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Monday, 14 December 2015
Climate change: and "moving beyond a dysfunctional carbon-intensive energy system"
This is the monthly 'energy crunch' energy news from the New Economics Foundation:
With just three weeks left in 2015, what trends should we
be noting from the last 12 months?
Key global trends:
If current NOAA
projections materialise, 2015 will be remembered as the year when
the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere reached the symbolic level of
400 parts per million (ppm).
This means we are
already in dangerous territory: many scientists consider anything
above 350ppm to be an unsafe zone, and most agree that to have a 50% chance
of limiting average global temperature increases to 2 degrees C relative to
pre-industrial levels, CO2 concentrations should not exceed
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
Based on current projections, 2015
will also be the warmest year on record, reaching 1 degree C above
On the positive side, the world
economy seems to be achieving a relative decoupling between fossil fuel and
industry related carbon emissions and GDP growth: despite a global GDP
growth rate of 3.1% for 2015, global emissions from fossil fuels use and
to have temporarily peaked.
Why has this
happened? Firstly, a notable reduction of coal-related emissions in China,
secondly, a slow but steady decline of final energy consumption in developed
countries and thirdly, a marked surge in renewable energy: with an average
annual growth rate of 15.9% between 2010 and 2015, renewables are by far the
fastest growing global energy source.
On a less positive
is very likely to be a one-off: these trends will struggle to last beyond
2015 if developed countries do not take more decisive action for reducing
emissions. Under existing international agreements (and in the absence of an
additional agreement at the COP21) temperatures would still rise beyond safe
limits (3.3 to 3.8 degrees C).
The scale and speed of the change in
emissions and the global energy structure will highly depend on the outcome of
the COP21 in Paris. At the time of writing, details of any agreement
are yet to be published.
Ahead of the
conference, various countries proposed Individual Nationally Determined
Contributions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These pledges do not add up
to a limit of 2 degrees C warming. A Climate
Action Tracker report has estimated that sticking to these pledges means
that global temperatures would increase by at least 2.7 degrees C compared to
The future of the global energy system in large
part depends on reaching an ambitious binding agreement at the COP21. Now the cost competitiveness of renewable
energy generation is dramatically
improving, an energy transition in high income countries can no longer be
considered unattainable. Already, some middle income countries facing
significant financial, and other, constraints, are managing just
that. This is a historic opportunity to campaign for
moving beyond a dysfunctional
carbon-intensive energy system, and building the foundations for forms of
energy generation and management that are environmentally sustainable, socially
just and politically inclusive.
In other news…
The low price of fossil fuels poses a
threat to an energy transition Since the dramatic fall of oil prices (and, by
extension, of other fossil fuels), renewables have been surprisingly resilient.
However, a blog
post co-authored by the IMF’s chief economist Maurice Obstfeld warns that
growth of renewable energy could be halted if prices of conventional energy
remains at depressed levels for longer. Uruguay powers
ahead Uruguay has achieved a remarkable energy
more than 90% of its electricity now coming from renewable sources.
Interestingly, this example shows how domestically produced renewable energy can
generate a macroeconomic dividend for middle income countries: Uruguay has
sensibly reduced its energy trade deficit (now only dependent on oil imports),
and is even exporting electricity to neighbouring Argentina. Politicians haven’t
noticed Apparently DECC’s
energy minister thinks the UK’s domestic energy demand is rising, therefore
justifying increased investment in fracking and nuclear energy. This is
completely wrong. In the UK, direct energy demand is on the decline,
both on aggregate and on a per capita basis. Granted, the financial crisis
certainly contributed to this reduction, and
so did offshoring of production. However, UK (direct) per capita energy
consumption was already flattening before 2008 – as is the case for many high
income countries. In other terms, what the UK needs is not more energy
but cleaner energy.