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Guest blog: Picking winners

BY ROLAND JOEBSTL   For those who dare to look into the future and see a low-carbon society powered by renewables with global warming kept below the 2°C threshold, the message is clear: it is time to pick the winners, throw off our shackles of the past and do it right, writes Roland Joebstl at the European Environmental Bureau.

When the International Energy Agency (IEA) published its World Energy Outlook Special Report on Energy and Climate Change in June, it confirmed that the world is changing, and the new business-as-usual will be significantly different to the business-as-usual that still lingers on in the minds of industry representatives and frightened investors.

The IEA makes it clear that the success of a climate agreement in the COP21 UN negotiations in Paris at the end of the year is dependent on the decision to make the energy and power sector part of the solution and not the problem. Given that the technology already exists to make this possible, this is not rocket science.

We have the responsibility and opportunity to peak global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. This, when it happens, will be the signal to any remaining doubters that the energy sector is not too big to change, and that it will be low-carbon in the future.

The IEA is calling for a so-called 'Bridge Scenario', built around five points, to ensure that this vision becomes reality:

  1. Save Energy – increase the energy efficiency of industry, in particular the buildings and transport sectors;
  2. Get out of dirty coal – reduce the use of the least-efficient coal-fired power plants and ban the construction of new plants;
  3. Move on – almost double the investments in renewable energy technologies in the power sector, from US$270 billion in 2014 to $400 billion in 2030;
  4. Stop bad habits – phase out fossil fuel subsidies for end-users by 2030;
  5. Fix the leaks – reduce methane emissions in oil & gas production.

These measures were first prescribed many years ago, and are well known by those working in energy and climate related fields. What is new is that these scenarios are now being put into practice, as energy efficiency and renewables change the rules of the energy game.

Renewable energy accounted for nearly half of all new power generation capacity in 2014. The fact that change is taking place rapidly in the world’s most important economies – namely in China, the US, Japan, and Germany – means that costs will quickly come down further. Energy efficiency has forced the EU’s gas consumption to drop, with it now 23% below its peak in 2010, and electricity consumption to stabilise at 3% below its peak in 2010.

These successes have happened despite massive opposition against renewables and energy efficiency from King Coal and Big Oil, and at a time when heavy industry and fossil fuel subsidies are still reaching new heights. They were worth a total of $5.3 trillion worldwide this year, which is greater than the total health spending of all the world’s governments according to a recent study by the International Monetary Fund.

For those who dare to look into the future, and see a low-carbon society powered by renewables with global warming kept below the 2°C threshold, the message is clear. It is time to pick the winners, throw off our shackles of the past, and do it right. We will not get a second chance.

So who are the winners?

First place must go to efficiency. Without fully employing all the cost-effective potentials for energy savings, there will be no sustainable, renewable and affordable path towards the 2°C target. This means getting our market design and economic framework right, and enabling demand-side management and response to compete on an equal footing with generation and investments in infrastructure.

Second in the race are renewables, which, in their various guises, must be used in combination to forge the energy system of the future. For renewables to be a genuine success they need to be truly sustainable. Preventable mistakes, such as those seen in the biofuels debate around resource use and feedstocks, must be avoided.

Third across the finishing line are the investors, who have the task of choosing wisely. During the ongoing economic crisis, only those investments and technologies in line with ecological boundaries have delivered reliably. Shale gas and nuclear have proven to be risky investments, impacting big companies and entire societies. Newcomers on the energy market like waste-to-energy have also offered little more than broken promises, as their business models are not aligned with the bigger picture of moving towards a circular economy.

The EU has the opportunity to get it right this time, but we have to back the right runners and make sure we don’t get distracted by false promises.

About the author

Roland Joebstl is Policy Officer for Energy and Climate at the European Environmental Bureau.

Further information

European Environmental Bureau: www.eeb.org

Posted 02/07/2015 by Steve Barrett

Tagged under: low carbon , climate change , COP21 , renewable energy , energy efficiency , investment

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