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Unless there’s a magic solution, emissions will rise, says WEC

WEC’s Rose warns CO2 increase ‘inevitable’ unless policy-makers act

The world will have to accept higher carbon emissions in the future, the World Energy Council’s director of policies and scenarios said at the launch of its World Energy Scenarios report in Daegu yesterday.

Karl Rose said rising greenhouse gas emissions were inevitable if governments and policy makers continued to reject alternative policies. “The world does not want nuclear. It doesn’t want carbon capture. It doesn’t want to reduce demand and large hydro projects are under pressure. Wind and solar power can only do so much and unless someone finds a magic solution, emissions will increase,” he said.

The World Energy Scenarios report offered two scenarios of energy use to inform policy makers about the likely effect of energy policies on society, the economy and the environment in 2050.

One scenario is called “jazz” and emphasises the primacy of consumer needs and the market driving policy. The other, “symphony”, envisages policies driven by a leader or state focusing on social needs rather than individual needs.

Rob Whitney, the chairman of the World Energy Scenarios report said: “Jazz is a scenario which is about freedom of expression, individual leadership. Symphonies are orchestrated by a conductor. In jazz we talk about free trade, we act as consumers, we focus on access and affordability, we want energy when we need it and we want it as cheaply as possible.

“In symphony, we are demanding stronger global leadership. We have a climate change treaty and we have it quickly. We are now voters.We are environmentally conscious and we look at global priorities and we don’t take a ‘NIMBY’ (‘Not In My Back Yard’) approach.”

In the jazz scenario, there is greater economic growth, but increased carbon emissions; In symphony, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are reduced, but growth is lower.

Whitney said there were three key messages for policy-makers from the report, regardless of which scenario better reflects the reality of 2050. “We will still be dependent on fossil fuel in 2050 and this includes coal and especially in Asia. There will still be people without access to electricity. Key technologies will be solar and carbon capture and storage, we believe both these technologies will be affordable with a sufficient carbon charge at $80 per tonne,” he said.

Rose said that the futures lies between the two scenarios with some countries veering towards either jazz or symphony. “What we have tried to do in these scenarios is push the envelopes of what is logical and reasonable and conceivable in terms of what futures we can see,” he told WEC Congress News.

“In symphony, the government takes a much stronger stand and the decisions are taken at government level and the market is then executing these policies. A prime example would be the feed in tariffs in Germany, it is sponsored so strongly that the market has to follow. You can see the market makes decisions based on lower prices and you end up with higher demand, with more government control there are more measures put in place to manage demand and to have more investment in energy efficiency to keep demand down,” he said.

Rose added that these imperatives mean that fossil fuels are more prevalent in jazz than in symphony, said Rose. However, both scenarios see a massive increase in the use of renewables because even consumers, driven by price concerns, are not immune to concerns about the environment.

“In both worlds, we are still having a very large share of fossil fuel in 2050. The World Energy Council does not believe it is possible to completely change the energy mix on a global basis onto renewables in that time frame,” he said.

“But renewables increase to 20% in jazz, and 30% in symphony. These are huge increases. To come from almost nothing today to 20% is a very big achievement.”

Call to energy action

The World Energy Council (WEC) has warned a number of myths threaten to hamper efforts to create a sustainable energy future.

The WEC urged stakeholders – including governments, industry and civil society – to transform the global energy system, saying that not doing so risks failing to achieve energy security, energy equity and environmental sustainability. 

It called on energy sector leaders to combat a number of myths which, if they continue to gain common currency, could undermine efforts to create a sustainable, global, energy future.

The first of these is that global energy demand is set to flatten. As the WEC points out, demand will double by 2050, primarily driven by economic growth in non-OECD countries.

It also challenged the belief that peak oil exists. “The continued discovery of new resources and the emergence of new technologies have already multiplied the available fossil fuel reserves by a factor of four, and this will continue,” it said.

The council further called for action to clarify the belief that clean energy alone will meet projected future demand growth; and that we can reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50% by 2050. According to WEC’s world energy scenarios, while renewables will make up a larger proportion of the energy mix (as much as 20-30% by 2050, up from today’s 15%), fossil fuels will still play a central role. WEC further points out that even in its energy scenarios’ the best case, we will see a near doubling of global GHG emissions. At worst, emissions could more than quadruple.

WEC said the belief that universal access to energy will be achieved within the next 10-15 years is inaccurate.

While there has been great progress in reducing energy poverty, WEC modelling shows that between 320m and 530m people could still be without access to electricity in 2050.

In a statement released at the World Energy Congress 2013, the WEC said: “We are in a much more challenging world than previously envisaged.”

The council added “it is time to get real” in defining the global energy future. “If we want to get the greatest social and economic benefits out of our energy systems, the focus must shift from the supply mix to demand efficiency,” the council said. “We need more demand-side investments, innovation, incentives and stronger technical standards to reduce energy intensity.”

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