel@utk.edu, 865-974-3993)

Will Wells (yqk572@vols.utk.edu)