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Moore’s Law Inspires Carbon Reduction Target

An international research team has proposed a “carbon law” based on Moore’s Law as a pathway to meeting the United Nations goal of limiting the rise in global temperature to 2°C above preindustrial times. Moore’s Law states that computer processors double in power about every 2 years; conversely, the carbon law aims to halve carbon emissions every decade.

The Science report’s authors forecast that if nations are to meet the UN’s climate goal, fossil-fuel emissions will need to peak by 2020 and fall to around zero by 2050. Based on published energy scenarios, the authors say that a carbon law, if followed, would give the world a 75% chance of meeting the goal set by the UN in Paris.

The researchers say halving emissions every decade should be complemented by an exponential roll-out of renewables. This could be achieved by doubling renewables in the energy sector every 5–7 years, ramping up technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere, and rapidly reducing emissions from agriculture and deforestation.

“We are already at the start of this trajectory. In the last decade, the share of renewables in the energy sector has doubled every 5.5 years. If doubling continues at this pace, fossil fuels will exit the energy sector well before 2050,” says lead author Prof Johan Rockström of Stockholm University.

“Regions that make way for future-proof renewable energy and storage investments will turn a zero-emissions future into an economic opportunity,” said co-author A/Prof Malte Meinshausen of The University of Melbourne’s Climate & Energy College. “While for years, we’ve seen the ramp-down of incumbent fossil technologies only as burden, the other side of the coin is now finally visible: lower costs, more jobs and cleaner air.”

The authors forecast the end of coal in 2030–35 and oil in 2040–45, and propose that to remain on this trajectory all sectors of the economy need decadal carbon roadmaps that follow this rule of thumb, modelled on Moore’s Law.

“This roadmap shows just how this can happen,” said Prof Hans Joachim Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “In particular, we identify concrete steps towards full decarbonisation by 2050. Businesses who try to avoid those steps and keep on tiptoeing will miss the next industrial revolution and thereby their best opportunity for a profitable future.”

Dr Joeri Rogelj of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis said: “The carbon law outlines a global path towards achieving climate and sustainability goals in broad yet quantitative terms. It sketches a general vision of rapid emission reductions in conjunction with the development of sustainable carbon dioxide removal options. It clearly communicates that no single solution will do the job, and that this deep uncertainty thus implies starting today pursuing multiple options simultaneously.”