When we hear about the emissions scenarios used in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, do we really understand what they’re assuming about future fossil fuel combustion? And what do these emissions scenarios imply about the steps needed to achieve climate policy goals and decarbonize our energy system? For example, when you hear about the worst-case warming scenario known as RCP8.5, do you know that it is based on projections for a 10-fold increase in global coal consumption through the end of this century? Or that many of the estimates of future fossil fuel combustion in these scenarios are based on very old assumptions about how the energy system could develop in the future? And how can we square scenarios like these with our contemporary reality, in which coal is in decline and the world is turning to renewables because they have become the cheapest options for generating power? How should we actually think about the influence that the global energy system will have on the climate over the next century? In this fifth part of our mini-series on climate science, researcher (and Energy Transition Show producer) Justin Ritchie helps us understand what the IPCC scenarios really mean, and how they can be improved to offer better policy guidance.
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