In a new article, published in Nature Climate Change, LUCSUS researcher Wim Carton and research colleagues from three other universities, analysed governments’ long-term mitigation plans submitted to the UNFCCC to explore projections of residual emissions. They found that countries count on substantial residual emission in their net zero targets.
They also found that the majority of strategies were imprecise about which sectors residual emissions would originate from, and few offered specific projections of how residual emissions could be balanced by carbon removal.
Residual emissions are emissions that are regarded as hard to abate and will need to be compensated via carbon removal to reach Net Zero. The majority of the residual emissions comes from for example methane gas from agriculture or other greenhouse gases from different industries.
As residual emissions are typically not well defined, conceptually or quantitatively, this leaves a lot of flexibility for countries to define and interpret residual emissions in line with their own political and economic interests, says author Wim carton.
– As residual emissions are typically not well defined, conceptually or quantitatively, this leaves a lot of flexibility for countries to define and interpret residual emissions in line with their own political and economic interests, says author Wim carton.
Need for consistency in definition and processes
The study indicates the need for a consistent definition of residual emissions, as well as processes that standardise and compare expectations about residual emissions across countries. This is necessary for two reasons: to avoid projections of excessive residuals and correspondent unsustainable or unfeasible carbon-removal levels, and to send clearer signals about the temporality of fossil fuel use.
– By relying on large scale carbon dioxide removal to compensate for residual emissions there is a risk that mitigation efforts will slow down – making it even more difficult to limit global warming to 1,5°C, says Wim Carton.
Read the article in Nature Climate Change: Why residual emissions matter right now