UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in September launched a “Sustainable Energy for All” initiative. The initiative has the goal to reach three objectives by 2030 and will call for private sector and national commitments:
• Ensuring universal access to modern energy services.
• Doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency.
• Doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.
This initiative is taking place in the context of next year’s Rio+20 summit and 2012 being the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All.
In addition to emission targets, the future climate regime should take a broader perspective that departs from its so far exclusive focus on emission reductions. On the one hand, emission reduction targets are necessary as a yardstick to measure whether efforts are ecologically adequate. On the other hand, however, focussing exclusively on emission reductions is a solely “negative” perspective: To get out of something. This perspective has arguably so far not been able to engender the swift societal dynamics that are now necessary to fundamentally reorient the very basis of the economy.
Therefore, the “negative” vision of emission reductions should be complemented by a positive vision of the direction society wants to travel in. One key element of this vision should be: Sustainable energy services for all. The implications of the global 80% target become clear when looking at the shares of GHG sources. Energy-related CO2 emissions account presently for about 60% of total GHG emissions. The other share of about 40 % comes from industrial gases and biogenic sources, in particular methane emissions from agriculture and CO2 emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
Changing forms of rice cultivation and livestock farming all around the world would seem to be rather more challenging than changing centrally-organised fossil-fuel based energy infrastructures. Hence, it will hardly be possible to reduce emissions from all sources at the same rate as the required global emission decrease. Instead, emissions from fossil fuels and technical gases may have to be reduced to close to zero by mid-century, to account for the smaller opportunities to reduce biogenic emissions.
This implies a full shift to renewable energy sources, but it also implies a drastic reduction of energy consumption. Only if energy demand is reduced substantially below projected levels will it be possible for renewable sources to fully meet the remaining demand. If energy demand grows unabated, it will not be possible to scale up renewable energy supply quickly enough to fully meet this rising demand. What is therefore necessary is a fundamental economic societal transformation at a scale that is probably comparable only to the transformation engendered by the industrial revolution.
Such a complementary approach has in fact already been taken by the EU through its 20-20-20 target: to by 2020 achieve a renewable energy supply of 20%, efficiency improvements of 20% compared to baseline and emission reductions of at least 20% compared to 1990. The same approach will probably now be taken in the USA with the legislation currently in Congress (sadly, it wasn’t…). Apart from creating a positive vision such an approach can also serve a very practical purpose: To guard against meeting short-term emission targets through incremental improvements only, which may lead to stranded investments in high-emission infrastructure that, while compatible with short-term emission targets, would not be compatible with long-term requirements. Instead, the long-term goal of a zero-emission economy needs to be incorporated into all future investments decisions. (…)
In addition to global mid-term and long-term emission targets, the Copenhagen agreement should therefore also include global targets for the reduction of energy consumption and the growth of renewable energy sources. The purpose of these targets would be to serve as strategic guidelines for the elaboration and implementation of mitgation actions by industrialised and developing countries. Although existing global energy scenarios have ambitious targets, none of them can achieve a reduction of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Given the need for highly ambitious reductions of global emissions until 2050, much greater efforts are necessary than scheduled in the existing world energy scenarios. The pathways to allow such an increase in renewable energy technologies and decrease of energy intensity need to be further elaborated. Thus, the following figures are for the time being indicative illustrations and assumptions of the scale of transformation on a global scale that would be needed to meet the 2°C target:
•Aim to improve global average energy intensity by at least 3.5% per year until 2050.
•Aim to reduce global per capita final energy demand by 5% in 2020, by 10% in 2030 and by 20 to 30% in 2050.
•A long-term goal should be set to obtain the complete global primary energy supply from renewable sources. The following mid-term assumptions could help to promote this development:
oShare of renewable energy in primary energy supply (currently around 14%) should increase at least to 25% by 2020 and at least 40% by 2030.
oThe share of renewable energy in heat and power supply should increase close to 40% in 2020 and 55% in 2030. Currently the share of renewable energy in heat supply is around 25% and in electrical power supply around 19%.
oGlobal installed electricity generation capacity from renewable energy is currently around 1,200 GW and should increase to at least 3,000 GW by 2020 and 6,000 GW by 2030
•Global public funding for research, development and demonstration for mitigation and adaptation should be significantly increased to at least €15 billion/year by 2015 and to at least €20 billion/year by 2020 (currently assumptions €4 – 7 billion/a.
•To realise the component of achieving sustainable energy services for all, the goal should be set to secure access to modern energy services for everyone by 2025.
While structurally very similar to these pre-Copenhagen ideas, Ban Ki-Moon’s initiative obviously takes place outside the UN climate negotiations. But that may be all for the better because this also leaves out two decades of acrimony.
How strongly Ban Ki-Moon’s initiatives is going to take off remains to be seen. But maybe one may dream of two strong parallel processes: the climate process to set the climate targets, and a sustainable energy initiative to deliver a substantial amount of the necessary reductions?
With thanks to Erik Haites who was the first person I know of to suggest this possible link.