Sunday, January 14, 2007

Rising Carbon Emissions Call for Bold Action on Climate Change

Gulf Times/Qatar
January 14, 2007

LONDON -- Bold action on climate change requires a massive shift towards low carbon energy by 2050 and the next decade is critical as emissions and temperatures rise.

People pump the heat-trapping greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as a by-product of burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil for heat, light and transport.

A now widely accepted link between such carbon emissions and global warming has stirred the search for new sources of energy – especially given the energy-hungry growth of China and India.

"The next 10 years are very, very crucial," says Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency (IEA), adviser to 26 industrialised nations.

"Only in China between now and 2015 the capacity they will build in the power sector will be equal to the existing capacity in the EU (European Union)-25," he said.

Without a change in policy nine-tenths of this new Chinese capacity would come from burning coal, the highest carbon-emitting fossil fuel, Birol says.

Acting decisively against climate change means building by 2050 a global low or zero carbon energy infrastructure as big as the world’s capacity now, estimates Chris Mottershead, energy and environment adviser to oil firm BP.

Such a global shift can only happen through private investment and could mean big commercial gains for some, while laggard businesses face the threat of higher carbon taxes and other penalties on emissions.

"(We want to) make sure we own our fair share of that new business sector," said Mottershead.

Italy’s biggest utility Enel last month said it would invest more than 4bn euros ($5.29bn) in low-carbon energy and efficiency measures from 2007-2011.

But underlining the scale of the challenge, the world has pumped more carbon into the atmosphere in the past 10 years than in two centuries from 1750-1950, new estimates by the US Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre show.

The 10 warmest years worldwide in the past 150 years were all since 1994, says the World Meteorological Organisation.

In addition to new energy demand in China, power plants in Europe and North America now need replacing – having started life in the post-Second World War economic boom – raising the stakes on present energy choices.

Two timelines to curb carbon emissions are emerging – immediate effort to improve energy efficiency at the national level, followed over the next decade by a search for alternative energy sources and a global climate change agreement.

Improving energy efficiency is seen as the easier first step because it actually saves money, and chimes with security concerns to curb dependence on energy imports.

"The cleanest power plant is the one you don’t need to build," said Birol.

But long-term action means cutting the cost of major climate change fixes like burying greenhouse gases underground, and of low carbon energy sources like biofuels, renewables and nuclear.

For example, marine tide and wave energy could supply a fifth of Britain’s power needs by 2050, but also needs to be a fifth of its present cost to be economic, says Michael Rea, head of strategy at the Carbon Trust, which leads Britain’s drive to a low-carbon economy.

Some scientists, green groups and leaders, including the EU, see more dangerous effects of climate change kicking in above a 2 degrees centigrade global average temperature rise.

Annual global greenhouse gas emissions must be half 1990 levels by 2050 to have a likely chance of staying within that limit, reckons Malte Meinshausen, climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Before helping fund such a dramatic energy shift big business wants to see evidence of world leaders’ commitment to tackling climate change, to be sure it is money well spent.

But after more than a decade of talks the only global policy is the Kyoto Protocol, widely seen as a tiny first step.

On the positive side, consumer power is seen emerging.

"All of us can do very little against the scale of the problem if we don’t enrol broader society, and that’s clearly starting to change over the past 18 months," said Mottershead. – Reuters

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