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Normal Living Standards Possible Even While Combating Climate Change

Jan 28, 2015 12:27 PM EST

The world can still enjoy normal living standards while combating climate change and drastically cutting emissions, a new analysis says, but only with sweeping changes to agriculture, transport, food and fuel.

This is based on a new online software tool called the Global Calculator, developed by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), and partners.

According to the majority of scientists, climate change can potentially wreak havoc on the environment, wildlife and global economies, with proof that it is already doing so. Some say it's not enough to simply adapt to a changing world, but that drastic action is the only option to prevent such irreversible impacts.

And while you might think that this would essentially turn our world upside down, fear not. We can still enjoy higher standards of living and more travel, but not without some compromise.

"The calculator clearly highlights that we can meet out 2C target while maintaining good lifestyles - but we need to set ambitious targets on all fronts and use innovation to address climate change," Dr. Mike Cherrett of Climate-KIC, the European Union (EU) climate initiative that co-led the project, told The Guardian.

For example, deforestation will have to stop completely and global forests will need to be expanded by 5-15 percent before 2050 to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.4 degrees Fahrenheit) - a goal that is rapidly dwindling. That is an ambitious task considering efforts to halt deforestation have been largely unsuccessful.

And unsurprisingly, to curb greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide (CO2) the switch will have to be made to renewable energy and nuclear power. Not to mention people will have to use more public transportation. In addition, hundreds of millions of electric cars would have to be on the road by 2050, and the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of electricity would need to fall by at least 90 percent. (Scroll to read on...)

Despite cutting back on carbon emissions, in theory it ought to be possible for everyone in the world to travel 12,400 kilometers (km) a year, up from the current average of 8,300 km a year.

Far more intensive agriculture will be crucial, with cattle largely raised in confined systems. That's because meat and dairy production, though you might not believe it, is a major source of greenhouse gas. In fact, it is the most significant source of additional methane gas - the most potent of all the greenhouse gases.

"Greenhouse gas emissions from the livestock sector are estimated to account for 14.5 percent of the global total - more than direct emissions from the transport sector," researchers at the Chatham House: The Royal Institute of International Affairs, who were behind a recent survey, wrote in their report. "Even with ambitious supply-side action to reduce the emissions intensity of livestock production, rising global demand for meat and dairy produce means emissions will continue to rise."

Consumers must also switch up their diets, eating more vegetables than beef and poultry. (Scroll to read on...)

And while these changes will reportedly maintain the living standards that we have grown accustomed to, it is not true for everyone. The DECC analysis also assumes that billions of people will remain in dire poverty at mid-century, as the population rises to an estimated nine billion people. They are unlikely to benefit much in the form of the better nutrition, better housing or increases in travel, which are all theoretically possible.

"For the first time this Global Calculator shows that everyone in the world can prosper while limiting global temperature rises to 2C, preventing the most serious impacts of climate change," Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey told The Guardian.

"Yet the calculator is also very clear that we must act now to change how we use and generate energy and how we use our land if we are going to achieve this green growth," he continued.

The Global Calculator builds upon the DECC's UK calculator, published in 2010. It can be used by anyone to experiment with different possible future scenarios, and is also being offered to other governments for use in the run-up to crucial climate negotiations in Paris at the end of the year.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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