Research Article: What if negative emission technologies fail at scale?

New Research Article out in Climate Policy by Zennström professor Kevin Anderson et al.

What if negative emission technologies fail at scale? Implications of the Paris Agreement for big emitting nations

by Alice Larkin, Jaise Kuriakose, Maria Sharmina and Kevin Anderson


A cumulative emissions approach is increasingly used to inform mitigation policy. However, there are different interpretations of what ‘2°C’ implies. Here it is argued that cost-optimisation models, commonly used to inform policy, typically underplay the urgency of 2°C mitigation. The alignment within many scenarios of optimistic assumptions on negative emissions technologies (NETs), with implausibly early peak emission dates and incremental short-term mitigation, delivers outcomes commensurate with 2°C commitments. In contrast, considering equity and socio-technical barriers to change, suggests a more challenging short-term agenda. To understand these different interpretations, short-term CO2 trends of the largest CO2 emitters, are assessed in relation to a constrained CO2 budget, coupled with a ‘what if’ assumption that negative emissions technologies fail at scale. The outcomes raise profound questions around high-level framings of mitigation policy. The paper concludes that applying even weak equity criteria, challenges the feasibility of maintaining a 50% chance of avoiding 2°C without urgent mitigation efforts in the short-term. This highlights a need for greater engagement with: (1) the equity dimension of the Paris Agreement, (2) the sensitivity of constrained carbon budgets to short-term trends and (3) the climate risks for society posed by an almost ubiquitous inclusion of NETs within 2°C scenarios.

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