The Energy Transition can start in Paris

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our time. Today we live in a world where the average temperature is more than 0,85°C higher compared to the pre-industrial era, leading to climate impacts around the globe. For the last 2,5 centuries we have been emitting greenhouse gases, making human industrial activity the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. Over two-thirds of the greenhouse gases resulted from burning fossil fuels. We need to realise that we should not wait for miracles to solve climate change, rather we need an energy transition. But what does that really mean?

Tackling climate change is high on the political agenda, and business and society are getting more and more involved. The end of the first week of COP21 has come and the world focuses on the outcomes of this Paris climate summit. For two weeks, almost 150 Heads of State and government, are negotiating for the Paris agreement to ensure that the global average temperature will not rise by 2°C – preferably not even 1,5°C – compared to pre-industrial times due to greenhouse gasses. As the climate system is large and its processes occur slowly, it responds with a delay to measures taken today. This means that the choices we currently make to limit climate change will only have an impact in future decades, making the situation more complex.

Limiting climate change requires an energy transition on global scale, phasing out the use of fossil fuels by fulfilling our energy demand with sustainable energy. Currently, the infrastructure on which our society and development relies, is based on fossil fuels that are heavily subsidised by our governments in order to fuel development. Changing this infrastructure is a critical step in order to diminish the use of fossil fuels and start using sustainable energy sources.

By transitioning to a sustainable energy system, we can use renewable energy sources (RES) for our future energy demand to further develop and grow. Currently about 13% of our global energy budget comes from RES (see figure 1), with electricity generation showing the highest usage of RES (about 22% worldwide and about 25% for the EU, see figure 2). Most of the high-potential RES such as hydro, wind and solar energy can be used for electricity generation, making the electricity sector very important in the energy transition. Not to mention the technological transition of our transport sector (accounting for a third on our total energy consumption in EU) to be increasingly based on electricity rather than oil.

World Energy Production by Fuel

Figure 1: World energy production by fuel. European Commission statistics.

Figure 2: Proportion of electricity generated from renewable sources for EU-28, 2013 (% of gross electricity consumption)

Due to the delay in the climate system and a possible lock-in due to infrastructural choices we make today, waiting to take action results in higher risks and higher costs in the future. Still, covering our total global energy demand with RE will not be accomplished tomorrow as this requires RE to be multiplied by a factor 35. Realising this energy transition asks for substantial investments, capacity building and social change. Promising opportunities would be to reallocate all fossil fuel subsidies governments are providing nowadays as well as increasing our energy efficiency. Both are feasible options as long as we all commonly strive towards a sustainable future.

Let’s use the energy created by COP21 to make our energy transition a reality and impact climate change.