Emerging Analyses of Road to Net-Zero 2050 Suggest Hits to Economy, Biodiversity

June 2, 2021 Updated: June 2, 2021

News Analysis

New analyses show the road to net-zero emissions by 2050 comes with significant but poorly understood economic and environmental costs. While efforts to quantify these impacts are starting to take shape, concerns are mounting over how to source the building blocks for the green economy.

Oxford Economics (OE) senior economist Dan Moseley told The Epoch Times that economic analysis of the path to net zero by 2050 is relatively underdeveloped, despite progress on developing climate scenarios made over the last year by bodies like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Network for Greening the Financial System, and International Energy Agency.

“But to date, none of them have published macroeconomic scenario results which account for both transition and physical risks,” Moseley said.

Physical risks refer to extreme weather events like storms, droughts, and flooding, while transition risks stem from the process to wean the world off fossil fuels and adopt green solutions.

OE simulated a “disorderly” scenario that would be needed to reach net zero by 2050 if countries have to play catch-up for failing to take sufficient action by 2030 to meet Paris Agreement targets.

In OE’s disorderly scenario, by 2035, global gross domestic product is 1.7 percent lower than that in the baseline scenario, and by 2050, it is 3 percent lower.

OE modelling suggests that under the disorderly scenario, aggressive carbon taxes and limited renewable energy capacity would result in significant economic damage, including substantial inflationary pressure.

Canada’s feds said on April 22 that with the work announced in the 2021 budget, Canada is positioned to reduce emissions by about 36 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. At the same time the government announced a new target of 40–45 percent reductions below 2005 levels by 2030.

Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, established an independent Net-Zero Advisory Body in February to recommend roadmaps for Canada to reach net zero by 2050. 

“Within the coming weeks, the Net-Zero Advisory Body will publish a summary of net-zero pathways work completed domestically and internationally,” a spokesperson for Environment and Climate Change Canada told The Epoch Times.

Bill C-12, the proposed Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, will establish a legally binding process to set five-year emissions reduction milestones on the road to 2050, starting with the new targets set for 2030.

Road to Nowhere?

Governments around the world are setting their countries on a multi-decade trajectory to achieve Paris Agreement targets. Analyses from academia and the private sector in the United Kingdom and Germany respectively illustrate some of the thorny issues that lie ahead.

Last June, University of Cambridge technology professor Michael J. Kelly referred to a document produced by a UK university consortium of engineers called “Absolute Zero” that described what an actual zero-emissions UK would look like in 2050. 

“The changes are so draconian, that no Parliament or electorate would vote for it as a way of stopping climate change 20–50 years ahead,” he wrote in an op-ed for CapX. They include eliminating aviation and international shipping, for example, as part of the UK’s contribution by 2050. 

Kelly posed a number of questions to consider on the net-zero road to 2050, such as what if there aren’t enough materials to make all the car batteries needed, and what to do with used batteries and wind and solar power generators that produce more tonnes of hazardous waste per unit of electricity produced than does a nuclear power plant.

A consequence of the move to net zero by 2050 would be China becoming the OPEC of the green agenda, given its stranglehold on many of the key materials used in batteries, Kelly wrote.

“Suppose we realize in 15 years’ time that the whole net-zero target is an unattainable pipe dream and we call a comprehensive halt: What can we recover from the mis-investments made to date?” Kelly asked.

Biodiversity Impact

To power the green economy, the demand for metals like cobalt and nickel for electric vehicles, aluminum and manganese for wind turbines, and rare earth minerals for solar panels will increasingly run into biodiversity controversies, according to Deutsche Bank (DB).

“Green energy and infrastructure depends heavily on commodities from biodiverse emerging markets. As corporates become part of the ‘green solution’ they face difficult reputational risks,” according to a May 26 report from DB titled “Biodiversity: From insects to corporate giants.”

The biodiversity challenges miners could face include approval processes and regulation once ground is broken, said the German investment bank. 

DB also provided the example that in Chile, lithium mining uses two-thirds of the water in one of the driest regions on Earth.

“Clean energy is not a silver bullet,” stated the report. 

It listed a number of negative side effects: Biofuels can lead to water and soil pollution, hydroelectric dams can cause a loss of forests and the unnatural adjustment of rivers, and large wind farms can result in habitat losses, undersea noise pollution, and death for migratory birds. 

DB also noted that dust suppressants and herbicides are used to maintain vast swathes of land cleared for solar energy installations.

But G7 climate and environment ministers remain optimistic.

“We will help set the world on a nature-positive and climate-resilient pathway to bend the curve of biodiversity loss by 2030 and to keep a limit of 1.5°C temperature rise within reach by making our 2030 ambitions consistent with the aim of achieving net-zero emissions as soon as possible and by 2050 at the latest,” according to the official statement from their meeting in London on May 21.

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