Rhein on Energy and Climate

Doing business as usual will be a recipe for failure at the decisive climate meeting in Paris next December. 20 previous world climate conferences have shown this; and the two-week Bonn preparatory meeting of environment ministers in in May has offered very little hope for an outcome that will prevent an unsustainable temperature rise in the course of the century.

To avoid such a failure COP 21 has to adopt a radically new format.

Prime ministers will need to be present throughout the conference and take concrete energy policy commitments to be implemented within a given time frame. Halting a further increase of emissions after 2020 must be the top priority.

The “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) are a first step in that direction. They create new transparency and – differentiated – commitments for individual countries. But those presented so far to the UN fall far short from containing global temperature within the two-centigrade increase considered as sustainable by Humanity.

The International Energy Agency, that groups the biggest per capita green house gas emitters, has presented a succinct road map for what governments should do concretely in order to tackle their emissions. This is the first time ever this happens before a COP meeting; the COP 21 should agree on this road-map before getting lost in its usual agenda points:

  • Gradual phasing out of fossil-fuel consumer subsidies by 2030.

Presently 13 per cent of global energy-related emissions benefit from such subsidies at a level of $ 113/ton of C02. Several countries in the Middle East, South-East Asia and Latin America will have to correct their policies.

  • Progressive closure of the least efficient coal-fired power plants.

This is above all an issue for USA, India and some South-East Asian countries.

  • Boost investments in renewable power

    By 2030, the capacity of new renewable power plants should exceed that of new fossil-fuel plants. To that end, investments should grow from $ 270 billion in 2014 to $ 400 billion in 2030. The prospects for more renewable energy generation will be optimal in USA, Europe, India and South-East Asia.

  • Increase energy efficiency in buildings, industry and transport.

Raising energy efficiency must be the top priority for all countries. This is done most easily by the introduction of technical standards for fuel consumption of cars and trucks, insulation of buildings, etc. USA and EU have best demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach. All other major emitter countries should therefore follow their example.

  • Reduction of methane emissions, especially from the oil and gas industry in the Middle East, Russia and Latin America. Methane emissions need to be tackled as a matter of urgency because of their big climate impact.

If all major energy consumer countries followed these basic recommendations, energy-related emissions would start declining by 2030. The use of coal, the most polluting fossil fuel, would accelerate its phasing out; and China would see its emission growth decouple from its economic development by 2020.

The Paris conference will only be successful in substance if the main parties agree to improve their INDCs and the underlying energy policies to keep the world on a “two centigrade track”. This should therefore be the overriding priority for the French host and the Conference Chair.

Brussels 20.06. 2015 Eberhard Rhein

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