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Scenarios compatible with the Paris agreement's temperature goal of 1.5 °C involve carbon dioxide removal measures – measures that actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere – on a massive scale. Such large-scale implementations raise significant ethical problems. Van Vuuren et al. (2018), as well as the current IPCC scenarios, show that reduction in energy and or food demand could reduce the need for such activities. There is some reluctance to discuss such societal changes. However, we argue that policy measures enabling societal changes are not necessarily ethically problematic. Therefore, they should be discussed alongside techno-optimistic approaches in any kind of discussions about how to respond to climate change.
The 1.5 °C goal has given impetus to carbon dioxide removal (CDR) measures, such as bioenergy combined with carbon capture and storage, or afforestation. However, land-based CDR options compete with food production and biodiversity protection. Van Vuuren et al. (2018) looked at alternative pathways including lifestyle changes, low-population projections, or non-CO2 greenhouse gas mitigation, to reach the 1.5 °C temperature objective. Underlined by the recently published IPCC AR6 WGIII report, they show that demand-side management measures are likely to reduce the need for CDR. Yet, policy measures entailed in these scenarios could be associated with ethical problems themselves. In this paper, we therefore investigate ethical implications of four alternative pathways as proposed by Van Vuuren et al. (2018). We find that emission reduction options such as lifestyle changes and reducing population, which are typically perceived as ethically problematic, might be less so on further inspection. In contrast, options associated with less societal transformation and more techno-optimistic approaches turn out to be in need of further scrutiny. The vast majority of emission reduction options considered are not intrinsically ethically problematic; rather everything rests on the precise implementation. Explicitly addressing ethical considerations when developing, advancing, and using integrated assessment scenarios could reignite debates about previously overlooked topics and thereby support necessary societal discourse.
Social media summary
Policy measures enabling societal changes are not necessarily as ethically problematic as commonly presumed and reduce the need for large-scale CDR.
We summarize some of the past year's most important findings within climate change-related research. New research has improved our understanding about the remaining options to achieve the Paris Agreement goals, through overcoming political barriers to carbon pricing, taking into account non-CO2 factors, a well-designed implementation of demand-side and nature-based solutions, resilience building of ecosystems and the recognition that climate change mitigation costs can be justified by benefits to the health of humans and nature alone. We consider new insights about what to expect if we fail to include a new dimension of fire extremes and the prospect of cascading climate tipping elements.
A synthesis is made of 10 topics within climate research, where there have been significant advances since January 2020. The insights are based on input from an international open call with broad disciplinary scope. Findings include: (1) the options to still keep global warming below 1.5 °C; (2) the impact of non-CO2 factors in global warming; (3) a new dimension of fire extremes forced by climate change; (4) the increasing pressure on interconnected climate tipping elements; (5) the dimensions of climate justice; (6) political challenges impeding the effectiveness of carbon pricing; (7) demand-side solutions as vehicles of climate mitigation; (8) the potentials and caveats of nature-based solutions; (9) how building resilience of marine ecosystems is possible; and (10) that the costs of climate change mitigation policies can be more than justified by the benefits to the health of humans and nature.
Social media summary
How do we limit global warming to 1.5 °C and why is it crucial? See highlights of latest climate science.
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