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Final report of the high-Level panel of the European decarbonisation pathways Initiative

Ekins, P; (2018) Final report of the high-Level panel of the European decarbonisation pathways Initiative. European Commission, Research and Innovation: Brussels, Belgium. Green open access

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Abstract

What strategy to adopt in R&I in order to speed up and foster mitigation policies in the EU that respond to the goals of the Paris Agreement, while growing the competitiveness of the EU economy? This was the main question that Commissioner Carlos Moedas put to the Members of the High-Level Panel (HLP) of the European Decarbonisation Initiative when this group of nine experts was first convened in October 2016. After two years of work, the High-Level Panel has delivered its final report, but in these two years the framework conditions have changed, new science emerged and global emissions, having been flat for about three years, have started to grow again. In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Special Report on 1.5 °C impacts and pathways, and its compelling conclusions affected the final drafting of this report. The IPCC in fact says that there is a significant difference between stabilising the average global temperature at 1.5 °C compared to 2.0 °C, with dangerous tipping points and substantially higher risks being triggered between these two temperature thresholds. A window of opportunity for remaining at 1.5 °C still exists, but the challenge is huge, and all the best means to achieve it have to be mobilised, including R&I. The HLP has therefore considered that a very ambitious R&I programme, capable of delivering the zero-carbon solutions needed, while also promoting industrial competitiveness in the EU economy, is one of the necessary means — even if not sufficient — to achieve the goal. For ten discussion sessions, the HLP invited experts and stakeholders in the fields of energy, transport, industry, agriculture, finance, urban planning, social innovation, policymaking and more to debate the key challenges for decarbonisation and the R&I needs, in particular those emerging from economic and societal sectors for which the transition to a zero-emission future still looks difficult. The recommendations of the HLP have been based on a number of assumptions that resulted from a preliminary discussion on the fundamental features that constitute the basis of the Paris Agreement. These derive from climate change science, and in particular from the very important conclusions of the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC, which brought to policymaker attention the concept of the ‘carbon budget’. The burning of fossil fuels, which started massively with the Industrial Revolution around 1750, has injected in the atmosphere a huge amount of carbon as carbon dioxide (CO2) that was previously stored in geological deposits. CO2 builds up and shows an almost linear relationship between its atmospheric concentration and the warming of the planet. Therefore it is possible to calculate the overall CO2 emission budget that leads to 1.5 °C or 2.0 °C of warming beyond pre-industrial levels. This budget has already been used for its greater part. The above-mentioned IPCC Special Report on 1.5 °C says that at current emissions, ranging around 42 Gt CO2/y, the available carbon budget for reaching 1.5 °C will expire between 2030 and 2040, and for 2.0 °C will expire some time between 2040 and 2050. The main principle that has therefore been used as the basis for the HLP recommendations is that the focus of public investments in research and innovation should be on zero-carbon solutions. Low-carbon technologies that only reduce but do not eliminate greenhouse gas emissions have to be used at best for the transition towards a carbon neutral future, but have to be replaced soon by zero-carbon ones. The remaining carbon budget available to stay within the Paris Agreement boundaries is too small to lock ourselves into technologies that do not lead to zero emissions. It is true that some ‘negative emissions’ (from technologies or practices for removing CO2 from the atmosphere) can be generated to offset emissions that are more difficult to cut, but relying too much on negative emissions implies difficult and risky land use choices, e.g. afforestation and reforestation. A second key assumption is that zero-carbon solutions shall be tackled at the system level, and for this the role of digitalisation is of utmost importance. A set of thematic and cross cutting recommendations have been produced by the HLP, in particular for the orientation of the new EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation 2021-2027, Horizon Europe. These recommendations include: 1) the need for sustained R&I activities on decarbonisation across all sectors, including a robust programme on climate change science; 2) the establishment of large mission-oriented programmes of a cross-cutting nature for the deployment of system-level transdisciplinary innovation; 3) the development of partnerships with industry to address together the most difficult aspects of decarbonisation, on which industry alone would not invest enough and with the necessary urgency; and 4) the launch of ‘Transition Super-Labs’, very-large-territory initiatives of real-life management of the transition from typical fossil-fuel-based local economies to zero-carbon ones. Putting decarbonisation at the heart of Horizon Europe and of other national R&I programmes in the EU may be the starting point of the change of pace in mitigation that is required to achieve the Paris Agreement goals. Horizon Europe in particular, with its engagement of investing 35 % of its proposed EUR 100 billion budget in climate-related activities, is a unique opportunity to transform this target into a true coherent zero-carbon programme.

Type: Report
Title: Final report of the high-Level panel of the European decarbonisation pathways Initiative
ISBN: 978-92-79-96826-6
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.2777/476014
Publisher version: https://publications.europa.eu/en/publication-deta...
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the version of record. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: research, innovation, decarbonisation, pathway, climate change
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment > Bartlett School Env, Energy and Resources
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10063823
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