World ‘Drifting Off-track’ for Two Degree Climate Limit

power plant
The General James M. Gavin coal-burning power plant on the Ohio River is the largest power plant in Ohio and has two of the seven largest coal-fired generating units ever built. (Photo by Analog Kid)


LONDON, UK, June 10, 2013 (ENS) – The world is heading toward a skyrocketing global temperature increase of at least 3.6 degrees and up to 5.3 degrees Celsius, rather than the two degree Celsius increase that most scientists say is the safe upper limit, finds a report released today by the International Energy Agency.

Today the IEA advanced four policies to keep the two degree goal alive. All are in the energy sector, which accounts for about two-thirds of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“Climate change has quite frankly slipped to the back burner of policy priorities. But the problem is not going away – quite the opposite,” warned IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven today in London.

van der Hoeven
Maria van der Hoeven (Photo courtesy International Energy Agency)

The IEA report is timely, said van der Hoeven, “because, despite efforts to mitigate climate change, we recently passed a grim milestone with the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere topping 400 parts per million at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. This is uncharted territory in the history of humans.”

“While it does not represent a tipping point per se, that milestone is symbolic of our failure to respond adequately, and to fulfill our own national and international pledges to limit average global temperature increase to two degrees Celsius over the long term,” said the head of the Paris-based organization which works to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for its 28 member countries.

“If we continue with business as usual, that rise could be 5.3 degrees Celsius, with potentially disastrous implications in terms of extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and the huge economic and social costs that these can bring,” said van der Hoeven, a former Dutch minister of economic affairs.

Van der Hoeven was speaking in London at the launch of the World Energy Outlook Special Report, “Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map,” which highlights the need for intensive action before 2020, when a new global climate treaty is supposed to take effect.

Climate negotiators in Bonn, German are in the midst of a long negotiating session to shape the treaty, which must be agreed by world governments by 2015 to allow it to enter into force in 2020.

It would be the first global climate agreement to extend to all countries, both developed and developing.

While negotiators are working on universal legally-binding treaty to stay within that limit, the International Energy Agency is urging governments to swiftly enact four energy policies that would keep climate goals alive without harming economic growth.

“We identify a set of proven measures that could stop the growth in global energy-related emissions by the end of this decade at no net economic cost,” said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol, the report’s lead author. “Rapid and widespread adoption could act as a bridge to further action, buying precious time while international climate negotiations continue.”

power plant
The General James M. Gavin coal-burning power plant on the Ohio River is the largest power plant in Ohio and has two of the seven largest coal-fired generating units ever built. (Photo by Analogue Kid)

If these four measures in the IEA’s so-called “4-for-2 degree C Scenario,” are implemented, global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions would be eight percent (3.1 gigatonnes CO2 equivalent) lower in 2020 than the level expected if they are not, the IEA calculates. The four measures are:

* – Targeted energy efficiency measures in buildings, industry and transport account for nearly half the emissions reduction in 2020, with the additional investment required being more than offset by reduced spending on fuel bills.

* – Limiting the construction and use of the least-efficient coal-fired power plants delivers more than 20 percent of the emissions reduction and helps curb local air pollution. The share of power generation from renewables increases – from around 20 percent today to 27 percent in 2020 – as does that from natural gas.

* – Actions to halve expected releases of the greenhouse gas methane from the upstream oil and gas industry in 2020 provide 18 percent of the savings.

* – A partial phase-out of fossil fuel consumption subsidies accounts for 12 percent of the reduction in emissions and supports efficiency efforts.

These four measures “can deliver significant emissions reductions by 2020, rely only on existing technologies and have already been adopted successfully in several countries,” ‏Birol said.

Van der Hoeven said the world needs to take “intensive action” today, without waiting to 2020 or later for a global agreement to take effect.

“Why do I talk about implementation that starts today?” she asked the London audience. “Because by 2020, global energy-related greenhouse-gas emissions are projected to be nearly four gigatonnes higher than a level consistent with attaining the two degrees Celsius target. This level of excess emissions in 2020, just seven years from now, is more than the emissions of Europe today.”

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Lvsigang coal-fired power plant in China’s eastern coastal Jiangsu Province (Photo courtesy China Datang Corp.)

China, the world largest emitter, contributed most to the growth in global emissions in 2012, but the increase was one of the lowest it has seen in a decade as a result of efforts in renewables deployment and efficiency gains, she explained.

“Europe has seen falling emissions due to economic contraction and increasing renewables use, while emissions in the United States fell thanks to coal-to-gas switching,” she said. “But Japan‘s emissions have risen due to a reduction in nuclear power.”

The 2012 UN climate negotiations delivered an extension of the Kyoto Protocol to 2020, with 38 countries – representing 13% of global greenhouse-gas emissions – taking on binding targets for the emission of six greenhouse gases.

As part of the 2010 agreement reached at the UN talks in Cancun, Mexico, 91 countries, representing 80 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions, have adopted and submitted targets for international registration or pledged actions.

But reports by the IEA and the UN Environment Programme warn that the total of these pledges falls short of delivering the two degree Celsius goal.

The energy sector is not immune from the physical impacts of climate change and must adapt to sudden and destructive impacts, caused by extreme weather events, and other more gradual impacts, caused by changes to average temperature, sea level rise and shifting weather patterns, says the IEA report.

The financial implications of climate policies that would put the world on a two degree Celsius trajectory are not uniform across the energy sector. The IEA report emphasizes the need for the energy industry to assess the risks and impacts of climate change as part of its investment decisions.

To take the four recommended measures, “No oil or gas field currently in production would need to shut down prematurely, the report finds. But some oil and gas fields that have yet to start production are not developed before 2035, meaning that around five percent to six percent of proven oil and gas reserves do not start to recover their exploration costs.

Delaying the move to a two degree Celsius path until 2020 would result in high additional costs to the energy sector and increase the risk of assets that must be retired early, idled or retrofitted. The report suggests that carbon capture and storage can act as an asset protection strategy, reducing the risk of stranded assets and enabling more fossil fuel to be commercialized.

“Delaying stronger climate action to 2020 would come at a cost to the energy sector – 1.5 trillion US dollars in low-carbon investments would be avoided before 2020, but five trillion US dollars in additional investments would be required thereafter to get the world back on track,” said van der Hoeven.

“The question is not whether we can afford the necessary investments given the current economic climate,” she warned. “The fact is we simply cannot afford to delay.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.

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