Energy transition

Guest post: A brief history of climate targets and technological promises

Over the past three decades, the perceived wisdom for how to approach climate targets has changed several times. From initial ideas of climate stabilisation, suggested approaches have focused on percentage CO2 emissions cuts, atmospheric CO2 concentrations, carbon budgets and today’s dominant framing of temperature rise limits. It might seem that this successive reframing reflects an improving scientific representation of what it means to avoid dangerous human-caused climate change, interpreted through enhanced modelling power and capacities, and in the light of better scientific knowledge regarding climate impacts. However, my research into this history, published in Nature Climate Change with my coauthor Dr Nils Markusson and part of a project examining the cultural political economy of carbon removal, suggests that the process has been much less rational – and more problematic – than this explanation might imply. In particular, our analysis highlights that each shift in target framing has opened the door to new hopes of future technological solutions, such as widespread nuclear power or carbon capture and storage. Yet, while these technologies have promised much, as promises they have instead delayed the immediate acceleration of action to change behaviours or transform economies.

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