Net Zero plans will extend fossil fuel use says climate group

The world’s plans for a move to net zero have come in for more criticism as a new report branded the efforts as a plan to ensure the use of fossil fuels long after 2050.

In its latest research paper Australian climate organisation, Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration, has warned that plans for net zero are badly flawed.

It warned that the solution is rapid decarbonisation and urgent steps need to be taken to reduce the planet’s temperature.

“Net zero 2050 emissions (NZ2050) is not just a goal, but a strategy for COP26 to lock in many decades of unnecessary fossil fuels use well past 2050, with an unsustainable, business-and growth-as-usual economic pathway, dangerous ‘offset’ trade-offs, and unacceptable risks of unstoppable climate warming,” it said. “NZ2050 scenarios being promoted by the world’s central bankers have up to 50% of primary energy use coming from fossil fuels in 2050, ‘offset’ by use of unreliable carbon accounting and land-based measures, including bio-energy, which impinge upon and may decrease land for cropping even as demand for food increases by half over the next 30 years. This agenda is supported by the fossil fuel industry and by ‘climate activist’ investor groups.”

The centre added long-term targets are an excuse for procrastination, adding the short-term matters most.

“Emergency action to cool and protect the most vulnerable climate and ecosystems is vital. Failure to do so right now may make long-term targets irrelevant if cascades of system-level biophysical changes are triggered.”

The report warned at the present level of warming of 1.2°C, climate change is “already dangerous”, with some system-level tipping points already crossed and others dangerously close.

“A return to the safe climate conditions of the Holocene requires rapid decarbonisation and drawing down atmospheric carbon dioxide to more stable levels,” It added. “The policy aim must be “a big minus” in emissions, not ‘net zero’ emissions.

“Saying NZ2050 is ‘the best we can do’ is caving into an unsustainable and dangerous future and giving up on protecting major Earth systems and ecologies. The NZ2050 scenarios will not save the world’s coral reefs, nor stop rapid and devastating Arctic change nor prevent the inundation of low-lying small island states, or the triggering of societal collapse in parts of the world.”

The report added NZ2050 is not just a goal, it also represents a strategy: it is a contested space about the energy mix, the pace of change and economic and social pathways to 2050.

A number of high profile NZ2050 scenarios have been produced, including by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the central bankers’ and financial regulators Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS).

“Despite the growing enthusiasm for this seemingly positive development, a global stocktake of net zero plans finds 80% fail to meet a minimum set of robustness criteria and lack substance and short-term ambition, leading to greenwashing and marketing deception (Joshi, Renew Economy, 24 March 2021), and a catastrophic failure to form action that will provide meaningful protection,” explained the report. “When advocates support NZ2050 they are tacitly supporting a dangerous agenda leading up to COP 26 in Glasgow that will codify an unsustainable pathway with continuing high fossil fuel use, dangerous ‘offset’ trade-offs, and unacceptable risks of unstoppable climate warming.”

The centre added the long-term targets “are an excuse for procrastination”.

“What we do in the next 3-4 years, I believe, will determine the future of humanity,” said former UK Chief Scientist Sir David King. He said emergency action to cool and protect the most vulnerable climate and ecosystems is vital. Failure to do so right now may make long-term targets irrelevant if cascades of system-level changes are triggered, for example in the Arctic.

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