Update, December 22, 2015: After much recent reporting on fossil fuel issues and the effects of rapid climate change, we now look toward the future — worldwide plans for cutting carbon emissions, the many sources of clean energy and ideas which will fulfill those goals set in the halls of Paris at COP21.
Climate Photo of the Week
Myriad forms of renewable, innovative energy and efficiencies take the world’s stage, showing how carbon-cutting goals of climate talks in Paris can change the world.
Humans are changing the world. We are geologic-scale forces on the planet. Fossil fuels, gift of an ancient world, gave us that power, and it came with a terrible curse. Now, most governments and many leaders, as set into international agreement in the UN Climate Convention meeting in Paris, see the danger in the damage we’ve caused to the atmosphere and oceans and in raising the planet’s temperature at a rate 10 times or more that of pre-historic changes. And so we must change the world again, in another way.
Most remaining fossil fuels must stay in the ground. The overly abundant but now underused sun-generated energies, which were not long ago our only energy, must again become our main sources. We can also draw on the energies of natural earth heat and tidal forces. And we can use our incredible intellect to invent ways to give us the motion, warmth, cooling, shelter and food in vastly more efficient ways. The promise in these renewables is also more equality in energy access, health and income for the billions that have not seen the benefits of fossil fuel economies. These are energy solutions that take into account, in the words of the Paris Agreement, "obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity."
In Paris, 195 nations agreed to be bound to “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C.” The signatories set a greenhouse emissions goal to "undertake rapid reductions...so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century.” This balance means “net zero,” and follows the words of the IPCC last year to make “substantial emissions reductions over the next few decades and near zero emissions of CO2 and other long-lived [greenhouse gases] by the end of the century.” Many scientists say the reductions must be faster, to reach near zero shortly after mid-century.
Near zero. In such a short time can the world change so much of its power sources, now 85 percent dependent on fossil fuels? The urgency is acute: The earth’s average temperature is now 1 degree C (1.8 F) above the benchmark 1850-1900 reading, half-way to the level below which the climate talks have agreed to try to limit global warming. And the direct driver of Earth surface temperature, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, is now above 400 parts per million and still rising sharply mostly due to continued fossil fuel use, locking in more than one degree more heating.
But the answer to reaching near zero carbon emissions (absent the politics, the deniers and self-serving demands heard especially in the United States) is: Yes we can. In the past several years reports and studies have laid out pathways to a renewable, less wasteful, sustainable energy future, one that minimizes carbon-emissions and offers broad access to electricity while protecting health and local values. One of the early highlights of COP 21 was the announcement by Bill Gates, with Presidents Obama and Hollande of France standing by, of a multi-billion dollar fund for accelerated clean energy development and deployment to speed the process of invention and scaling up of new energies and efficiency.
Here is a short review of some of these reports along with a few very recent images of the future of energy generation which is being developed now. Some of the tools, like electricity from footfalls and roads with embedded solar panels are just under development. But the cost of rooftop solar and wind power is now competitive and should have wide civic and financial support, and be made affordable to people everywhere. Renewables created more than half the new power generated in 2014, but have a long way to go yet to power the whole world.
Breakthrough Energy Coalition is the aggressive global program for zero-emission energy innovation, for which Bill Gates brought together an international cast ranging from Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos to Mukesh Ambani of India and Jack Ma of China. The new model will be a public-private partnership between governments, research institutions, investors, scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs which will boost funding for Electricity generation and storage, Transportation, Industrial uses, Agriculture and Energy system efficiency. It answers the call in the reports below for rapid development of all kinds of renewable energy and efficiencies.
Energy [R]Evolution 2015, the tenth anniversary version of Greenpeace’s groundbreaking study proposing a pathway to a 100 percent sustainable energy supply by 2050, ending CO2 emissions and phasing out nuclear energy. First published for the Montreal climate talks, more than other energy reports it predicted the speed with which renewables would expand and how jobs in the sector would expand.
“Climate Action Now – A Summary for Policy Makers 2015” was released by the UN Climate Convention itself a few days ago. It details renewable energy, energy efficiency, the urban environment (including transport), carbon capture and storage, methane and land use. Renewable energy, it says, excluding hydropower, accounted for 9.1 per cent of global electricity generation in 2014, up from just 1.8 per cent in 2004. It focuses on the many co-benefits of this to development, public budgets, health and well-being, industrial productivity and energy reliability.
