Global Warming needs to be halted, soon. How? According to Marga Edens, Vice President Corporate Responsibility of RWE AG, energy efficiency is the fastest solution. "We have no choice."
An excerpt of this essay, part of a series on ‘Energy Crossroads’ in the magazine P+ People Planet Profit.
Two-thirds of global GHG emissions are currently caused by the energy sector. The combustion of fossil fuels for energy production generates carbon dioxide (CO2). If we consider the amount of CO2 we may emit in order not to exceed the 2˚C limit a budget, we have 800 billion tons available worldwide. That may seem like a lot, but since 1870 - the start of the industrial age - we have already burned through 50%, at increasing rates. Additionally, the available coal, oil and gas reserves are so large that the remaining budget can easily be exceeded many times over.
Furthermore, the IEA expects global electricity consumption to increase by over two-thirds between 2011 and 2035. If nothing changes, the energy sector will meet growing demand with an energy mix dominated by a 57% fossil fuel share (mostly coal). Corresponding CO2 emissions will rise from 13 gigatonnes in 2011 to over 15 gigatonnes in 2035. This is hardly the road to achieving a 2˚ temperature increase by 2050..
So what can we do? We need to switch to a low/no-carbon energy system. This transition costs money (currently, 2% of the global gross social product, a percentage which increases the longer we wait) and time (while greenhouse gasses accumulate in the atmosphere and we continue to invest in long-lasting high-carbon infrastructure which locks in future emissions). That is why we must begin addressing our energy consumption today. How? By seriously addressing energy efficiency. In all sectors of our economy (within or outside of the European Emission Trading Scheme) and all levels of society (households, businesses and governments). Higher energy efficiency will result in less primary fuel or power consumption for a product or service of equivalent quality. We are not (yet) talking about adjusting our standard of living, but modifying our behaviour and our processes.
Dealing with energy more efficiently delivers environmental, social and economic advantages: lower CO2 emissions (better for climate and health), lower energy bills (households with more disposable income, businesses with a stronger competitive position), more innovation and investment (in buildings, transportation systems, electricity networks, etc.), providing a stimulus for the economy. That the potential of energy efficiency is insufficiently being harnessed is due to misaligned financial incentives (the investor does not always benefit), high up-front investment, combined with insufficient financing opportunities, different investment or consumption priorities, and lacking information and transparency.
Unfortunately, some governments are losing sight of the importance of energy efficiency. The European Union in particular is showing a shift in priorities. In March of this year, European government leaders must decide on new (binding) agreements for the period after 2020, when the current EU climate and energy package lapses. Despite the urging of the European Parliament and a number of European governments to define strict energy efficiency goals, it appears likely the European Commission no longer wishes to spearhead energy efficiency – a missed opportunity! If European government leaders were to confirm energy efficiency as a key instrument for achieving our long-term climate goals, it would be a clear signal that all of us need to contribute. Households and companies by making consumption and production more energy efficient, governments by facilitating households and companies with information, regulations and financial incentives. But also by investigating whether energy efficiency measures can be introduced in sectors not covered by the Emissions Trading Scheme, such as transport and buildings.
Energy efficiency can make a key contribution to the decarbonisation of our world on the road to 2050. Even greater efforts will also be required, but energy efficiency is something all of us can start with today. We have no choice in the matter. This is about more than a beach chair and a pair of drenched shoes. The response to global climate risks can only mean one thing: reducing emissions. That is why we must begin using our energy more efficiently, starting today.
The compete essay is downloadable (PDF), see left column.
In June 2012, Marga Edens took over as Head of Corporate Responsibility, incl. Environmental Protection,Diversity and RWE Stiftung (RWE Foundation) in theGroup Center of the RWE Group.