This story was originally published by The Guardian and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Climate change could be kept in check if a phaseout of all fossil fuel infrastructure were to begin immediately, according to research.

It shows that meeting the internationally agreed aspiration of keeping global warming to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels is still possible. The scientists say it is therefore the choices being made by global society, not physics, which is the obstacle to meeting the goal.

The study found that if all fossil fuel infrastructure – power plants, factories, vehicles, ships and planes – from now on are replaced by zero-carbon alternatives at the end of their useful lives, there is a 64 per cent chance of staying under 1.5C.

In October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said the difference between 1.5C of warming and the earlier international target of 2C was a significantly lower risk of drought, floods, heatwaves and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

Christopher Smith, of the University of Leeds, who led the research, said: “It’s good news from a geophysical point of view. But on the other side of the coin, the [immediate fossil fuel phaseout] is really at the limit of what we could we possibly do. We are basically saying we can’t build anything now that emits fossil fuels.”

Nicholas Stern, of the London School of Economics, who was not part of the research team, said: “We are rapidly approaching the end of the age of fossil fuels. This study confirms that all new energy infrastructure must be sustainable from now on if we are to avoid locking in commitments to emissions that would lead to the world exceeding the goals of the Paris agreement.”

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, used computer models to estimate by how much global temperatures would rise if a fossil fuel infrastructure phaseout began immediately. The lifespan for power plants was set at 40 years, cars an average of 15 years and planes 26 years. The work also assumes a rapid end to beef and dairy consumption, which is responsible for significant global emissions.

In this scenario, the models suggest carbon emissions would decline to zero over the next four decades and there would be a 66 per cent chance of the global temperature rise remaining below 1.5C. If the phaseout does not begin until 2030, the chance is 33 per cent .

"We are basically saying we can’t build anything now that emits fossil fuels," said @UniversityLeeds researcher on #climatechange

The analysis did not include the possibility of tipping points such as the sudden release of huge volumes of methane from permafrost, which could spark runaway global warming.

The scientists accept their scenario is at the extreme end of ambition, but said it was important to know that meeting the 1.5C target was still physically possible and dependent on the choices made now and in the coming years. “The climate system is not stopping you [hitting the target], global society is stopping you,” Smith said.

Other work, using a different approach, has also shown that keeping within the 1.5C limit is possible if radical action is taken immediately. In some sectors, zero-carbon technology already exists, such as renewable energy. But in others, such as aviation, it does not. “Maybe the solution here is flying less,” Smith said.

Prof Dave Reay, of the University of Edinburgh, who also was not part of the research team, said: “Whether it’s drilling a new gas well, keeping an old coal power station open, or even buying a diesel car, the choices we make today will largely determine the climate pathways of tomorrow. The message of this new study is loud and clear: act now or see the last chance for a safer climate future ebb away.”

Smith’s personal belief is that global heating will surpass 1.5C. “We are going the right way, but I don’t think we will do enough, quickly enough. I think we are heading for 2C to 2.5C.”

But he added: “If you don’t have a goal, you are not going to get anywhere. If you have a target that is really hard to achieve and you miss it slightly, that is better than wandering aimlessly into a future climate that is no good for anybody.”

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I look forward to the proposals for clean energy aircraft and cargo ships. In the meantime, you call for the construction of fossil fuel infrastructure every time you buy some. Get on a cross-country aircraft, intending a round trip, and you're buying a tonne of carbon - that is, a tonne MORE than it would take to transport you the same distance by bus. You'd spend 0.2 tonnes of carbon on the bus trip, 1.2 on the air trip.

If you think a few days of your time on a bus is well worth extracting many barrels of oil for your convenience, don't be surprised if industry reacts by building the infrastructure you demanded. Actions speak louder than words.

I'll believe our culture is ready to move away from fossil fuels when a movement arises to exchange away convenience and comfort for using less of fossil fuels, personally. It starts with the worst offender, air travel. I don't know of any so-called "environmentalists" that take multi-day bus trips to avoid air travel. This very web site contains the embarrassing exuberance of a west-coast lady who said she'd be happy to jump on a cross-country flight to go install solar panels anywhere. Sort of a poster child for "I don't actually get it".

Then there's natural gas heating. Leakage of methane from well to furnace is almost certainly high enough that heating your house with methane is actually worse for the environment than coal, since any leaked methane is 20X more damaging than CO2. As the pipeline-defenders say, if you hate a pipeline, start by cutting off the one going into your house. Which is technically possible, with a $20K heat pump installation; but almost nobody is proposing that, since the costs fall upon individuals who all think somebody else should somehow pay.

When environmentalists begin reading Vaclav Smil's books and making proposals that have awareness of the technical and economic difficulties of this transition, of the real, personal sacrifices that will be necessary, I'll be happy to join them.

Thing can choose to be part of the change, or sit on these machines opining about how hopeless it is......finding blame everywhere, and I suppose some personal satisfaction in that, people hating being so much fun.

But the science isn't a blame game. It just tells us what the options are. Once we understand them, we're just a recalcitrant part of the problem if we beat up the messenger.

Better to begin imagining a sustainable world..where we party, and marry, locally, value equity, good schools and healthy food more than getaways in tropical mafia hotels..and yes....refuse to let those elites you seem to believe are just doing what we consumers want them to do, build any more fossil fuel infrastructure. Wind 0 net, for the extra 10% it would up for that electric car....or bike...and certainly, right now....

Stop flying. Cheap escapes are another kind of addiction....building a green world together is heaps more fun than sitting at those pools beside those warming oceans, drinking watered down booze and trying to converse with the idle wanna be rich.
Join us.

The inconvenient truth. We can still do this transition thing.......but procrastination has to become a dirtier word than trump. It's now or never....let's get at it.

It's one thing to have a goal, it's quite another to have a goal based on the reality of the nature and complexity of the global climate system. And for that, one must read something other than the latest IPCC report. As alarming as it is, IPCC does not match the "frightening" research findings of Dr. Tim Garrett, atmospheric physicist at the University of Utah who advises that “humanity is caught in a double bind, ending in global economic collapse." Moreover, “there’s no way out.” One can only wonder why his findings, which date from 2009, have received so little attention. Politicians, news media, environmental NGOs, and activists risk losing the support and donations by telling the public that the global civilization will collapse within decades. (Source: Shortlink: )

And then there's that pesky Kevin Anderson who has just published an article declaring that governments have fallen for the fantasy-land of COP24’s myths of rapidly falling emissions and growing green economy. He writes:
“A quick glance at COP24 suggests three steps forward and two steps back. But whilst to the naïve optimist this may sound like progress, in reality it’s yet another retrograde bound towards a climate abyss. As government negotiators play poker with the beauty of three billion years of evolution, climate change emissions march on. This year with a stride 2.7% longer than last year – which itself was 1.6% longer than the year before. Whilst the reality is that every COP marks another step backwards, the hype of these extravaganzas gives the impression that we’re forging a pathway towards a decarbonized future.” (Source: Shortlink: )