After the Lima conference: Energy between climate and development

    The outcome of the UN climate conference, it was completed in Lima December 14, is considered by many to be disappointing, although 195 States which were present and the European Union adopted a framework for their future commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The UN special envoy for climate change, Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, stated: « Governments in Lima did the strict minimum to keep the multilateral negotiations process alive, but they have not done enough to convince that the world is ready to adopt an agreement on ambitious and equitable measures for the mitigation of climate change next year in Paris ». Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister responsible for the preparation of the Paris Conference in December 2015 which should lead to a final agreement said, meanwhile, that the Lima document was « a very good working basis ». The ultimate goal is to try a 40-70% reduction of greenhouse gas world emissions by 2050 in order to maintain global warming below 2 ° C.

    The climate negotiations must solve a complicated equation in order to answer three questions: – What efforts to reduce their greenhouse gases emissions, including CO2, are the countries willing to undertake? – Should we give a priority to climate change adaptation? –  What kind of assistance to developing countries are the most developed countries ready to propose? Energy is subject to two constraints: ensuring the development of countries in good conditions while preserving the world environment. This is even more difficult as we must take into account that the several important regions in the world have not reached the same stage of development and that the poorest countries require a « fairness » in access to energy. The figures that we have often cited show that we are far off : – A difference of a factor of ten in energy consumption per capita between European countries and sub-Sahara African countries (a factor of twelve with the United States) -1,2 billion people in the world have no direct access to electricity (in Africa 650 million) – About 2 billion people use waste wood or plant with polluting stoves for cooking. Finally, according to the central scenario of the IEA (IEA, World Energy Outlook 2014, ), global energy demand will increase by 37% by 2040, with a decrease in energy intensity and the share fossil fuels (it would fall from 80% to 74%), but at the cost of a 20% increase in CO2 emissions. A group of countries including China, India, Africa, the Middle East and in some extent Latin America will be the core of the growth in energy demand until at least 2040. One of the challenges facing climate negotiators being the possibility of reaching an agreement on energy demand reduction in the most developed countries with the risk that it might be « offset » to some extent by its unavoidable increase in the developing countries. The « climate » agreement recently reached between China and the United States – the latter will undertake to decrease by 26 to 28% their CO2 emissions by 2025 (compared to 2005) while China will begin to lower it “by 2030″ – while the EU’s decided to reduce by 40% its own CO2 emissions (compared to 1995 levels), is a step in the right direction, but this is not enough because it is not consistent with a 2 ° C global warming scenario It also shows that two great powers such as China and the United States are not ready to commit to a binding multilateral agreement. China is also supporting the claims of the least developed countries to escape any measure of restraint on their energy consumption.

The debates on climate and energy relationship also raise questions on the possibility of performing periodic assessments of energy strategies (which many countries probably will reject). Furthermore are there any energy « models » for the future? It is this kind of model assessment which, in recent years, the World Energy Council and the World Economic Forum (Davos Forum) have tried to undertake. The World Energy Council (World Energy Council, World Energy Trilemma 2014 ) has published a ranking for countries energy policies which is based on three criteria: safety, equity and environment Image00007« sustainability ». France is in ninth place in the world rankings where Switzerland is in the lead. In this ranking we find UK in 16th position, Costa Rica in 19th position and Qatar in 20th position. The World Economic Forum (Global energy architecture performance index 2015 ) also produces a ranking for energy with three criteria : – Economic growth and development (how energy contributes to economic development, energy cost, energy intensity, etc. ?) – Environmental sustainability (greenhouse gases and particles emissions) – Energy access and security (autonomy of the country, power quality, weight of renewable and nuclear). Switzerland is still No. 1 but France is third. We observe that Colombia is ninth in this ranking and Costa Rica being eleventh, a ranking which owes much to the environmental quality of their energy consumption. France position in the rankings owes much to the role of nuclear power that does not contribute to global warming (the issue of nuclear waste disposal remaining probably in the shade). These rankings, although being elaborated in their criteria, are still questionable (such as the Shanghai ranking for universities that they have strongly criticized but used to justify more or less successful reforms …), but they have the merit of forcing a reflection on new criteria that should be used in the future energy mix selection and to take into account equity in access to energy for citizens (the question also holding for countries like France).

Would there be ways to make an energy “soft” transition using current techniques while conducting a rise of renewable energy use? Gas is often considered as a possible energy source because its combustion releases two times less CO2 than coal, it could take his stint in power plants that still provide today 40% of world electricity production. The use of shale gas is one possibility: Its production in the United States surpassed that one of conventional gas in 2013 and it has reduced the price of gas, which led to a partial shift from coal to gas in the electricity production. Some climate experts are skeptical, however, that the gas used in thermal power plants might be a pathway to a low carbon energy without climate impact. Five laboratories (three European, American and one Australian (cf. McJeon et al. « Limited impact on decadal-scale climate change from Increased use of natural gas, » Nature, vol. 514, p 482, 23 October 2014, see, P.Papon « Natural gas: spare wheel for the climate, » Futuribles Vigie,, have assessed the climate impact of the energy consumption using five climate models, with two assumptions: – An abundance of gas with low production costs – A so-called conventional gas supply without increasing resources and with market prices in moderate or high rise. The first scenario implicitly assumes that the operating techniques for shale gas exploitation, and more generally « non-conventional » gas, become common with well controlled costs. The five models give quite similar results for CO2 emissions, they forecast that they would be reduced by at most 2% in 2050 in the best case. Abundant and inexpensive natural gas could significantly slow the increase in renewable energy development and could also lead to a rebound effect: Allowing to produce a kWh of electricity at low cost would stimulate the production of electricity and economic activity and as a consequence CO2 emissions. The massive use of natural gas would probably be less harmful to the climate than coal but its impact on climate evolution would be slightly positive at best. However the strong current decline in oil prices (almost 50% since last summer but is it “sustainable”?) might have an incidence on gas price which might compromise shale gas exploitation in the USA at least and deter its use in thermal plants.

The climate negotiations will not focus on the energy mix on which states will want to keep control but we must admit that comprehensive and proactive efforts on energy systems will be needed to drive the energy transition for a period of time that will inevitably be long. They could be coordinated on a regional basis and the negotiation could lead to an agreement on means to better organize a more equitable international cooperation in order to implement this transition. This would be a good compromise between mitigation and adaptation for climate change.




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