Information

5.1.5: Data Dive- Global Fossil Fuel Consumption - Biology


Overview

Our World in Data (OWID) is a scientific online publication that focuses on using research and data to help tackle global concerns such as poverty, disease, hunger, climate change, war, and inequitable treatment of our world’s most vulnerable and unstable communities. One example graph, seen below, illustrates global fossil fuel consumption:

Figure(PageIndex{a}): Global consumption of gas, oil, and coal. Graph by Our World Data (CC-BY)

Questions

  1. What kind of graph is this?
  2. What question(s) are the authors trying to answer with this graph?
  3. What are the observed patterns of fossil fuel use (gas, oil, and coal) in this graph?
  4. Make a prediction for each fossil fuel use pattern for the next 50 years. For each prediction, state why you think that pattern will occur.
  5. How do you think climate scientists are using a graph like this to predict climate into the future?

Abstract

The circular economy is a rapidly emerging concept promoted as transformative approach towards sustainable resource use within Planetary Boundaries. It is gaining traction with policymakers, industry and academia worldwide. It promises to slow, narrow and close socioeconomic material cycles by retaining value as long as possible, thereby minimizing primary resource use, waste and emissions.

Herein, we utilize a sociometabolic systems approach to investigate the global economy as embedded into a materially closed “spaceship earth” and to scrutinize the development of circularity during industrialization. We quantify primary material and energy inputs into the economy, as well as all outputs to the environment from 1900-2015. The assessment includes two fundamental cycles: a socioeconomic cycle of secondary materials from end-of-life waste and an ecological cycle in which resulting waste and emissions are assessed against regenerative capacities of biogeochemical systems. In a first approximation, we consider only the carbon-neutral fraction of biomass as renewable. We find that from 1900-2015, socioeconomic and ecological input cycling rates decreased from 43% (41-51%) to 27% (25-30%), while non-circular inputs increased 16-fold and non-circular outputs 10-fold. The contribution of ecological cycling to circularity declined from 91% to 76%.

We conclude that realizing the transformative potential of the circular economy necessitates addressing four key challenges by research and policy: tackling the growth of material stocks, defining clear criteria for ecological cycling and eliminating unsustainable biomass production, integrating the decarbonization of the energy system with the circular economy and prioritizing absolute reductions of non-circular flows over maximizing (re)cyclingrates.


Abstract

Fully decarbonizing global industry is essential to achieving climate stabilization, and reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050–2070 is necessary to limit global warming to 2 °C. This paper assembles and evaluates technical and policy interventions, both on the supply side and on the demand side. It identifies measures that, employed together, can achieve net zero industrial emissions in the required timeframe. Key supply-side technologies include energy efficiency (especially at the system level), carbon capture, electrification, and zero-carbon hydrogen as a heat source and chemical feedstock. There are also promising technologies specific to each of the three top-emitting industries: cement, iron & steel, and chemicals & plastics. These include cement admixtures and alternative chemistries, several technological routes for zero-carbon steelmaking, and novel chemical catalysts and separation technologies. Crucial demand-side approaches include material-efficient design, reductions in material waste, substituting low-carbon for high-carbon materials, and circular economy interventions (such as improving product longevity, reusability, ease of refurbishment, and recyclability). Strategic, well-designed policy can accelerate innovation and provide incentives for technology deployment. High-value policies include carbon pricing with border adjustments or other price signals robust government support for research, development, and deployment and energy efficiency or emissions standards. These core policies should be supported by labeling and government procurement of low-carbon products, data collection and disclosure requirements, and recycling incentives. In implementing these policies, care must be taken to ensure a just transition for displaced workers and affected communities. Similarly, decarbonization must complement the human and economic development of low- and middle-income countries.


Implications of fossil fuel constraints on economic growth and global warming ☆

Energy Security and Global Warming are analysed as 21st century sustainability threats.

Best estimates of future energy availability are derived as an Energy Reference Case (ERC). An explicit economic growth model is used to interpret the impact of the ERC on economic growth. The model predicts a divergence from 20th century equilibrium conditions in economic growth and socio-economic welfare is only stabilised under optimistic assumptions that demands a paradigm shift in contemporary economic thought and focused attention from policy makers.

Fossil fuel depletion also constrains the maximum extent of Global Warming. Carbon emissions from the ERC comply nominally with the B1 scenario, which is the lowest emissions case considered by the IPCC. The IPCC predicts a temperature response within acceptance limits of the Global Warming debate for the B1 scenario. The carbon feedback cycle, used in the IPCC models, is shown as invalid for low-emissions scenarios and an alternative carbon cycle reduces the temperature response for the ERC considerably compared to the IPCC predictions.

Our analysis proposes that the extent of Global Warming may be acceptable and preferable compared to the socio-economic consequences of not exploiting fossil fuel reserves to their full technical potential.


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