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Richard Baron, Climate Change Unit

Electricity is unique when it comes to meeting the climate-change challenge: as the largest and fastest growing source of carbon dioxide (CO) it also holds many of the solutions to a more efficient, less carbon-intensive economy. Climate & Electricity Annual 2011: Data and analyses provides authoritative regional and global data on the evolution of the sector to date and presents original analyses on how policy and technology can address the problem of rising CO2 emissions associated with the demand for electricity services. With this publication, the IEA seeks to raise the profile of electricity in the climate-change challenge, focus decision makers and the whole range of stakeholders on timely, pressing issues in the electricity sector and encourage the bottom-up actions needed to put the world on a path to a secure and low-carbon energy system.

Climate, energy and electricity

In Cancun last year, the 192 countries gathered under the United Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed to continue the multilateral effort to fight against human-induced climate change. In support of this effort, they also set the environmental goal of keeping the global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius (2°C).

With energy-related CO2 representing the majority of global greenhouse gas emissions, the implications for the energy sector are daunting, as illustrated by the IEA World Energy Outlook 2010 scenarios. Meeting the emission goals currently pledged by countries under the UNFCCC would still leave the world some 1 3.7 billion tonnes of CO2 - or 60% - above the level needed to remain on track with the 2°C goal in 2035 (Figure 1). This path is not sustainable. Much additional investment will need to be directed towards lower-CO2 technologies, on supply and end-use sides alike. The benefits that society would reap from these measures, beyond avoided climate risks, would be of an equal if not larger magnitude than the cost to the energy sector:

F Lower exposure to fossil-fuel security risks. Always high on the international agenda, security is a special concern this year with rising oil prices and turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa.

F Lower overall energy costs for our economies. Fuel savings will, in the long term, more than compensate for the capital cost of more efficient and clean technologies.

F An improved local environment with lower emissions of SO2, NOx, and particulate matter from fossil fuels, especially in developing countries. Achieving climate goals could save as many as 750 million life-years, compared to a scenario where no new action is taken to cut CO2 emissions (IEA, 2010b).

However significant these benefits and the expected impacts of climate change may be, they are still outweighed by business-as-usual energy practices, insufficient policy signals, and the inertia of our energy systems. Yet IEA scenarios show that a rapid transition within the global energy system is both necessary and achievable, even if every passing year increases the cost and reduces the feasibility of reaching a 2°C emissions trajectory.

The IEA low-carbon energy scenarios

The IEA produces two sets of global energy projections that frame the discussions of much of the analyses in the Climate & Electricity Annual 2011;

F The World Energy Outlook 2010 (WEO 2010; scenarios to 2035, especially the New Policies Scenario, which provides a realistic view of efforts to date and greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals pledged by countries in the UNFCCC, and the 450 Scenario, which indicates policies and technologies needed to remain on track with the 2°C goal (IEA, 2010b).

F Energy Technology Perspectives 2010 (ETP 2010) extends the time horizon to 2050, with further detail on the technological developments necessary to bring energy-related CO2 emissions to half their current levels by 2050. This low-carbon scenario, BLUE Map, is complemented by scenario variants focused on the electricity sector; without carbon capture and storage, with a higher contribution of nuclear, a higher contribution of renewables, or a lower discount rate (3%, against 8% to 14% in BLUE Map).

Figure 1

World energy-related CO2 emission savings by technology in the IEA World Energy Outlook2010 450 Scenario relative to the New Policies Scenario*

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