Opinion: Saving the planet requires an energy revolution
If the world required another stark reminder that humankind has to change the way it provides and uses energy if society is to survive, this year’s just-published World Energy Outlook delivered an alarming message on the overwhelming need to quickly move away from burning fossil fuels.
Calling the challenge of transforming the global energy system urgent and daunting, the report released last week by the International Energy Agency says that today’s business-as-usual approach means rapidly increasing dependence on fossil fuels with alarming consequences for both climate change and energy security.
According to this “reference scenario”, fossil fuels would remain the dominant sources of primary energy for more than three-quarters of the overall increase in energy use between 2007 and 2030, and so much CO₂ would be produced that global average temperature would increase as much as a catastrophic 6°C, the report warns. This would lead “almost certainly to massive climatic change and irrevocable damage to the planet.”
In addition, the report notes that gas-importing regions such as Europe will almost certainly see the cost of net fuel imports rise. Oil prices, which were roughly $60 a barrel in mid-2009, are likely to rebound to $100 by 2020 and $115 by 2030.
Describing as huge the capital required to meet demand through 2030 in the reference scenario, the report says it would total, in cumulative terms, $26 trillion (in 2008 dollars).
In its other futuristic path, called the “450 scenario,” the report says an additional $10.5 trillion will be required for energy infrastructure and energy-related capital, the cost of which would be largely offset by economic, health and energy-security benefits.
Indeed, the second scenario “depicts a world in which collective policy action is taken to limit the long-term concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to 450 parts per million of CO₂ equivalent, an objective that is gaining widespread support around the world.”
The report also says a consensus on the need to limit global temperature increase to a difficult but manageable 2°C is emerging. And achieving the reductions in energy-related CO₂ emissions required in the 450 scenario by 2020 is a formidable task, the report says.
“With a new international climate policy agreement, a comprehensive and rapid transformation in the way we produce, transport and use energy — a veritable low-carbon revolution — could put the world onto this 450 ppm trajectory,” it notes.
“Energy needs to be used more efficiently and the carbon content of the energy we use must be reduced by switching to low- or zero-carbon sources.”
The report adds that the upcoming UN climate change conference in Copenhagen will point to the energy future that awaits society.
“Whatever the outcome, implementation of the commitments that are made — then or later — will remain key.
“A critical ingredient in the success of the efforts to prevent climate change will be the speed with which governments act on their commitments. Saving the planet can not wait . . . The time has come to make the hard choices needed to turn promises into action.”
The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) welcomes the IEA report as it can only help prompt policy makers reluctant to agree to a new, strengthened post-Kyoto agreement on limiting greenhouse gases, at the conference in Copenhagen or elsewhere.
EWEA not only agrees that current trends in energy usage have to experience a total transformation but it is confident that such a metamorphosis can occur.
Politicians uncertain of embracing epic change might consider the amazing success story wind power has written in the past two decades. As an existing power-generating technology, wind power is already creating increasing amounts of local, affordable, sustainable and dependable electricity for a growing global population. It intends to do even more to help the world wean itself off destructive fossil fuels.
As the IEA report says, the time has come for action. Wind power is ready to do its bit.
Chris Rose, EWEA