by Andrea Stocker and Fritz Hinterberger

At the end of 2015, the international community decided in Paris to limit the world’s greenhouse gas emissions in order to prevent a global climate crisis. Global warming is to be limited to less than two degrees Celsius compared with the pre-industrial era, if possible even to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

In the meetPASS project funded by the Austrian Climate Fund, we have shown over the past two years that without an ambitious energy and resource transition, business as usual would mean that CO2 emissions would rise by 38% by 2050 (+3% per capita). On the basis on a carbon budget of 770 gigatonnes (Gt) worldwide, 120 Gt in Europe and one Gt in Austria, only ten years are left to achieve complete CO2 neutrality.

Over the past 20 years, we have repeatedly developed and calculated scenarios, most recently in meetPASS, and have repeatedly been able to show that the measures required for a genuine transformation will at any rate enable growth and at the same time achieve the Paris targets.

The measures and behavioural adaptations we have proposed correspond roughly to what the Austrian climate researchers’ reference plan for the summer of 2019 calls for in order to bring about the necessary change. The calculations of our colleagues from the Gesellschaft für wirtschaftliche Strukturforschung (GWS) in Osnabrück show that CO2 emissions could be reduced by 73% globally and by 78% per capita to 1 tonne in 2050. The cumulative global CO2 emissions over the period 2017-2050 could thus be limited to around 650 Gt – assuming there is a rapid and far-reaching change of direction in climate policy.

What is necessary globally

The modelling results show that a significant acceleration and expansion of climate protection measures is necessary – and that this is necessary on a global scale. The investments required for this amount to an average of more than 120 billion euros per year for the EU between 2020 and 2050. The necessary energy transition must be accompanied by an ambitious resource transition with the aim of closing cycles (circular economy) in order to save primary resources. In addition, a change in eating habits is indispensable if climate targets are to be achieved. From a global perspective, a reduction in meat consumption is also necessary to avoid deforestation, land and water overconsumption and ultimately hunger in the long term. Even beyond the topic of nutrition, the necessary change can only be achieved if not only a small minority replaces today’s paradigms of material consumption with sustainable consumption and lifestyles, but if this change becomes more and more mainstream.

In addition, the modelling results indicate that in terms of the speed of transformation, a linear way of thinking (for the period up to 2050) does not deliver the necessary system adjustments. Both the political interventions (such as tax increases) and the behavioral adjustments must already have reached a substantial scale in the years up to 2030. Every idle year would be disastrous for the ability to still meet the Paris climate targets. Finally, the global meetPASS scenario shows that a very broad set of policy instruments and behavioural changes is necessary to achieve the energy, resource and food transitions. A worldwide and clear budget neutral CO2 price is one of the central elements in this bundle of measures.

The necessary transformation in Austria

For Austria, meetPASS also devised specific measures aimed at reducing energy and resource consumption, increasing efficiency, expanding renewable energy and changing behaviour, which are applied in the energy, transport, building, industrial sectors and private households. Information campaigns and advice as well as regulations and measures that affect prices are essential elements of this meetPASS scenario. Details on the measures can be found in the Policy Brief and in the Working Papers on the project website.In order to implement these measures, additional investments are necessary, which will amount to up to ten billion euros per year by 2050.

The measures foreseen in the meetPASS scenario for Austria are suitable for reducing CO2 emissions to 12 million tonnes by 2050, which means a savings effect of 47 million tonnes or just under 80%. The cumulative CO2 emissions in the period from 2018 to 2050 would thus amount to 1,078 million tonnes. In order to assess whether the decarbonisation achieved in the meetPASS scenario in Austria is sufficient to achieve the 1.5°C climate target in a fair way, the remaining carbon budget for Austria was derived from the global carbon budget by dividing the entire budget equally among the world population. This would provide everyone with the same quota of CO2 emissions per capita – regardless of which country he or she lives in (based on population in 2017). This results in a CO2 budget of 910 million tonnes for Austria by 2050 (with a 50% probability of reaching the 1.5°C target).

Thus, the cumulative CO2 emissions would exceed the calculated CO2 budget for Austria by 170 million tonnes despite the strong reduction, which would contradict a fair global distribution of CO2 emissions. In the Austrian meetPASS scenario, additional measures compared to the global scenario (e.g. greater expansion of the rail network, greater expansion of e-mobility, faster implementation of an electricity supply based on 100% renewable energy) were adopted. However, they are not in a position to reduce the cumulated emissions to the necessary level in order not to exceed the remaining CO2 budget. Further measures (e.g. the reduction of meat consumption, which could not be reflected in the meet-PASS scenario for Austria) would be necessary.

A general reduction in working hours without full compensation is also conceivable, which would ultimately lead to less consumption, less growth and thus less CO2 emissions, which is desirable to many people in Austria according to studies.

Climate protection, growth and employment

The effects of the meetPASS scenario on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are largely advantageous. In addition to numerous positive synergies, potential conflicts with regard to social acceptability also exist, which must be avoided through accompanying measures.

In this scenario, the Austrian economy (SDG 8) is still on a growth path that is up to 3 % or 10 billion euros higher than in a scenario without additional climate protection measures (business-as-usual scenario). This is mainly due to major investments in the restructuring of the energy system, in energy and resource efficiency and in the transport sector. Economic growth is being dampened by weaker export growth, as world trade is developing less dynamically. As imports are still comparatively lower, Austria’s net exports remain positive.

The positive economic development also has a positive effect on employment (indicator for SDG Target 8.2). At the same time, the employment structure is changing (indicator for SDG Target 8.1): while the number of persons employed in the manufacturing sector is generally growing less strongly than in the business-as-usual scenario, this number is growing more strongly in the service sector. Individual manufacturing sectors such as mechanical and electrical engineering are benefiting from higher investment, as are the construction sector through increased renovation activities. While more jobs are being created in the renewable energy sector, the number of jobs in energy-intensive sectors (e.g. in the coking plant and mineral oil processing industries) is declining.

Conclusion: Beneficial for the economy and employment

The required transformation is a Herculean task. However, if it is based on a continuous change in the most important factors (prices, investments, behavior) over the next 30 years (until 2050), it will not additionally weaken GDP growth, which is expected to be low anyway. A social-ecological tax reform increases (resource) productivity as well as competitiveness and the necessary investments have an expansionary effect via the multiplier effect and thus leading to an increase in GDP.

Even if other measures of such a necessary policy mix – quite similar to the one proposed in the National Energy and Climate Reference Plan drawn up by Austrian climate scientists of the Climate Change Center Austria – CCCA (in which meetPASS was therefore also cited several times) – counteract these effects, the overall effect is clearly positive – in Austria, in Europe and worldwide.

Of course, this growth will be different than in business as usual and possibly also associated with a higher subjective quality of life per €. And in any case, the growth of the next three decades is clearly below that of the past 30 years (around 1% for Austria and the EU or 3% globally).

Further research is needed

As already mentioned, these results replicate relevant findings from half a dozen earlier projects (for various Austrian and German ministries, the Anglo-German Foundation, the Aachener Stiftung and the EU). See for instance polfree.seri.at

In a forthcoming project, we want to examine the effects of individual measures (instead of comprehensive packages of measures) for the Austrian Ministry of Social Affairs in order to be able to analyse the effects more precisely.

Sources

Details can be found in the Working Papers, Fact Sheets and a Policy Brief at www.meetPASS.at/publikationen