Why you need to read the 2019 Exponential Roadmap on Climate Action
The “2019 Exponential Roadmap” report and the high-level summary “Meeting the 1.5°C climate ambition” launched this week as a collaborative project between research institutes, NGOs and the private sector on how to mitigate overall greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decade in line with the IPCC special report on 1.5°C. Find out our key takeaways from both reports below.
It was one of the most exciting moments of my working life when the Exponential Roadmap was launched last year during the opening of the Global Climate Action Summit by Cristiana Figueres, former executive secretary of UNFCCC, and Prof. Johan Rockström, co-director of Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).
Not because of the fancy setting and huge audience, nor the prominent presenters, but because this team of experts from academia, business and civil society had delivered something really meaningful – a comprehensive roadmap to the decarbonization of the world in line with science for the coming 12 years. Beyond the roadmap this is a model for what we can achieve when we work together in broad partnerships for the climate.
As a teenager with a will to pull my weight to change the world for the better, I often felt insignificant and helpless. There was no youth leader as Greta Thunberg or Jamie Margolin that could express our frustration, and no digital platforms where we could organize and get inspired.
I learnt a lot about what I should not do from the different environmental organizations, but no one seemed to have an answer to what would be the best overall strategy. Today, much has changed. Yet I think most of us find it hard to understand what it means to restrict average global temperatures to a certain temperature.
How do I translate this to something which is actionable to me in my company role or private life? Like, how much do I need to change? How quickly?
From this perspective, the introduction of the Carbon Law concept – the starting point of the Exponential Roadmap - marks a turning point. By translating complicated science and IPCC findings into a simple rule of thumb, the researchers behind the concept gave us a compass of direction – that emissions must halve every decade to reach net-zero by 2050.
As all rule of thumbs and high-level reports, these cannot reflect the full complexity of the transformation. For example, a drawdown of 50 percent per decade in average means that those who can, must go faster. Still, the combination, answers well to my frustration as a teenager and our need to translate scientific knowledge into practical advice for countries, cities, companies and individuals.
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The 2019 Exponential Roadmap
The latest 2019 Exponential Roadmap is based on last year’s debut report, the Exponential Climate Action Roadmap but takes the analysis to the next level.
It reflects both the latest development with regards to the climate and climate action, but also strengthens the analysis behind the decarbonization trajectories and further elaborates how the transformation could be accelerated. The high-level Meeting the 1.5°C Climate Ambition report offers a summary of the most important messages for decision makers.
The validity of these messages is more important now than ever. The need for climate action keeps growing and must follow an exponential trajectory. Yet the transition has barely started, and time is running out.
Why we must act now
In 2018, researchers warned that going beyond 2°C could trigger non-reversable natural processes to drive uncontrollable warming. This could push the planet towards a “Hothouse Earth” state and a temperature increase of about 4°C above preindustrial temperatures – a reverse ice-age.
In spite of the severity of current climate development, the probability of exceeding 2°C is 90 percent at current commitment levels. This rises to 97 percent if we consider that current actions are not in line with the commitments undertaken. This, together with the IPCC special report on 1.5 °C is the starting point of the roadmap.
To stabilize the climate should be a sufficient driver to change path. However, there are additional reasons for action. It is estimated that the global economic benefit of a low-carbon future will be USD 26 trillion by 2030. By limiting warming to 1.5°C rather than 2°C, we will also expose 420 million fewer people to severe heatwaves.
There are simply no reasons to keep delaying the decarbonization of society. The remaining emissions budget for 1.5°C is small and will be exceeded within just a few years at current emission rates. The window of feasibility is closing rapidly. But, as the reports conclude, we have all solutions we need at hand so we just need to accelerate them.
The challenge is on, but so is the opportunity.
36 solutions to safeguard the world supported by exponential technologies
The roadmap maps out overall global emissions on key sectors of the economy and shows the efforts and opportunities for each of them (including energy supply, industry, buildings, transports, food consumption and nature-based sources) in their mission to decarbonize.
This is summarized into 36 solutions which could save the climate and safeguard the world if leveraged and scaled in time. It also shows how nature-based sinks can be implemented in line with IPCC special report on 1.5°C..
In addition, it embeds the decarbonization of sectors in a much wider societal framework and summarize the acceleration levers including e.g. policy frameworks, financing models, business models, exponential technologies and leadership at all levels.
The role of exponential technologies
Exponential technologies offer a critical lever to accelerate the required urgent action – both through their capacity to directly reduce emissions and also in the role of influencers.
Roughly one-third of the halving could be enabled by existing ICT solutions across energy, manufacturing, agriculture, land use, buildings, services, transportation and traffic management. This potential is greater than the current footprints of EU and US combined and outnumbers the ICT industry's total carbon footprint by a factor of ten. With technologies such as 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) at our threshold, new, additional reduction opportunities are offered.