"The Clean-Energy Revolution Gathers Speed” an article in Scientific American by David Biello which narrates the "clean revolution sweeping the U.S.,” including wind, solar and LED lighting, with quotes from energy leaders who are making possible the energy transition by mid century. One odd stat shows the passage of time and fuels: The U.S. now consumes more energy from renewable sources—nearly 10 percent in 2014—than at any time since the 1930s, when burning wood still heated most homes.
Reinventing Fire by Amory Lovins and others at his Rocky Mountain Institute, is this energy efficiency expert's plan for 2050. This book is for sale, and worth it, but the RMI website focuses on energy saving solutions specifically for communities, transportation, buildings, industry and electricity. The book promises, "Imagine fuel without fear. No climate change. No oil spills, no dead coalminers, no dirty air, no devastated lands, no lost wildlife. No energy poverty. No oil-fed wars, tyrannies, or terrorists. No leaking nuclear wastes or spreading nuclear weapons. Nothing to run out. Nothing to cut off. Nothing to worry about. Just energy abundance, benign and affordable, for all, forever.”
The Energy Report by World Wildlife Fund and the climate analysis firm Ecofys presents a scenario, set in 2050, of a world run entirely on renewable energy. Among its focuses is that we don’t use energy wisely: "More than half the heat we pump into our homes disappears through walls, windows and roofs – yet we know how to construct buildings that require virtually no energy for heating or cooling.” We favor big, powerful, “gas-guzzling” private cars. "Energy-hungry appliances clog the market, even though there’s a wide choice of efficient alternatives available.”
Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, a detailed report in two parts by Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi of Stanford and UC Davis respectively lays out the pathway and feasibility of "providing worldwide energy for all purposes (electric power, transportation, heating/cooling, etc.) from wind, water, and sunlight (WWS).” They figured out how to actually do it, using millions of wind turbines and rooftop PV systems, tens of thousands of solar plants, geothermal, hydro, wave and tidal power turbines by
2030 to create a "world that uses electricity and electrolytic hydrogen for all purposes.” They’ve worked out the details for all states and many nations, and invite us to join in at thesolutionsproject.org/
Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States, published by Energy and Environmental Economics, Inc., in collaboration with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, is part of a UN effort in 2014 to help nations begin reducing their emissions to near zero: deep decarbonization. The U.S. report, not surprisingly very technical, focuses on highly efficient energy use in buildings, transportation, and industry; decarbonization of electricity generation; and fuel switching to electricity or low carbon fuels. All these actions in all their details are needed to get to 80 percent less than 1990 emissions by 2050 — but it can be done.
The Great Transition: Shifting from Fossil Fuels to Solar and Wind Energy, the last book by Lester Brown, one of the most important conservation leaders of our age. He helped set the stage for the topic of this book, that “the old economy, fueled largely by coal and oil, is being replaced with one powered by solar and wind energy.” The fact sheet alone is a course in current energy realities of falling solar and wind prices, investors fleeing coal and nuclear, and communities planning more and more for renewable futures.
World Energy Outlook by the International Energy Agency offers more technical insights into how traditional energy managers see trends — and is therefore a sharp splash of bad news about how widespread fossil fuel use really still is. It shows the inroads of renewables and efficiencies, saying "cost reductions are the norm for more efficient equipment and appliances, as well as for wind power and solar PV.” But this report delivers some stark news: "Fossil-fuel consumption continues to benefit from large subsidies... around $490 billion in 2014,” while subsidies to renewable energy technologies were $112 billion. Bottom line from the IEA: " There are unmistakeable signs that the much-needed global energy transition is underway, but not yet at a pace that leads to a lasting reversal of the trend of rising CO2 emissions.”
The energy agency concludes with a pitch that COP21 needs a very strong outcome of energy change to overcome the inertia of coal and other fossil fuels across the world. More on that in our reports starting next week.
Also please see our story about biogas and indoor cooking fires, CO2 levels at 400 ppm, and our climate change image library sections on wind, solar, cities and communities for more on renewables and designs for sustainability.
15 years of World View of Global Warming, documenting climate change 1999-2015
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