Ivan Scrase Tao Wang Gordon Mac Kerron Francis McGowan and Steve Sorrell

Avoiding dangerous climate change is the defining challenge for humanity in the twenty-first century. Since the energy system is both the primary cause of climate change and the primary means of mitigation, the future evolution of energy policy is of critical importance. But energy policy is undergoing significant change for other reasons, including unstable and substantially higher oil and gas prices, conflict and instability in key producing regions such as the Middle East, fears of the economic consequences of declining world oil production and a rising perception of energy insecurity, especially within industrialised countries. While there are precedents for managing these developments, effective response to them all while at the same time radically reducing carbon emissions requires a major rethink of conventional assumptions and practices.

This chapter introduces these issues and shows how they provide a context for the main theme of the book - the transition to sustainable energy in the industrialised world. Section 1.1 describes the changing context in which energy policy is made and illustrates how the priorities and preferred policy approaches have evolved over time. Section 1.2 examines the role of 'energy shocks' in shaping energy policy and highlights how the physical depletion of conventional oil could lead to another shock in the near term. Section 1.3 summarises the threat posed by climate change, the scale of the challenge it creates and the implications for energy policy within industrialised countries. It then puts this in the context of the pattern and trends in global energy use, and argues that effective action to reduce carbon emissions must now form the primary objective of energy policy in the industrialised world. Section 1.4 then gives an overview of the book's argument. A key premise is that an effective response to climate change cannot be developed without, at the same time, addressing security of supply, economic efficiency and affordable access to energy services. While climate change policy in wealthy countries is primarily energy policy, energy policy is not only about climate change.

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