Energy efficiency is arguably the most promising strategic area to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By decreasing energy demand, energy efficiency initiatives help reduce:
The pressure on our energy system
The amount of installed clean energy capacity required to substitute current fossil fuel production
Our dependence on foreign fossil fuels, thereby increasing energy independence and stability
While countries have the ability to drastically decrease emissions through energy efficiency measures, their levels of investment and implementation of these options have been mixed.
McKinsey & Company – a multinational management consulting firm – has done several studies on the emissions reduction capacities of different nations – evaluating different measures available to each country and the cost-effectiveness (cost per ton of CO2e reduced) of their implementation. In these studies, McKinsey often uses a Marginal Abatement Cost Curve (MACC) to help illustrate each option’s cost-effectiveness (on the Y-axis) and emissions reduction potential (on the X-axis):
McKinsey takes a good look at the emissions reduction potential available through energy efficiency initiatives. Their results show that energy efficiency options tend to have a net economic benefit to society – the total benefits to society are greater than the total costs over the lifetime of the project. Three examples – case studies for the US, China, and India – are looked at in detail:
As explained in a previous post, Government policy can have enormous impact in shaping our technological base in the future by promoting the “locking in” or “locking out” of certain technological innovation.
Just as Governments can help incentivize the “lock in” of renewable energy technology into our energy future, their decisions can also play a large role in whether or not we can “kick the habit” for fossil fuels.
One example if this comes in the European Union’s support of Carbon Capture and Storage technology through the NER300 Programme.
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)
Carbon Capture and Storage is a technology meant to capture the CO2 emissions from coal, oil, or gas plants combustion and store it so that it is not emitted into the atmosphere, which would further aggravate climate change.
The European Union has been working diligently to promote the expansion of a low carbon economy. They have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, passed a relatively rigorous energy strategy for 2020, and created the largest Carbon Cap and Trade System in the World: the European Emissions Trading System (EU ETS).
To briefly explain how the EU ETS works, industries that are part of the trading scheme are given emissions allocations – or credits (the right to emit 1 ton of CO2 into the atmosphere). They must either reduce their emissions to the amount of credits allocated to them, or buy additional credits for every ton of CO2 over the allotted number of emissions allocations given to them. These emissions credits can be purchased on the EU ETS carbon market. Industries that reduce their emissions lower than the number of credits given to them will have a surplus of credits and can sell their extra emissions credits on the carbon market.
Each year, industries must hand over to the government the amount of emissions credits equal to the quantity of CO2 emissions they emitted within that year. The submission of credits to the government creates the necessity for some industries to buy emissions allocations if they have emitted more than they were allotted, and also gives the incentive for others to sell their surplus of credits if they have more allocations than they emitted. This supply and demand for credits creates the market for carbon.
For the past two weeks, leaders from over 190 countries have been negotiating the future of climate change at this year’s UN Conference on Climate.
The negotiations have taken place between member countries of the UN international treaty titled the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The treaty was ratified at the Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro in 1992. The ultimate objective of UNFCCC is “to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system”.
Since the UNFCCC was established, the member states (today totaling 194) meet annually at the Conferences of the Parties (COP) to “assess progress in dealing with climate change”. This year’s COP, the 18th since its inauguration in 1994 (referenced as COP18), is being held in Doha, Qatar. One of the main issues being addressed this year is the future of greenhouse-gas emission reduction and the Kyoto Protocol, which is set to expire at the end of this month.
The conference began with some very dark projections from international organizations like the World Bank and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). In a UNEP report, published just before the beginning of COP18, they state that in 2010 greenhouse-gas emissions rose to 50.1 gigatons of carbon equivalent. This figure represents a 25% increase from 2000, and is 14% higher than the projected emissions required (44 gigatons) to maintain the desired 2°C increase in climate temperature; the 2°C increase that scientists believe is the “threshold” to avoid “dangerous” climate change.
Naderev M. Saño, the lead negotiator from the Philippines, gave an extremely heart wrenching appeal to world leaders this week:
Mr. Saño´s plea has become a popular speech amongst news reporters and bloggers covering the conference. The delegate’s raw emotion and evident frustration regarding the lack of leadership and action being taken by the UN delegation is rarely seen in an international setting such as this.