Strong appeals for greener and more efficient use of energy

Why we need to change now

With fewer headlines on climate change, it may seem like the immediate climate threat and need for action were over. However, two new reports from the World Bank and the International Energy Agency remind us this is not the case. In particular, the energy sector is urged to take focused action and change the present unsustainable path in a cost-effective way. Recent events in China and the United States suggest climate change may get hot again.

World Bank report

The World Bank’s new “Turn Down the Heat” report, released on June 19, based on analyses by the renowned Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, claims more widespread food shortages, unprecedented heat-waves and more intense cyclones may be a reality already in 20-30 years due to climate change.

Today communities around the world already feel the impact of climate change, at a moderate warming of 0.8oC as compared to pre-industrial times. The report points at stronger threats, especially to poor communities, in a 2oC warmer world that may occur within our lifetimes, and also on severe impacts from 4oC warming by the turn of the century, without concerted action.

IEA report

Earlier in June, the International Energy Agency published its special report “Redrawing the energy-climate map”, stating the world is drifting further and further away from keeping climate change below 2oC, and proposing energy policies to take us back on track without jeopardizing economic growth.

The energy sector plays a key role in climate change, since it accounts for two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions. In 2012 energy related emissions increased by 1.4% to a new record level of 31.6 gigatonnes CO2e.

The IEA urges governments around the world to adopt four energy policies to cut energy-related emissions in a cost-efficient way. These policies rely on existing technologies and have been implemented successfully in several countries:

  • Targeted energy efficiency measures in buildings, industry and transport
  • Limiting the construction and use of the least-efficient coal-fired power plants
  • Actions to halve methane releases into the atmosphere from the upstream oil and gas industry
  • Partial phase-out of fossil fuel consumption subsidies

According to IEA’s analysis, the energy efficiency measures alone would account for nearly half of the emissions reductions in 2020.

Both the World Bank and the International Energy Agency calls for strong and immediate action on climate change in their reports. “The case for resilience has never been stronger” says World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim.

Is climate change getting hot again?

Despite lower visibility in headlines and maybe signs of climate fatigue among the public, many governments act on climate change: The Australian Climate Commission noted in its 2013 “The critical decade” report that “all major economies, including China and the United States, are putting in place solutions to drive down emissions and grow renewable energy”, even though far more action is needed to stabilize the climate.

In mid-June, the Chinese State Council approved ten new measures against air pollution, following serious concern and protests over bad air quality. The measures are intended to adjust China’s energy structure, cut emissions intensity per unit of GDP by 30% by 2017 and increase supplies of cleaner fuels such as natural gas, which also helps limit greenhouse gas emissions. Concurrently, China’s first pilot carbon trading program was launched in Shengzhen city in Guandong province. Seven similar schemes are planned to open in other regions in China before the end of the year.

US President Barack Obama’s new emphasis on climate change that was outlined on June 25 ignites hope for new action, not only in the US but world-wide. The statement “there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth” and the focus on less carbon intensive fuels, efficiency, renewables and innovation resonate well with the findings of the World Bank and the IEA.

The climate challenge is complex in being urgent and long-term at the same time. There is no quick way to phase out fossil fuels, it will take decades, but the direction must be set now.


Image credit: courtesy of Tobias Mandt under creative commons license on Flickr

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About the author

Anders H. Nordstrom

I am Senior Sustainability Advisor with the group sustainability team. I trained as a physicist and joined ABB's Corporate Research branch in 1995. I live in Stockholm with my family and outside work I enjoy playing the piano and also ice-skating in winter on the many lakes around Stockholm. This is a climate sensitive sport, and I hope it will remain an opportunity also for coming generations in my hometown!
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