Energy is essential for a wide range of human activities, both in the United States and around the world, yet its use is the dominant source of emissions of CO2 and several other important climate forcing agents. In addition to total demand for energy, the type of fuel used and the end-use equipment affect CO2 emissions. The diversity of ways in which energy is supplied and used provides ample opportunities to reduce energy-related emissions. However, achieving reductions can be very difficult, especially because it involves considerations of human behavior and preferences; economics; multiple time frames for decision making and results; and myriad stakeholders.
Questions decision makers are asking, or will be asking, about energy supply and consumption in the context of climate change include the following:
• What options are currently available for limiting emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and other climate forcing agents in the energy sector, and what are the most promising emerging technologies?
• What are the major obstacles to widespread adoption of new energy technologies that reduce GHG emissions?
• What are the best ways to promote or encourage the use of energy-conserving and low-GHG energy options?
• What impacts will climate change have on energy production, distribution, and consumption systems, and how should possible impacts be accounted for when designing and developing new systems and infrastructure?
• What are the possible unintended consequences of new energy sources for human and environmental well-being?
This chapter focuses on what is already known about energy and climate change and about what more needs to be known. Strategies to limit emissions of CO2 and other GHGs through changes in agriculture practices, transportation, urban planning, and other approaches are addressed in other chapters, and policy approaches that span these strategies are discussed in Chapter 17. Because America's Energy Future was the focus of a recent suite of National Research Council reports (NRC, 2009a,b,c,d), and energy-related GHG emissions reductions are a major point of emphasis in the companion volume Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change (NRC, 2010c), this chapter provides only a brief summary of critical knowledge and research needs in the energy sector.
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