Tenfold Jump in Green Tech Needed to Meet Global Emissions Targets

The global spread of green technologies must quicken significantly to avoid future rebounds in greenhouse gas emissions, a Duke University study shows.

“Based on our calculations, we won’t meet the climate warming goals set by the Paris Agreement unless we speed up the spread of clean technology by a full order of magnitude, or about 10 times faster than in the past,” says Gabriele Manoli, a former postdoctoral associate at the Nicholas School, who led the study.

“Radically new strategies to implement technological advances on a global scale and at unprecedented rates are needed if current emissions goals are to be achieved,” Manoli says.

The study used delayed differential equations to calculate the pace at which global per-capita emissions of carbon dioxide have increased since the Second Industrial Revolution—a period of rapid industrialization at the end of the 19th century and start of the 20th. The researchers then compared this pace to the speed of new innovations in low-carbon-emitting technologies.

Using these historical trends coupled with projections of future global population growth, Manoli and his colleagues were able to estimate the likely pace of future emissions increases and also determine the speed at which climate-friendly technological innovation and implementation must occur to hold warming below the Paris Agreement’s 2o C target.

“It’s no longer enough to have emissions-reducing technologies,” he says.

“We must scale them up and spread them globally at unprecedented speeds.”

The researchers published their peer-reviewed findings in the open-access journal Earth’s Future (Dec. 29, 2016).

Manoli, who is now on the research staff at ETH Zurich’s Institute of Environmental Engineering, conducted the new study with Gabriel G. Katul, the Theodore S. Coile Professor of Hydrology and Micrometeorology, and Marco Marani, professor
of ecohydrology. Katul and Marani are faculty members at the Nicholas School with secondary appointments in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering.

Funding for the study came from the National Science Foundation and from the Duke WISeNet Program.