Rooftop Solar Installation. (Oregon Dept. of Transportation. 2012) CC BY 2.0 Rooftop Solar Installation. (Oregon Dept. of Transportation. 2012) CC BY 2.0


New economic and climate modelling suggests governments around the world must invest US$480 billion in low carbon energy technologies to keep global temperatures from rising above 1.5°C by 2030.

Research from the Austria-based International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis suggests this “fundamental transformation” of the global energy system can be achieved for the “comparatively modest” sum of almost half a trillion dollars. (All figures are in US dollars). Provided, that is, this boost in renewable energy funding is matched by a substantial decrease in funding and use of traditional fossil fuels by 2025 at the latest.

"Investments into energy transmission and storage...would need to be scaled up more rapidly for reaching 1.5°C.” — Keywan Riahi, IIASA Energy Program Director

The IIASA study released Monday in the journal Nature Energy argues that in order for countries to meet their nationally determined contributions for greenhouse gas emissions outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement, an additional $130 billion is needed in the next 12 years, part of the larger $480 billion investment that includes reallocating money away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy.

Rustling up the resources needed to cap warming at 2°C, meanwhile, which would mean burning several hundred additional gigatonnes of carbon, would cost $320 billion.

Researchers were surprised at the additional cost necessary to keep warming from rising that additional 0.5°C.

“What it means in terms of ramping up renewables and efficiency is much greater,” David McCollum, a senior researcher at the IIASA and lead author of the report, told Carbon Brief. “So it’s non-linear in other words: there’s this tipping point if we want to move beyond 2°C and go to 1.5°C.”

IIASA Energy Program Director Keywan Riahi agrees. “A 1.5°C investment strategy will be quite different from one to reach 2°C,” he said in a statement. “Particularly investments into energy transmission and storage as well as for renewables and efficiency would need to be scaled up more rapidly for reaching 1.5°C.”

But according to Riahi, neither target can be met unless upstream investments in coal extraction and unabated fossil power generation without carbon capture and storage are dramatically scaled down.

McCollum believes it’s feasible for global governments to generate the additional $130 billion needed to reign in rising temperatures provided the shift is adequately prioritized.

Even then, it may not be enough.

“As we know from this research and other research, the [nationally determined contribution] targets don’t get us anywhere near where we need to be for 2°C, and certainly not 1.5°C,” he said. “It starts us on the right track, but it’s already missing the mark in terms of emissions reductions by 2025-2030.”

For in-depth visualizations of the green energy investments needed to keep warming below 1.5°C and 2°C as set out in the Paris Agreement, please visit the CD-LINKS project.


Andrew Reeves is the Editor-in-Chief of Alternatives Journal. Overrun, his book about Asian carp in North America, will be published in Spring 2019 by ECW Press. His work has also appeared in the Globe & MailSpacing and Corporate Knights. Follow him on Twitter.

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