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Scientific paper

Energy requirements and carbon emissions for a low-carbon energy transition

Giorgos Kallis, Daniel W. O’Neill, Aljoša Slameršak

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Scientific paper

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Nature Communications


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Achieving the Paris Agreement will require massive deployment of low-carbon energy. However, constructing, operating, and maintaining a low-carbon energy system will itself require energy, with much of it derived from fossil fuels. This raises the concern that the transition may consume much of the energy available to society, and be a source of considerable emissions. Here we calculate the energy requirements and emissions associated with the global energy system in fourteen mitigation pathways compatible with 1.5 °C of warming. We find that the initial push for a transition is likely to cause a 10–34% decline in net energy available to society. Moreover, we find that the carbon emissions associated with the transition to a low-carbon energy system are substantial, ranging from 70 to 395 GtCO2 (with a cross-scenario average of 195 GtCO2). The share of carbon emissions for the energy system will increase from 10% today to 27% in 2050, and in some cases may take up all remaining emissions available to society under 1.5 °C pathways.

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