The greenhouse effect is the process by which the atmosphere traps some of the sun’s energy, warming the earth and moderating our climate. A human-driven increase in greenhouse gases has enhanced this effect, artificially raising global temperatures and disrupting our climate. These greenhouse gases include, carbon dioxide (CO2), produced by burning fossil fuels and through deforestation; methane, which is released from agriculture, animals and landfill sites; and nitrous oxide, resulting from agricultural production plus a variety of industrial chemicals. Every day we damage our climate by using fossil fuels (oil, coal and gas) for energy and transport. Over the coming decades, the resulting changes are likely to destroy the livelihoods of millions of people, especially in the developing world, as well as ecosystems and species. We therefore need to significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. This makes both environmental and economic sense. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations forum for established scientific opinion, the world’s temperature is expected to increase over the next hundred years by up to 6.4° Celsius (C) if no action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is much faster than anything experienced so far in human history. The goal of climate policy should be to keep the global mean-temperature rise to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. At a rise of more than 2°C rise, damage to ecosystems and disruption to the climate system is expected to increase dramatically. We have very little time left to change our energy sources to avoid this: global emissions will have to peak and start to decline by 2015. Climate change is already harming people and ecosystems. Its reality can be seen in disintegrating polar ice, thawing permafrost, rising sea levels, and fatal heat waves. It is not only scientists who are witnessing these changes. From the Inuit in the far north to islanders near the Equator, people are already struggling with impacts consistent with climate change. An average global warming of more than 2°C threatens millions of people with an increased risk of hunger, disease, flooding and water shortages. Never before has humanity been forced to grapple with such an immense environmental crisis. If we do not take urgent and immediate action to protect the climate, the damage could become irreversible. Avoiding such damage can only happen through a rapid reduction in the emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Here is a summary of some likely effects if we allow current trends to continue:
Likely effects of small to moderate warming
• Sea level rise due to melting glaciers and the thermal expansion of the oceans as global temperature increases. Massive releases of greenhouse gases from melting permafrost and dying forests.
• A greater risk of more extreme weather events such as heatwaves, droughts and floods. Already, the global incidence of drought has doubled over the past 30 years.
• Severe regional impacts. In Europe, river flooding will increase, as well as coastal flooding, erosion and wetland loss. Flooding will also severely affect low-lying areas in developing countries such as Bangladesh and South China.
• Natural systems, including glaciers, coral reefs, mangroves, alpine ecosystems, boreal forests, tropical forests, prairie wetlands and native grasslands will be severely threatened.
• Increased risk of species extinction and biodiversity loss. The greatest impacts will be on poorer countries in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Andean South America, as well as small islands least able to protect themselves from increasing droughts, rising sea levels, the spread of disease, and a decline in agricultural production. Longer-term catastrophic effects
• Warming from rising emissions may trigger the irreversible meltdown of the Greenland ice sheet, adding up to seven metres of global sea-level rise over several centuries.
• New evidence shows that the rate of ice discharge from parts of the Antarctic means that its ice sheet is also at risk of meltdown.
• The resultant slowing, shifting or shutting down of the Atlantic Gulf Stream current would have dramatic effects in Europe, and disrupt the global ocean circulation system.
• Large releases of methane from melting permafrost and from the oceans would lead to rapid increases of the gas in the atmosphere and to consequent warming.
