A Moore’s Law for tackling climate change could put us within striking distance of beating the carbon crisis

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A group of researchers have used components of Moore’s Law to propose the establishment of a carbon law.

By Anders Lorenzen

In a recent publication (Science) a group of scientists and researchers used key components of the famous Moore’s Law to propose that they should be adopted in the establishment of a new ‘carbon law’.

Moore’s law

In 1965 the American businessman Gordon Moore introduced a theory later to be known as Moore’s Law. Its key component is the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. As a result, Moore’s law describes a driving force of technological and social change, productivity and economic growth. Moore’s law is often referred to as the key mechanism for reducing poverty and increasing economic development. The Moore’s Law trend is predicted to continue in the future, and so it has a profound impact on future development.

A carbon law

It is somehow slightly ironic that so far Moore’s law has had a profound impact on the increase of carbon emissions, due to the advancement of carbon-driven technology in our societies. But the law is now being used as one of the key solution models in tackling the climate crisis.

But whereas Moore’s Law stated computer processors double in power about every two years, the argument used in the carbon law would be that carbon emissions are halved every decade and that the deployment of renewables would double each 5-7 years.  Also, ramping up technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere, and rapidly reducing emissions from agriculture and deforestation would cause a reduction of carbon emissions. The researchers found that this would give the world a 75% chance of successfully tackling the climate crisis. Moore’s Law, which has been understood for 50 years, still drives disruptive innovation.

CarbonLawGraph

A graph illustrating the carbon law. Graphic credit: Stockholm Resilience Center.

The lead researcher of the publication is Professor Johan Rockstrom who is the Executive Director of the Stockholm Resilience Center. Prof. Rockstrom unveiled the idea of a carbon law during a speech at the Economist’s Sustainability Summit in London at the end of March. Commenting on the trajectory explained in the publication he said: “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.”

Applying to all sectors

The researchers made it clear that the ‘carbon law’ would apply to all sectors as well as countries, and it encourages bold action in the short term. The doubling of the zero carbon sources in the energy system every 5-7 years, as mentioned above, is actually consistent with the past decade. However, all sectors, including agriculture, construction, finance, manufacturing, transport, also need transformation pathways. In the absence of viable plans to transform these sectors, the world would have to begin to actively remove carbon from the atmosphere.

A decarbonisation roadmap

The researchers clarified that this is really a roadmap. And it should be seen as a planning instrument, the aim being to link shorter-term targets to longer-term goals. It should help align players and organisations to instigate technological and institutional breakthroughs to meet a collective challenge. It would be an explicit carbon roadmap for halving anthropogenic emissions every decade, designed by and for all industry sectors. It could help promote disruptive, non-linear technological advances toward a zero-emissions world.

How?

So how will this be achieved? The key to such a “carbon law”, the publication explains, will be a dual push-pull strategy. It would push renewables and other zero-emissions technologies up the creation and dissemination trajectory, while simultaneously pulling fossil-based value propositions from the market.

The decarbonization strategy outlined is broad. It is divided up into four dimensions: innovation, institutions, infrastructures, and investment. Each step has two parts: actions for rapid near-term emissions reductions, and actions for systemic and long-term impact, creating the basis for the next steps. This would enable evidence of feasibility and depth of transformation, in order that national economies could remain on a carbon law trajectory. The researchers state that such a narrative, which is designed specifically with decadal targets and incentives, could provide key components for national and international climate strategies.

Increases the chances to beat the climate crisis

Co-author of the publication, Nebojsa Nakicenovic, deputy director general of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and a member of the Earth League, said: “humanity must embark on a decisive transformation towards complete decarbonization. The ‘Carbon Law’ is a powerful strategy and roadmap for ramping down emissions to zero so as to stay within the global carbon budget for stabilising climate to less than 2°C above preindustrial levels.”

The global deal on climate change, the Paris Agreement, in its present form, only gives the world a 50% chance of keeping temperature increases below 2 degrees C. If the proposed carbon law were to be adopted the chances would increase significantly to 75%. Will policymakers, world leaders, organisations and businesses take the suggestions on board and sign up to a new carbon law?  Prof Rockstrom and his colleagues will sure hope so.

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