Deep Decarbonization Possible, Sabin Center’s Burger Says

June 28, 2019

Enacting national blueprints to limit global warming to below 2ºC by 2050 is technically feasible with a three-pillar strategy, Michael Burger, executive director at Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, said in early  June during a series of presentations and conversations on sustainability and climate change legal strategy with government officials, company executives, students, lawyers and scientists in Chile.

The three pillars are energy efficiency, decarbonization of electricity, and switching fuel-burning machines to those with electric sources, he said, citing the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP) - a global collaboration of energy research teams that work to show practical ways to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions such as carbon dioxide (CO2).

According to the most ambitious reduction scenarios, 2050 aggregate emissions could be brought to 57% below those levels registered in 2010, he said during the “Climate Change Law Leading to COP25” keynote presentation at Universidad de Chile. However to reach that mark, power generation would need to be nearly completely decarbonized by 2050, with mass renewable construction to double electric generation, energy efficiency doubled, and liquid fuels for end-uses switched out to electricity, particularly for cars and space heating/cooling.

Besides employing renewables, other strategies such as carbon capture and storage, nuclear generation, or a mix of the three technologies could drastically reduce energy emissions.

There are a number of legal tools – some regulatory, but most not - to decarbonize in the US, with more than 1,500 specific recommendations for federal, state, local and private action, he said. These tools would create economic, social, environmental and security benefits in addition to reducing GHG emissions. Legal pathways include energy efficiency, conservation and fuel switching; electricity and fuel decarbonization; carbon capture and negative emissions; reducing non-CO2 climate pollutants; and cross-cutting approaches to reducing emissions.

Besides the keynote at Universidad de Chile’s School of Law, Burger met with officials at Chile’s Environment Ministry regarding environmental legislation and regulation, as well as at the Energy Ministry to talk about carbon pricing and other instruments for power sector decarbonization. He also held talks with executives from CLG Chile (the Center for Business Leaders Against Climate Change), graduate and PhD law students from Universidad de Chile, members of the US Chamber of Commerce in Chile (Amcham), Columbia LLM alumni and students, mining company and council executives at the Consejo Minero, and members of the Chilean geothermal association, Achegeo.

 Housed at Columbia’s Law School, the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law develops legal techniques to fight climate change, trains legal practitioners and provides resources on climate change law and regulation. As a researcher and advocate, Burger focuses on legal strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote climate change adaptation through pollution control, resource management, land-use planning and green finance.

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