Recognising these threats, the signatories to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The Protocol finally entered into force in early 2005 and its 165 member countries meet twice annually to negotiate further refinement and development of the agreement. Only one major industrialized nation, the United States, has not ratified Kyoto. The Kyoto Protocol commits its signatories to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% from their 1990 level by the target period of 2008–2012. This has in turn resulted in the adoption of a series of regional and national reduction targets. In the European Union, for instance, the commitment is to an overall reduction of 8%. In order to help reach this target, the EU also agreed on a target to increase its proportion of renewable energy, from 6% to 12% by 2010. Canada agreed to cut its emissions by 6% relative to 1990 levels, but emissions are now 24% higher than they were in 1990. At present, the 193 members of UNFCCC are negotiating a new climate change agreement that should enable all countries to continue contributing to ambitious and fair emissions reductions. Unfortunately, the aim to reach such an agreement in Copenhagen at the end of 2009 failed, and governments will continue negotiating in 2010 and possibly beyond to reach a new legally binding deal. Such an agreement will need to ensure that industrialized countries reduce their emissions on average by at least 40% by 2020, compared to their 1990 levels. They will further need to provide funding of at least $140 billion a year to developing countries to enable them to adapt to climate change, protect their forests and achieve their part of the energy revolution. Developing countries need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 15 to 30%, compared to their projected growth by 2020.
This new “fair and binding” (FAB) deal will need to incorporate the Kyoto Protocol’s architecture. This relies fundamentally on legally binding emissions reduction obligations. To achieve these targets, carbon is turned into a commodity which can be traded. The aim is to encourage the most economically efficient emissions reductions, in turn leveraging the necessary investment in clean technology from the private sector to drive a revolution in energy supply.
After Copenhagen, governments need to increase their resolve to reduce emissions and invest even more in making the energy revolution happen. Greenpeace believes that it is feasible to reach a FAB deal in Cancun at the end of this year, if there is sufficient political will to conclude such an agreement. That political will seems to be lacking at the moment. But even if a FAB deal cannot be finalised in Cancun, due to lack of ambition and commitment by some countries, major parts could still be in place, specifically those related to long-term financing commitments, forest protection and an overall target for emissions reductions. The result would be that by the time of the Environment and Development Summit in Brazil in 2012, we would be celebrating an agreement that definitely keeps the world’s temperature well below two degrees of warming.
At present, renewable energy generators have to compete with old nuclear and fossil fuel power stations, which produce electricity at marginal cost because consumers and taxpayers have already paid the interest and depreciation on the original investment. Political action is needed to overcome these distortions and create a level playing field for renewable energy technologies to compete. At a time when governments around the world are in the process of liberalising their electricity markets, the increasing competitiveness of renewable energy should lead to higher demand. Without political support, however, renewable energy remains at a disadvantage, marginalised by distortions in the world’s electricity markets created by decades of massive financial, political and structural support to conventional technologies. Developing renewables will therefore require strong political and economic efforts, especially through laws that guarantee stable tariffs over a period of up to 20 years.
Renewable energy will also contribute to sustainable economic growth, high-quality jobs, technology development, global competitiveness, and industrial and research leadership.
In recent years, in order to reduce greenhouse emissions as well as increase energy security, a growing number of countries have established targets for renewable energy. These are either expressed in terms of installed capacity or as a percentage of energy consumption. These targets have served as important catalysts for increasing the share of renewable energy throughout the world. A time period of just a few years is not long enough in the electricity sector, however, where the investment horizon can be up to 40 years. Renewable energy targets therefore need to involve short-, mediumand long-term steps and must be legally binding in order to be effective. They should also be supported by incentive mechanisms such as feed-in tariffs for renewable electricity generation. In order for the proportion of renewable energy to increase significantly, targets must be set in accordance with the local potential for each technology (wind, solar, sustainable biomass, etc.) and be complemented by policies that develop the skills and manufacturing bases to deliver the agreed-upon quantity.
In recent years. the wind and solar power industries have shown that it is possible to maintain a growth rate of 30 to 35% in the renewables sector. In conjunction with the European Photovoltaic Industry Association,12 the European Solar Thermal Power Industry Association,13 and the Global Wind Energy Council,14 the European Renewable Energy Council and Greenpeace have documented the development of those industries from 1990 onwards and outlined a prognosis for growth up to 2020 and 2040.
|download the global energy revolution - a sustainable global energy outlook|
|(PDF document, 13MB)|