>>>>> Explore the 2019 Exponential Roadmap reports <<<<<<
What does this mean for the ICT sector? As the roadmap tells us, the digital industry has an important role to play. Not only is its footprint small (currently at around 1,4% of overall emissions) and allows for virtualization of many activities and increased efficiency of others, it is also uniquely positioned to disrupt industries for the better and influence people´s actions around the world though various platforms.
Working as a researcher I´m not too fond of simplistic messages. The digital industry not only brings many opportunities, but it also comes with certain challenges. A tool per se, digital solutions could be used to strengthen democracy but could also be adopted to hinder climate efforts through the spreading of non-scientific messages and fake news on social media. In the same way digital solutions can optimise any type of system and facilitate the saving of energy and materials, and enable distributed demand response to help balance renewable based electricity grids - but advanced digital solutions could also make oil and gas extraction more attractive delaying the shift to low-carbon alternatives.
As a famous cartoon bear (incidentally voiced by Greta Thunberg´s grandfather) says here in Sweden, “the one who is strong, needs to be kind”. This goes also for the digital industry – though already pure business sense should make it obvious to direct our efforts for a zero-carbon future. Over the coming decade, emissions must halve. During the same period, our industry will disrupt all sectors through 5G, IoT and AI. We are responsible in making sure that these solutions are used for a liveable planet, by putting decarbonization at the center.
At Ericsson, our own purpose is to empower an intelligent, sustainable and connected world and we should all make sure that this doesn´t stay as a buzzword but impact our every-day decisions and actions. As we learnt, digital services have a potential, tenfold their footprint, to reduce energy and materials across the economy and could directly enable a third of the emissions reductions needed by 2030.
Disruption and transformation are essential to achieving rapid climate mitigation – the world needs rapid innovation cycles to break free of old fossil-fuel pathways. But without a compass direction, innovation could just as easily drive up emissions. It is our shared responsibility to ensure that this does not happen.
A roadmap to success
As a technology leader, we have learned a few lessons from working with technologies as complex as mobile communication networks.
Firstly, it’s impossible for even the brightest experts to know everything about such complex systems. Only by working together and sharing expertise can we succeed.
Secondly, complex interlinked systems can only be developed through partnerships between different types of organizations.
Thirdly, projects and time plans which seem impossible at first could be managed if you really set out for it – and if you have leaders who give you the conditions to succeed.
Fourth, you always need to keep an eye on the overall system to avoid sub-optimizations and adverse consequences.
And, fifth, following an exponential development curve is not only challenging but also very rewarding.
I think that all of these are important as we take on the challenge to completely remove the net-addition of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. We must work together making the best use of all available expertise across society. We must also stretch out over organizational boundaries and siloes.
We need bold leadership and we must make sure to address the full societal system – not only individual solutions - and make sure that the transformation does not adversely affect vulnerable groups and planetary boundaries.
Last, but not the least, we must learn to paint the image of a society beyond carbon in much brighter colors. After all, the shared benefits will be substantial as climate solutions often bring huge societal benefits in terms of increased health, achieved global development goals and increased security and independence. They also create huge business opportunities.
In the new report the message is as clear as ever - we must move from incremental to exponential action and scale the solutions which are at hand without delay.
The scale of economic transformation – halving emissions by 2030 – is unprecedented. But the speed is not. Many cities, companies and countries can transform significantly faster.
For this to happen we must immediately invest heavily in smarter consumption and production across all sectors where we find these largest potentials or halving emissions by 2030 will fail. This is as much about investments as divestments, but demand side reduction with regards to energy and materials as well as efficiency measures are key.
Although the climate situation seems to deteriorate faster than what most of us thought, there are reasons to be more optimistic that an exponential economic and mindset transformation is underway and will likely be faster than many predictions, particularly in the energy and transport sectors.
All sectors are important and need to accelerate and scale further across energy, industry, buildings, transport, food and nature-based solutions (sources and sinks). And with the moral imperative, the business opportunities and the co-benefits all pointing in the same direction it seems insane to not just go for it – whether you believe what we do will be sufficient for 1,5°C or not. We just need to go for it.
Partners of the Exponential Roadmap
The Exponential Roadmap is a joint initiative with Future Earth, WWF, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Stockholm Resilience Center (SRC), Ericsson, Mission 2020, Sitra, KTH and Internet of Planet as lead partners and with Project Drawdown, EAT, Swedish Energy Agency, Telia Company, Climate View, Fossil Free Sweden and Scania as supporting partners.
Visit the exponential roadmap site to find out more about the project.
Read Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm’s latest blog post where he explores the impact of ICT on exponential climate action.
Watch the exponential roadmap on-demand webinar.