Climate and energy policy
If we do not take urgent and immediate action to protect the climate, the threats from climate change could become irreversible.
The goal of climate policy should be to keep the global mean temperature rise to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. We have very little time within which we can change our energy system to meet these targets. This means that global emissions will have to peak and start to decline by the end of the next decade at the latest.
The only way forwards is a rapid reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
1.1 the UNFCCC and the kyoto protocol
Recognising the global threats of climate change, the signatories to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The Protocol entered into force in early 2005 and its 193 members meet continuously to negotiate further refinement and development of the agreement. Only one major industrialised nation, the United States, has not ratified the protocol. In 2011, Canada announced its intention to withdraw from the protocol.
In Copenhagen in 2009, the 195 members of the UNFCCC were supposed to deliver a new climate change agreement towards ambitious and fair emission reductions. Unfortunately the ambition to reach such an agreement failed at this conference.
At the 2012 Conference of the Parties in Durban, there was agreement to reach a new agreement by 2015. There is also agreement to adopt a second commitment period at the end of 2012. However, the United Nations Environment Program’s examination of the climate action pledges for 2020 shows that there is still a major gap between what the science demands to curb climate change and what the countries plan to do. The proposed mitigation pledges put forward by governments are likely to allow global warming to at least 2.5 to 5 degrees temperature increase above pre-industrial levels.
This means that the new agreement in 2015, with the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC on its heels, should strive for climate action for 2020 that ensures that the world stay as far below an average temperature increase of 2°C as possible. Such an agreement will need to ensure:
- That industrialised countries reduce their emissions on average by at least 40% by 2020 compared to their 1990 level.
- That industrialised countries provide funding of at least $140 billion a year to developing countries under the newly established Green Climate Fund to enable them to adapt to climate change, protect their forests and be part of the energy revolution.
- That developing countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 15 to 30% compared to their projected growth by 2020.
1.2 international energy policy
At present there is a distortion in many energy markets, where renewable energy generators have to compete with old nuclear and fossil fuel power stations but not on a level playing field. This is because consumers and taxpayers have already paid the interest and depreciation on the original investments so the generators are running at a marginal cost. Political action is needed to overcome market distortions so renewable energy technologies can compete on their own merits.
While governments around the world are liberalising their electricity markets, the increasing competitiveness of renewable energy should lead to higher demand. Without political support, however, renewable energy remains at a disadvantage, marginalised because there has been decades of massive financial, political and structural support to conventional technologies. Developing renewables will therefore require strong political and economic efforts for example, through laws that guarantee stable tariffs over a period of up to 20 years. Renewable energy will also contribute to sustainable economic growth, high quality jobs, technology development, global competitiveness and industrial and research leadership.