25th Oct 2016

UN report calls for 'technological change' on global warming

  • "The report is clear: the more you wait, the more it will cost [and] the more difficult it will become,” said EU commissioner for climate Connie Hedegaard (Photo: RiMarkin)

International climate scientists warn the world must shift away from fossil intensive energy production amid recent proposals by the European Commission to phase out subsidies for renewables.

In a report out on Sunday (13 April), the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says global emissions of greenhouse gases have risen to unprecedented levels.

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Greenhouse gas releases were higher between 2000 and 2010 than they have ever been in human history, it notes.

“Climate policies in line with the two degrees Celsius goal need to aim for substantial emission reductions,” said Ottmar Edenhofer, one of three co-chairs in the IPCC working group behind the report, in a statement.

The report recommends replacing dirty fossil fuels in coming decades with clean energy to limit the increase in global mean temperature to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

It notes fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes contributed to about 78 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions from 1970 to 2010.

Recommendations include cutting global greenhouse gas emissions from 40 to 70 percent compared with 2010 by mid-century. By the end of the century, emissions need to approach near-zero.

Possible scenarios to scale down the problem are feasible and affordable, says the IPCC.

But it means “tripling to nearly a quadrupling” the share energy supply from renewables, nuclear energy and fossil energy with carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS), or bioenergy with CCS (BECCS) by the year 2050.

Natural gas could also help wean energy dependence away from coal and oil. Other solutions require large investments and continued support in renewable energy and similar technologies.

“One of the biggest areas that’s important is getting the carbon out of electricity, so renewable energy, nuclear, fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage, that's all part of the menu if we are going to make the transition to stay under the 2 degree target,” Professor Jim Skea, vice-chair of the working group, is quoted as saying in the BBC.

The IPCC text, drafted by over 200 authors, is the third instalment in a series towards a final overall UN climate report due out in October.

The first report, published last September, looked at the science behind climate change.

The second report was published in late March. It found climate change is occurring on all continents and across oceans.

The EU, for its part, has set itself a binding 40 percent emission reduction target by 2030.

Around 27 energy of the mix should come from renewable energy sources, which is binding at the EU but optional at the member state level.

Last week, EU competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia said subsidies for renewable energy technologies and production in the EU should be phased out and replaced by a competitive bidding process.

“From 2017 onwards, operational aid to all renewable energy installations will be granted through competitive bidding processes,” he told reporters in Brussels.

His six-year plan to let the free market determine the fate of solar and wind sector includes scrapping renewable surcharges on high-polluting industries, drawing criticism from pro-green groups.

“Almunia has no clue where he should act, which is going against the fossil subsidies, going against the nuclear subsidies and he’s penalising renewables,” said Luxembourg Green MEP Claude Turmes.

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