The Global Calculator interface.

Global Calculator: high life and climate change can co-exist

Despite estimates that the global population will rise to 10 billion people by 2050, it will still be possible to enjoy a high standard of living, a new analysis tool indicates.

The Global Calculator, developed by the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate and number of partners, is an open source programme that allows governments, businesses, NGOs and individuals to examine the likely consequences of key decisions that are necessary to stick to existing climate change promises.

Governments and organisations around the world are committed to constraining the global mean temperature increase to just 2°C by 2050. However, with the world’s population expected to increase to 10bn by that year, the Global Calculator has identified the need to alter the technologies and fuels we are currently using as well as making better use of our existing resources to maintain high standards of living.

Speaking about the use of the tool at the Global Calculator launch, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey, said: “This tool couldn’t be more timely given the challenges and opportunities we’ve got this year in the run up to Paris [UN Climate Change Conference]. I think this will hopefully focus policy maker’s minds around the world, and we need that to happen urgently.

“I believe that it’s probably the best value for money investment the UK has made in climate change – it’s that significant.”

According to results from the Global Calculator it is possible to achieve the 2°C target while also increasing the percentage of households with access to electricity from 84 per cent in 2015, to 94 in 2050. The analysis also indicates that by properly exploiting our natural resources the number of calories consumed per day can increase from 2,180 per head today, to 2,330 per head in 2015.

In order to meet these levels, the Global Calculator estimates that the amount of CO₂ emitted per unit of electricity around the world needs to fall by at least 90 per cent by 2050. Another requirement would be to increase the number of homes using electricity or zero-carbon sources to generate heat from five per cent today to 25-50 per cent in 2050.

Our reliance on fossil fuels also needs to be drastically reduced from 82 per cent of our current primary energy supply to just 40 per cent in 2050. The results also indicate that 35-50 per cent of oil reserves, 50 per cent of gas reserves and 80-85 per cent of coal reserves still need to be in the ground by that year.

The findings also indicate the need to focus on better livestock management and production by switching away from red meat consumption towards poultry, pork, vegetable and grains, as well as increasing the size global forest areas by 5-15 per cent to naturally influence C0₂ levels.

Simon Harrison, Strategic Development Manager at Mott MacDonald, explained how using the Global Calculator tool could be useful for engineering companies to approach future projects.

He said: “The Global Calculator’s main value is in providing a common platform that allows professionals with diverse fields of knowledge to work together objectively – we at Mott MacDonald found this very powerful. It helps gain and socialise a real understanding of different options to mitigate climate change and the relative costs of those options. For engineering companies this can help in thinking through how future markets might evolve, which strategies to follow and the likely robustness or risk of those strategies. It can also allow potential partners dealing with issues around climate change to come to a common understanding.

Harrison also explained how the Global calculator indicates that a low-carbon approach to technology development would cost less than if current trends continued.

He said: “The whole point of the Global Calculator is that is allows multiple pathways to be explored and costed, rather than creating a focus around developing and costing a single solution. The total order of investment required by 2050 is in the tens of trillions of dollars, but in many pathways it can be demonstrated that low-carbon solutions are lower cost than ‘business as usual’, even without allowing for the future costs associated with a changing climate, so these are not additional costs over and above responding to drivers such as increasing populations in a conventional way.

“Some of the biggest impacts come from diet, reversing a trend for people worldwide to eat more red meat as they become wealthier would make a substantial difference, as would a host of other technology-driven changes around agriculture. Energy efficiency is very important, as is the decarbonisation of the electricity sector.”

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