The best bits from the Global Energy Assessment
- 10 Dec 2012, 15:00
- Ros Donald
Changing the way people use energy will be key to mitigating
greenhouse gas emissions and limiting temperature rise, according
to a new report. The Global Energy Assessment (GEA) plots 40 energy
pathways that could help achieve that goal. Carbon Brief picks out
some of the best bits with one of the report's contributors.
The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis
Global Energy Assessment (GEA) was launched just over a week
ago. Over five years in the making, the print version is a
five-kilogram doorstop - a testament, IIASA deputy director Nebojsa
Nakicenovic told the audience, to the need for an integrated
approach to solving the world's energy problems. IIASA is a
scientific institute which aims to produce policy-relevant research
on "problems that are too large or too complex to be solved by a
single country or academic discipline" - like climate change. The
creation of the GEA involved energy experts from a wide range of
Dr. Volker Krey, who works at the institute and is a lead author
on several Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports -
including its coming
fifth assessment - worked on the chapter outlining the
different pathways. He explains:
"There are significant benefits of
taking a more holistic approach rather than looking at the
challenges surrounding energy one by one. The latter makes the
effort of tackling each of the challenges appear large and the
benefits small. A coordinated approach will in contrast not require
much more effort than addressing these single issues, but the
benefits will outweigh these efforts"
The report aims to show decision makers how they could achieve
four objectives: stabilise global temperature rise at two degrees
above pre-industrial levels, enhance energy security, eliminate air
pollution and ensure universal access to "modern energy" by 2030.
Working on these problems holistically, rather than one by one,
could yield enormous benefits for the climate, it says.
The table below shows the objectives and how the authors believe
they could be achieved:
Pathways to two degrees
Just like the International Energy Agency's World Energy
Outlook, GEA says time is of the essence - and that keeping
below a two degree rise will require a huge and immediate shift in
energy use patterns. It aims to demonstrate the many routes
available to policymakers to achieve the goal.
The report says out of 60 possible pathways it modelled, 41 of
them satisfy all of GEA's goals at the same time. To make it a bit
easier to understand, GEA has grouped them into three illustrative
scenarios, with different assumptions about decision makers'
priorities on demand side efficiency. So there's Efficiency - with
a big efficiency roll-out and much-reduced demand, Mix - with
intermediate demand, and Supply - with high demand.
Under all three scenarios, emissions peak by 2020, dropping to
"almost zero or negative in the long term", in order to keep
temperature rise below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial
levelsDevelopment of global emissions of carbon dioxide from energy
and industrial sources to limit temperature change to below 2°C -
with a success probability of more than 50 per cent.
Source: Figure SPM-2, p.6, GEA
Summary for policymakers.
IIASA has created a database for its pathways and how they could
apply to different countries, which is accessible
Efficiency is key
The GEA demonstrates how the two degrees target could be
achieved, using different mixes of energy efficiency and energy
sources. The left hand side of the three figures below show how the
illustrative scenarios develop up to 2050. The bar charts on the
right show the energy mix in 2050 under all 60 pathways
Development of the primary energy mix in the different
pathways modelled. Source: Figure TS-24, p.74, GEA
Summary for policymakers. NB this was originally one
figure, but it is too large to post as one.
The pathways that include a big roll-out of energy efficiency
are far more likely to achieve the four objectives of stabilising
global temperatures, enhancing energy security, eliminating air
pollution and ensuring universal access to energy supplies. More
energy efficiency also gives much more flexibility in terms of
the energy mix that's needed. Governments could, for example, phase
out unabated coal for electricity much more slowly under an
efficiency scenario than they could with less efficiency.
"GEA suggests that it is not only
cheaper to focus on energy efficiency as a main pillar of the
transformation to a sustainable energy system, but also allows for
choices to be made on the supply side and picking among the options
This flexibility is especially important given public opposition
to many supply side options like nuclear energy, carbon capture and
storage, or increased infrastructure build to integrate renewables,
Nebojsa Nakicenovic, who directed the Global Energy Assessment
project, says he hopes GEA will shift perceptions of how government
policies can work in different way to cut emissions - shifting the
focus onto reducing energy use as well as altering the energy mix.
He says the assessment is also important to combat the idea that
for developing countries to grow their economies and expand energy
access, they have to do so using high-emission fuel sources like
Critics might point to the fact that new research, from the United
Nations Environment Programme, for example, suggests the world
is very likely to overshoot the two degree limit. And since the
report was launched the Doha talks have concluded with no definite
commitments to emissions reductions.
Asked - before the conclusion of Doha - whether GEA is demanding
the impossible, Krey says:
"Addressing the energy challenges will
certainly require trend breaks and as the analysis has shown this
can in principle be achieved. Whether this is politically feasible
is of course an entirely different question, but stating from the
very beginning that a transformation cannot be achieved because we
always have been doing things in this way will obviously not help
in making progress."