Transition towards a low carbon economy
The world is currently facing vital decisions about the energy of tomorrow. While global primary energy demand is likely to grow by more than 30% over the next 20 years, the need to tighten greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to address climate change is one of the main challenges of this century. This challenge, and in particular, the goal of limiting global warming below 2°C recently agreed at COP 21, requires an urgent shift towards a low-carbon economy.
The scientific consensus is that the Earth’s climate system is unequivocally warming, and this is extremely likely attributable to GHG emissions from human activities.
Indeed, climate scientist have observed that carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the atmosphere have been increasingly rising over the past century: from the pre-industrial level of around 280 ppm (parts per million), to 397 ppm in 2014. This represents approximately a 40% increase, a trend that is inevitably leading to a rise in temperature levels due to the “greenhouse effect” (by which GHG trap heat in the atmosphere). It has been commonly regarded as an adequate mean to stop this trend and avoid the worst impacts of climate change, to keep global warming below 2°C compared to the pre-industrial average.
“Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal”
Intergovernamental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
THE ENERGY CONTRIBUTION
The energy sector is responsible for approximately two thirds of GHG emissions, being the power sector the largest emitter of CO2. This suggest that we are not able to effectively fight against climate change without a shift in the way we produce energy, and in particular, electricity. Therefore, a key pillar of mitigation strategies is the decarbonisation of the energy sector through renewable energy deployment.
However, current deployment of renewables, especially in the heating sector and in transport, is still not enough to achieve the required energy-related CO2 reductions, to keep global warming below 2°C. Therefore, the fundamental shift towards decarbonisation is still underway.
In December 2015, the COP 21 UN Climate Change Conference reached an historical agreement. A legally binding commitment signed by 195 countries aiming at keeping global warming below 2°C.
COP 21 AGREEMENT REACHED IN PARIS
ROAD TO PARIS AGREEMENT
The Agreement reached at Paris in 2015 is the result of a process that started in Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit back in 1992. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted, acknowledging the existence of anthropogenic climate change.
Industrialized countries had the major responsibility for combating it, and the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 provided those countries with binding GHG emissions reduction targets for the period 2008-2012, which entered into force in 2005.
In 2009, countries failed to extend the Kyoto Protocol, but they managed to recognize the common objective of keeping global temperature increase below 2°C.
In 2011, the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) was created in order to seek an agreement before 2015, with legal force, applicable to both developed and developing countries, to be applicable in 2020.
In the run-up of the Paris Conference, 186 countries submitted their commitment to fight climate change (INDCs), with GHG reductions targets for 2025-2030.
The submitted INDCs showed that pledges would still result in a global warming between 2.4°C and 2.7°C, therefore, above the 2°C threshold.
KEY ELEMENTS OF PARIS AGREEMENT
After a four-year negotiation round, bythe end of 2015, the so-called Paris Agreement was finally achieved with 195 countries agreing to curb greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. The agreement can be considered as historical as it reached the following key factors:
- 195 countries participated in an agreement that reflects a “hybrid” approach, blending a top-down rules-based system and a bottom-up system of voluntary pledges to provide flexibility.
- Keeping average warming below 2ºC was reaffirmed as the common goal, with some parties that should make efforts to limit it to 1,5º C.
- Aims to peak GHG emissions as soon as possible,and to achieve “balance” between
emissions and sinks in the second half of the century.
- Sets mechanisms to rise targets periodically, since submitted INDCs don’t seem
to be enough. Every country is bound to submit a new National Determined Contribution(NDC) every 5 years, being each NDC progressively more ambitions than the previous one. However, NDCs are not binding.
- Places a legal obligation on developed countries to provide climate finance to developing countries, including a provision, stating prior to 2025, where countries should agree a “new collective quantified goal” from the floor of US$ 100 bn per year.
- The Agreement is a treaty under international law. although not every provisions are legally binding.
The Paris Agreement will be open for signature on April 22, 2016, and will enter into force on the 30th day, after at least 55 parties accounting for 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions have ratified it. Therefore, the earliest possible date of which the Agreement could enter into force is end-May 2016 but its unlikely to be so straightforward, with governments needing time to push ratification through their respective governments.