IEA Energy column suggests replacing the pessimistic nature of climate-change discourses with a focus on how technology offers opportunities for action
28 May 2014
Ever since taking on my role as the IEA Director of Sustainable Energy Policy and Technology, I have been concerned about the pessimistic nature of climate change discourses.
While leaders worldwide have repeatedly acknowledged the importance of limiting global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius, most discussions on the means to do so have centred on the difficulty of overcoming the large inertial market forces that keep us on a path towards unpredictable climate instability. Additionally, while the number of recent extreme weather events such as hurricanes, storms or serious droughts have increased public concern about climate change impacts, there is growing scepticism about governments’ capacity to agree on measures that would avoid dramatic global warming.
But demonstrating that climate change can be managed has been and remains a centrepiece of the IEA work on identifying options for energy sector decision makers. The findings of our Tracking Clean Energy Progress reports presented at the annual Clean Energy Ministerial meetings help energy ministers and CEOs alike gauge progress and see where additional efforts are most needed. Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map, the World Energy Outlook (WEO) special report last year, showed that existing, cost-effective solutions can have immediate impacts while keeping longer-term options open. And the scenarios published in the WEO and the IEA flagship technology book, Energy Technology Perspectives (ETP), keep highlighting the need to think about long-term objectives.
All of our repeated urging to keep climate change at the centre of the global energy policy dialogue was rewarded late last year when IEA energy ministers issued the IEA member countries’ Statement on Climate Change, welcoming and encouraging our “work on developing cutting-edge analyses on markets and technologies that offer cost-effective opportunities to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions”.
Focus not on the impediments but on the ways to succeed
To better capitalise on the opportunity provided by the 2015 climate negotiations in Paris, we need to move climate discussions away from focusing on the size of the challenge to both recognising the cost of inaction and realising the opportunities for action.
The IEA is uniquely positioned to address these issues. Our ongoing work on the Climate-Energy Nexus Forum keeps at the forefront the energy system’s vulnerability to climate impacts, demonstrating that the status quo comes with its own costs. The focus of ETP 2014 on the increased role of electricity in the future set-up explains how proper planning for a higher share of electrification could unlock opportunities to enhance the energy system’s efficiency, security and reliability as well as reduce the cost of required infrastructure and decarbonise the overall energy supply. Wide participation by multiple stakeholders in the consultative process for our Technology Roadmaps to a low-carbon energy system shows the large momentum towards action for change. Focusing attention on the means to achieve success rather than on the hurdles to be overcome can stimulate a broader consensus.
Innovation as the driver for climate change mitigation
The 2015 edition of ETP will provide even better visibility on how energy technology innovation – encompassing all stages of the research, development, demonstration and deployment processes – can enable an economically viable low-carbon energy system. As a result, the book will increase policy makers’ confidence that they can achieve short- and long-term climate change mitigation objectives. Innovation has always been at the core of changes in any established system, whether through novel technical solutions or by adaptation of existing solutions in new ways and in different environments. This will be true, too, for the changes needed to decouple our desired lifestyle improvements from an energy dependence that impacts our planet’s climate.
This column by Didier Houssin, IEA Director of Sustainable Energy Policy and Technology, appears in the new issue of IEA Energy: The Journal of the International Energy Agency. The IEA produces IEA Energy, but analysis and views contained in the journal are those of individual IEA analysts and not necessarily those of the IEA Secretariat or IEA member countries, and are not to be construed as advice on any specific issue or situation. Click here to read the new and earlier issues of IEA Energy, and click here to send a request a free subscription.
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