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OUT OF THIS WORLD | What's Up In Climate Change - a glance at the most important news about our warming world

Global fossil fuel demand will peak in 2023, says thinktank

Isabella O'Malley
Digital Writer/Climate Change Reporter

Wednesday, September 12, 2018, 3:29 PM - The global transition to a low-carbon economy, green roofs help beat the heat, the surprising environmental impact of large trucks, and role-playing in a United Nations climate simulation. It's What's Up in Climate Change.


The expansion of the renewable energy sector has made impressive leaps and bounds over the past few decades and a new report from the influential thinktank, Carbon Tracker, projects that the world will continue its path towards a low-carbon global economy and the demand in fossil fuels will peak in 2023.

Carbon Tracker previously reported that transition away from fossil fuels is resulting in a carbon bubble - a sudden drop in fossil fuel demand around 2035 could leave companies with approximately $25 trillion in stranded assets and unable to make profit from investments, which could collapse the global economy and trigger a financial crisis similar to the Great Recession of 2008.

Solar panel installation in West Sussex, England. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Renewable energies have become cheaper and more efficient, and they allow countries to produce their own energy instead of having to rely on trade deals with countries that are geopolitically unstable. This new report outlines four phases of the renewable energy transition: 1) an innovation phase between 2000 and 2020 2) fossil fuel demand will peak between 2020 - 2030 3) rapid change of energy sources between 2030 and 2050 4) 2050 and onwards will be a global low carbon economy.

Based on studies on previous energy transitions, such as the phasing-out of coal, the report states that concerns such as fuelling technology that is traditionally dependent on fossil fuels, such as heavy transport, winter heat, and airplanes, are phase 4 issues that will not hold back the transition because electricity will meet many of the new energy needs. The study projects that the transition to a low-carbon global economy will happen regardless of countries meeting their Paris Agreements simply because of the energy efficiency and low costs, but they do acknowledge that the timing of the transition could be affected if more countries follow the U.S. and abandon their national carbon reduction commitments.

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Green roofs offer more than just a glimpse of green in concrete jungles, a new study shows that they can significantly lower extreme heat in the summers months and provide insulation in cooler months.

Cities with minimal vegetation, dark pavements, and materials like concrete that absorb heat all contribute to the urban heat island (UHI) effect, which causes city temperatures to be 1 to 6 degrees Celsius higher than temperatures in rural areas. The cooling effect that the green roofs create results from the vegetating absorbing high amounts of solar radiation during the day and creating shade, which reduces rooftop temperatures and helps cool city temperatures. This layer of vegetation also offers insulation to the building by preventing heat loss during the cooler months.

The study looked at the most cost-effective and high performing options to manage high temperatures and increasingly frequent heat waves in Chicago, and report that green infrastructure provides one of the most promising opportunities to manage UHI effects with the added bonuses of facilitating drainage from extreme precipitation events and improving air quality.

A green roof in Chicago. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The researchers chose Chicago as the study location because of the relatively high amounts of the population that are disproportionately affected during abnormally high temperatures due to socioeconomic factors, age, and physical sensitivity. Chicago has historically suffered high levels of fatalities during extreme heat waves - in July of 1995, where maximum temperatures were greater than 32 degrees Celsius, resulted in over 700 deaths that were related to the heatwave. The UHI effect in Chicago raises temperatures about 4 degrees Celsius compared to surrounding areas, which has prompted initiatives from the City to install 6000 green roofs by 2020.



More and more people are moving into urbanized areas, which not only increases the amount of the population facing increased health risks due to air pollution, but it increases the greenhouse gases emitted from transportation vehicles in urban environments. The second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada is the transportation sector, which accounted for 28 per cent of emissions in 2015, second to the oil and gas sector. While growing cities face worsening traffic conditions, a new study shows that the type of vehicle is more important than the volume of traffic when it comes to evaluating the biggest contributors to air pollution.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The study reports that large trucks are one of the biggest emitters of black carbon on major roads - a pollutant that can absorb one million times more energy than carbon dioxide - and is the one of the largest contributor to climate change. Black carbon is released during burning of diesel or wood has a high warming potential in the climate, though it only stays in the atmosphere for a number of days or weeks before it is cycled back to the ground. The study measured air quality near roads in Vancouver and Toronto and found that the amount of emitted pollutants depended on the type of vehicles. Ontario's Highway 401, one of the busiest highways in Canada, has a significant drop in pollutant emissions on weekends despite high volumes of personal vehicles. A major trucking route was compared to a city with similar air pollution levels as Highway 401 and found that the emissions levels were comparable even though the trucking route had less than 10 per cent of the highway's traffic.

Nearly 32 per cent of all Canadians live within 500 metres of a highway and 19 per cent of the United States population lives within 500 metres of a major roadway. This is large proportion of the North American population and this study's findings have the potential to increase understanding of the health risks urban areas face from roads and highways. Traffic is a significant contributor to air pollution, which has recently been shown to shorten life spans in North America, harm kidney health, and impair cognitive functioning. This study suggests that reducing the amount of large transportation vehicles on the road or converting to a renewable energy sources that does not release emissions could rapidly improve air quality and reduce health-risks that nearby communities face.


Few countries and industries have made the necessary changes to prevent the catastrophic effects from climate change, which is in part due to the fact that humans have evolved to react to dangers that are perceived to be in the near future, not years or decades away. A new study shows that being able to contextualize and quantify the negative impacts immediately after a decision is made on how to fight, or not to fight, climate change increases people's motivation to take action.

In the study's simulations over 2,000 participants in the were assigned to represent UN delegates of eight nations and had to work together to produce a climate agreement to meet the international goal of limiting temperature rise by 2100 below a 2 degree Celsius increase from preindustrial levels. Their final agreements and decisions were entered into the C-ROADS climate simulation model which then provided instant feedback about how social dynamics and the global climate would change as result of their negotiations.

Activists protesting climate "gradualism" stage a die-in outside the signing of the COP21 Paris Agreement at the United Nations in New York City. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

During the trials majority of the overall first-round pledges fell short of meeting the climate goal and were frequently similar to the actual Paris Agreement pledges, which would cause a warming of about 3.3 degrees Celsius. The facilitator for the simulation meetings were able to show diagrams and explain environmental dynamics, mechanisms of warming and carbon dioxide emissions, and impacts on sea level rise, global food production, freshwater supplies, and wildlife. Participants would then negotiate and enter their pledges a second time and 95 per cent expressed increased motivation to address climate change as a result of participating in the simulation.

The researchers note that seeing the climate impacts of your own opinions creates an opportunity to learn more about how the environment functions and the scale of action needed to make a significant difference. As of May 2018 more than 42,000 people from 77 countries have participated in this climate simulation, and the variety in the socio-demographics of the participants indicates that increasing climate change communicating in a scientifically-grounded setting is an effective method for motivating action to improve environmental impacts and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Sources: Carbon Tracker | Environmental Research Letters | Environmental Science & Technology | PLOS ONE

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