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Technical and Economic Feasibility

Only around half of humankind has benefited from the industrialisation that has allowed for great scien­ tific, technical and economic advances during the past 200 years. A precondition for these advances was the unlocking of new energy sources and their diverging use, and substituting animal and human muscle power with mechanical energy (Landes, 1969). Over the past two centuries, fossil fuels have mainly been used for this, as well as for heating and lighting. This has led to more than 1,300 Gt CO2 being released into the atmos­ phere, and ecosystem boundaries being reached (Rock­ ström et al., 2009a). Apart from the energy sector, which is responsi­ ble for around two-thirds of current long-lived green­ house gas emissions, land use is responsible for around a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions through CO2 emissions from the ongoing deforestation as well as emissions of methane (CH4) and the far more per­ sistent nitrous oxide (N2O) contributed by agriculture. The land-use related emissions are widespread in terms of space, are subject to enormous fluctuations, and are closely linked to natural material cycles (for example soil biology). Improved land-use practices, for instance stopping deforestation, reducing the over-fertilisation of cropland, or better irrigation management would make it possible to significantly reduce these emissions. The respective sectors’ institutional complexity, the large number of actors and a still rising global demand for agricultural products, however, add to the difficul­ ties (Section Fundamental changes in the technological develop­ ment paths of all countries are necessary in order to provide the chance of achieving elemental develop­ ment goals like access to food, clean water, basic health care, or poverty reduction, to the 50  % of the popula­ tion so far denied this chance, whilst remaining within the planetary boundaries. The WBGU is convinced that with sufficient political willingness and determination, these objectives are compatible. Central elements of the transformation into a sustainable and climate-friendly society are the comprehensive decarbonisation of the


energy system, as well as significant energy efficiency improvements, particularly in end-use efficiency. The fundamental transformation of contemporary energy and land-use systems will by no means occur unaided. In the WBGU’s opinion, however, the deter­ mined realisation of a climate compatible development path is possible. This is accompanied by considerable co-benefits which, even taken on their own, justify the efforts required for the outlined transformation. These include, amongst others, facilitating economic devel­ opment through universal access to safe and modern energy, improving long-term supply security, and a de-escalation of international conflicts with regard to energy resources, positive effects on employment in structurally weak regions, and the reduction of many of the current systems’ negative effects on the envi­ ronment (Section 4.1). Building the transformation-rel­ evant technology and infrastructure requires substan­ tial investments, and the development of new financ­ ing concepts and business models for energy services. In the long run, however, these initial investments will be more than compensated by, amongst other things, reduced fuel and security costs, less damage to the environment, and avoidance of costs associated with adapting to climate change, and with the consequences of climate change (Section 4.5).

4.1 Resources, Energy Potentials and Emissions The WBGU shall commence its analysis of the feasibil­ ity of the transformation with an overview of the ele­ ments that are of key importance for a transformed, cli­ mate-compatible energy, economic and land-use sys­ tem. Apart from potentials and resources of different energy sources, technological and other options for emissions reductions are analysed, as well as possibili­ ties for creating carbon sinks.


Profile for WBGU

WBGU Flagship Report: World in Transition – A Social Contract for Sustainability  

WBGU Flagship Report: World in Transition – A Social Contract for Sustainability  

Profile for wbgu