FAPESP and the Sustainable Development Goals

The choices we make in the near future will define the impact of climate change for generations to come

The choices we make in the near future will define the impact of climate change for generations to come

The alert came from scientists who participated in the 10th German-Brazilian Dialogue on Science, Research and Innovation, organized by the German Center for Science and Innovation in São Paulo in partnership with FAPESP (image: Freepik)

Published on 06/05/2023

By José Tadeu Arantes  |  Agência FAPESP – According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), global temperatures are set to reach record levels in the next five years. There is a 66% likelihood that the annual average near-surface global temperature between 2023 and 2027 will be more than 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels for at least one year, the WMO’s May 2023 update says. This does not mean the world will permanently exceed the 1.5 °C level specified in the Paris Agreement, which refers to long-term warming over many years. So far, the planet has warmed about 1.1 °C. However, the WMO is sounding the alarm that we are dangerously close to that fatal threshold and must act fast.

The WMO’s warning sounded on May 17. On that same day, the Tenth German-Brazilian Dialogue on Science, Research and Innovation held its second session, discussing the sustainable energy transition. The keynote presentation, entitled Shifting Development Pathways: How to Enable Broader, Deeper and Faster Climate Action?, focused precisely on the need for urgent and consistent action to avoid an irreversible climate catastrophe.

The presentation was delivered by Joana Portugal-Pereira, a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and a Lead Author of the Working Group III contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The overarching goal set by the Paris Agreement is to keep the increase in the global average temperature this century to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5 °C, Portugal-Pereira noted. This will require the fastest possible reduction in greenhouse gas emissions so as to reach a net rate (emissions less absorption) equal to zero by mid-century.

“There are various pathways to limit global warming to the Paris Agreement goals, but all involve a rapid, deep, far-reaching and unprecedented reduction in greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a cumulative gas and stays virtually forever in the atmosphere, so every additional ton of emissions adds to global warming, Portugal-Pereira explained. “Not adding more carbon to the atmosphere is the only way to stabilize – not reduce – global warming. To achieve the ideal of zero net emissions by 2050, we must reduce emissions by 50% to 70% in the current decade,” she said.

Trends prior to the Paris Agreement would probably have led to a rise of about 5 °C. Current policies are leading to a rise of 2.8 °C. Even the Paris pledges could lead to a rise of 2.4 °C-2.6 °C, depending on how countries implement them. All these rises are well above the limit science considers acceptable (1.5 °C).

“The historical sources of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and land use change are not fully offset by carbon uptake on land and ocean. As a result, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is rising exponentially. In the pre-industrial period, it was 280 parts per million [ppm]. When FAPESP was established [in 1962], it was 317 ppm. It’s now 425 ppm. The observed impacts attributed to climate change are severe in all regions of the world,” she said.

These impacts include an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme heat waves, variations in precipitation regimes, and drought. The extent to which current and future generations will experience a hotter and different world depends on the choices we make now and in the near future.

This was the leitmotif for the entire event, which was attended by top-tier Brazilian and German researchers, as well as business leaders for the first time since the series of Dialogue meetings began. They are a joint initiative of the São Paulo city office for the German Center for Science and Innovation (DWIH São Paulo) and FAPESP, in partnership with the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD Brazil) and the German Consulate in São Paulo.

The program for the event encompassed sessions on biofuels, wind and solar power, electric and hybrid vehicles, second-use materials and recycling, the circular economy, and education for the energy transition. The common thread was accelerating the energy transition toward a zero net balance, and the measures needed to reach this goal, including technological innovations, political decisions, economic regulation and educational strategies.

The use of hydrogen as an alternative was strongly emphasized by Veronika Grimm, Professor of Economic Theory at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) in Bavaria, and one of the five members of the German Council of Economic Experts.

Grimm was the first day’s keynote speaker on Challenges of the Global Energy Transition and Opportunities for (New) Partnerships. In the context of Europe’s spike in gas and electricity prices due to the war in Ukraine, she focused on the fast expansion of renewables for industry, mobility, heating, etc. to replace Russian gas.

“Rapid growth of renewables is an important building block for the effort to limit energy price increases in the medium term,” she said. The decarbonization of German industry requires an increase in energy efficiency – to produce more with less – and substitution of fossil fuels by electrification and use of hydrogen. Germany has had a National Hydrogen Council since 2020, she noted. 

Germany is set to achieve carbon neutrality in 2045, five years before the internationally agreed deadline (which we all hope will be respected). At that time, there will be strong demand for electricity from hydrogen, estimated at 500-700 terawatt-hours (TWh).

For comparison, in 2017, when renewables surpassed coal for the first time as a source of electric power in Europe, the region as a whole generated 679 TWh from wind, solar and biomass.

“There’s no consensus on how much hydrogen we’ll need or on how we’ll use it. Scientific studies on this topic are sorely needed,” Grimm said, adding that the first, but not the only, option available as a hydrogen energy carrier for trading on a global scale is ammonia. A large global market in ammonia already exists, she stressed, and 200 ports worldwide have ammonia terminals. 

“There are several countries, including Brazil, with good conditions to produce hydrogen and renewable hydrogen energy carriers. Moreover, Europe is preparing to import large quantities, readying its ports and infrastructure,” she said.

One of the problems of this possible new global order in energy trade is strong demand for the raw materials required to produce clean energy. Minerals such as copper, nickel, manganese, cobalt, chromium, molybdenum, zinc, rare earths and silicon will be even more sought after. “Brazil is well endowed with valuable critical minerals but faces the challenge of producing them while conserving biodiversity and the rights of Indigenous communities,” Grimm said.

Conducting the energy transition will be a far from trivial task, involving many environmental, economic, social, political and cultural variables. The Dialogue meeting, in which seven researchers from Germany and seven from Brazil took part, as well as six representatives of German manufacturing firms with a strong presence in Brazil, was a significant step in the right direction. 

It was organized by a scientific committee comprising Euclides de Mesquita Neto (FAPESP/Global Research Council), Marcio Weichert (DWIH São Paulo), Daniela Theuer (DWIH São Paulo), Jacques Marcovitch (University of São Paulo, USP), Aaron Praktiknjo (RWTH Aachen University) and Carlos Eduardo Pellegrino Cerri (USP).

The opening session featured Martina Hackelberg, German Consul General in São Paulo; Jochen Hellmann, Director of DAAD Brazil and DWIH São Paulo; and Marco Antonio Zago, President of FAPESP. 

Hackelberg stressed the need for urgent action to ensure that global warming does not surpass the critical 1.5 °C threshold and the importance of international cooperation if this effort is to succeed. Hellmann underscored the need to inform German society about the progress Brazil has made in conducting the energy transition.

Zago congratulated the organizing committee for choosing such relevant topics requiring interdisciplinary discussion and for selecting researchers on both sides of the Atlantic with noteworthy contributions in the field. “This year we’ve had an innovation that makes an important addition to the design of the conference: participation by experts from the business sector. This is a very welcome innovation,” he said.

A video of the entire event can be watched at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTQXK165FGI&list=RDCMUC4Ml9MsL-7hKKGlhcAtMwDg&index=4.

Image from Freepik


Source: https://agencia.fapesp.br/41570