Cautious commitments mean uncertainty

09 November 2010

A lack of ambition in commitments made at the 2009 Copenhagen COP 15 climate change conference has made a 2°C limit to global temperature rise more expensive to achieve and less likely to happen, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warns in its latest World Energy Outlook.

Introducing the 2010 edition of the IEA's in-depth look at likely future energy scenarios to 2035, the organisation's executive director Nobuo Tanaka said that the strength of the economic recovery would hold the key to the evolution of energy markets over the next few years. In the longer term, however, governmental actions and their effects on technology, energy prices and end-user behaviour would be the driving force. "The energy world is facing unprecedented uncertainty," he said. "We need to use energy more efficiently and we need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels."

The 2010 World Energy Outlook runs to over 700 pages and centres on a New Policies scenario, which takes account of the broad policy commitments that have already been announced by governments and cautiously assumes that they will indeed implement reductions of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and reforms of fossil fuel subsidies. The New Policies scenario is flanked by a Current Policies scenario (akin to the Reference scenario of earlier editions) and a 450 scenario, which assumes commitment at the higher end of national pledges to 2020 and stronger policies thereafter to achieve the limitation of atmospheric greenhouse gases to a concentration of 450 parts per million of CO2-equivalent and global temperature increase to 2°C.

Electricity demand is set to increase across all three scenarios, albeit at a slower rate in the New Policies and 450 scenarios. The New Policies scenario sees a move towards low carbon technologies in the period to 2035, spurred by major policy decisions at the national level to curb emissions, and assuming that many countries implement policies to support both renewable energy and nuclear power to ensure a secure energy supply from a diverse mix.

All three scenarios see increases in the world's overall installed nuclear capacity, although the overall share of nuclear in the energy mix remains relatively static. Coal remains the dominant fuel in the energy sector, but the central New Policies scenario sees its share dropping in the OECD countries to come third behind gas and nuclear as the generation source in the OECD by 2035. The potential for the operating lives of nuclear power plants to be extended well beyond their 40-year design lives is highlighted in the report's considerations of new capacity additions: coal-fired generation has an average lifetime of 40-50 years before becoming obsolete, while the average life expectancy for a gas- or oil-fired plant is around 40 years. For nuclear, licence renewals are already seeing some plants destined for operating lifetimes of 60 years or even more.

Nevertheless, the report warns, existing national commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, even if fully implemented as assumed in the New Policies scenario, will not be enough to meet the Copenhagen Accord's overall goal of keeping the global temperature increase to less than 2°C: indeed, the scenario would likely achieve stabilisation of greenhouse gases at 650 parts per million CO2-equivalent equating to a long-term temperature increase in excess of 3.5°C.


To achieve the 450 ppm CO2-equivalent needed to limit the increase to 2°C will require more commitments, said the Agency, suggesting its 450 scenario as a "new starting point" from its 2009 publication reflecting both better-than-anticipated growth in the global economy and national commitments made in Copenhagen which, says the report, fall short of what is necessary.

The 450 scenario assumes a rapid transformation of the global energy system, with the removal of fossil fuel subsidies and with renewables and nuclear doubling their combined share of world primary energy demand to almost 40% in 2035, with low carbon fuels (nuclear, renewables and fossil fuel plants fitted with carbon capture and storage) accounting for over three quarters of world generation by 2035.

The 2009 Copenhagen climate change meeting, attended by over one hundred heads of state, failed to reach a consensus and although the resulting Copenhagen Accord set the 2°C maximum global temperature increase objective it did not set emissions reductions to enable this to be achieved, nor was it adopted by all countries. The technology to do this exists, says the IEA, although to meet the goal would require technological transformation at an unprecedented rate. Moreover, a "lack of ambition" in pledges made in the Copenhagen Accord will result in pushing up the cost of reaching that goal by $1 trillion, the agency said.

"The message here is clear. We must act now to ensure that climate commitments are interpreted in the strongest way possible and that much stronger commitments are adopted and taken up after 2020, if not before. Otherwise, the 2°C goal could be out of reach for good," Tanaka said.


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News


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