Finding Credible Ways to Keep Temperatures from Rising to Risky Levels

by | May 3, 2016

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When it comes to keeping temperature rises from increasing more than 2 degrees Celsius by mid century, both the developed and developing nations are on board. That’s according the Energy Transitions Committee, which says that it has produced a report to facilitate that goal — the one tied to the COP21 agreement reached in Paris last December.

Countries can achieve their emissions’ goals by switching fuels to generate electricity, notably by using more renewable energy sources, as well as by improving energy productivity, or by getting more power for each unit of fuel that is input into electric generation. The transition to a low-carbon economy won’t happen overnight but it will it become increasingly rooted by 2030.

“What is astonishing is that countries, both rich and poor, have committed publicly, to putting in hundreds of gigawatts of renewable energy,” says Jeremy Oppenheim, program director for the New Climate Economy project, in a phone interview. “This opens the door to a real coalition of public and private players.”

China and India, for example, are part of the board — the one making up the commission crafted the analysis. Both countries will be using coal fired power, says Oppenheim. But they will using it to a much lesser extent than they have been. And what few people realize, he continues, is that they will be retiring their older and less efficient coal plants and — to the extent they are burning coal — and they will be using more efficient coal-fired plants.

“When you look at the story of the building more coal fired power plants, at least part of that is to drive up efficiency as they retire the older plants,” Oppenheim says. Moreover, he points out that each has a plan to build renewable and nuclear plants in their respective countries.

As for shale gas, it is an abundant resource elsewhere beyond the United States. But the developing world doesn’t yet have the technology to dig it out of the ground. It also lacks the pipeline infrastructure to transport it.

The key to becoming a climate-friendly world, he continues, is that the public sector must invest in infrastructure and set clear policy goals. That’s when the private sector will smell opportunity and create the one-two punch necessary to spur investment in new technologies, says Oppenheim. Witness the way in which many of the oil giants have participated in the New Energy Economy.

Are you optimistic about real change — about meeting the climate goals set by the Paris accord? A number of studies have shown that even with the current initiatives, temperatures will exceed 2 degrees Celsius and hit as much as 3.4 degrees. That is not surprising, says Oppenheim, given that countries are just beginning to craft their national plans to limit their emissions. 

But he maintains that holding steadfast to the commitments made under the global climate pact could facilitate such a goal — especially if the rules become crystal clear and they promote private sector investment. That will then lead to low-carbon future and one consisting of more green energies.

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