COP 21 Climate Agreement Sets Scene For Energy Sector

Under the COP 21 Paris Agreement clean energy development is needed to support greenhouse gas emissions reduction.
Published: Fri 18 Dec 2015

After months of discussion and two weeks with a mass of reports and headline dominating news, the outcomes of the Paris climate talks, aka COP 21, emerged, exceeding most people’s expectations.

The Paris Agreement is aimed to hold the long-term increase in the global average temperature to well below 2oC above pre-industrial levels and preferably limiting it to 1.5oC, with the view to significantly reducing the risks and impacts of climate change.

To achieve this, global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions must be reached as soon as possible. In the second half of the century greenhouse gas emission neutrality is envisaged with a balance between anthropogenic emissions and removal by sinks.

National climate plans

The basis for the agreement is the individual climate action plans – or ‘intended nationally determined contributions’ (INDCs) – of the 195 participating countries (of which 188 have been submitted to date). Countries are required to report progress and to update their plans by 2020 and every 5 years thereafter. Likewise, every 5 years, starting in 2023, there will be a global stocktake to assess progress in implementing the agreement.

The agreement encourages the national plans to be “ambitious”. However, it "notes with concern” that the existing plans lead to a projected level of greenhouse gas emissions of 55Gt in 2030, which corresponds to a 2.7oC increase, whereas a below 2oC scenario requires a reduction to 40Gt. (The level for the 1.5oC scenario is yet to be determined in a report that will appear in 2018.)

Other intents of the agreement include adaptation to climate change and directing finance flows accordingly.

Impact on the energy sector

‘Energy’ is mentioned once in the agreement – in the statement in the preamble “Acknowledging the need to promote universal access to sustainable energy in developing countries, in particular in Africa, through the enhanced deployment of renewable energy.”

With more than 1 billion people without access, mostly in rural and remote areas, renewable energies such as solar, wind, biogas and small hydro, are the only cost effective option to provide electrification. Efforts are already well underway towards the goal of universal access by 2030 driven by the Sustainable Energy For All (SE4All) initiative. The goal also has been set as one of the 17 sustainable development goals for 2030. [Engerati-Towards Sustainable Energy For All By 2030]

With the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions synonymous with clean energy development – particularly in the two mains sectors responsible for the emissions, energy and transport - the agreement also supports the upward trend in renewables deployment on a broader scale. There will be added imperative to advance energy efficiency and the hydrogen economy. Nuclear may also gain renewed interest.

The clean energy funding challenge

While making provision for support for developing countries from developed countries and directing funds towards meeting the agreement, the funding challenge, particularly in developing countries and island states, is unlikely to disappear. For example, to meet the SE4All objectives, which in addition to achieving universal access include a doubling in renewable energy and in improvement in energy efficiency, a recent analysis established that current funding levels would need to triple to around $1 trillion annually. [Engerati-Sustainable Energy For All Requires $1trn Annually]

To start the ball rolling some commitments have already been made. For R&D, the Breakthrough Energy Coalition led by Bill Gates and including 27 other leading business investors has launched a multibillion dollar fund. The parallel Mission Innovation initiative of 20 countries including the US, UK, China, Brazil, India and South Africa has a commitment to double clean energy research spend to US$20 billion over 5 years.

Importantly deployment is also getting support. For example, the Dubai government has committed Dh100 billion (US$27 billion) to advance clean energy, including solar panels on all Dubai rooftops by 2030. The International Solar Alliance spearheaded by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and comprised of 120 countries aims to mobilize more than US$1 trillion to boost solar energy in developing countries.

Further reading

UNFCCC: Paris Agreement

UNFCCC: Intended Nationally Determined Contributions