“Reprinted from EnergyWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC.www.eenews.net. 202-628-6500”
Colin Sullivan, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, June 21, 2013
NEW YORK — The International Energy Agency’s chief economist yesterday cautioned against not taking energy efficiency policies seriously when looking at how energy industries might lower their contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions.
Speaking at Columbia University, IEA head economist Fatih Birol stressed that energy industries are still the main culprit when it comes to carbon levels in the atmosphere, contributing two-thirds of the planet’s output.
IEA recently reported that global emissions went up last year, in a report widely viewed as bad news for those advocating faster greenhouse gas reductions (Greenwire, June 10). But Birol sees a silver lining in the data, nothing that emissions in the United States have dropped while annual increases have slowed in China.
Birol credited the surge of natural gas over coal in the electricity sector due to the shale explosion but added that better energy efficiency policies, particularly in China, have gone a long way toward helping to stabilize levels in some parts of the world.
“Energy efficiency does matter,” Birol said. “It is gaining momentum.”
Birol’s address was meant to shed light on how IEA put together its climate change report, titled “Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map,” and highlight his agency’s recommendations in that study. Some have been critical of the advice, saying IEA’s plan for limiting emissions growth isn’t ambitious enough.
But Birol argued that there is still time for national policies to do the heavy lifting to trim carbon in the absence of a solid international treaty before 2020. He noted that current projections of emissions growth foretell a dangerous warming of between 3.6 and 5.3 degrees Celsius by 2020 compared with preindustrial levels, ushering in what scientists have warned could be the worst effects of man-made climate change.
A key part of Birol’s plan to limit that change to 2 C, as called for by the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, is energy efficiency, which Birol says could be responsible for half the CO2 cuts needed to achieve the 2 C limit.
The rest of the reductions, in Birol’s view, should come from limiting the use of inefficient coal (21 percent of the pie), ending methane leaks from upstream oil and gas (18 percent) and partly halting fossil fuel subsidies (12 percent).
Within that energy efficiency subset, 49 percent of the IEA cuts, Birol urged a focus on cooling and heating in buildings and tougher lighting and appliance standards. He believes more aggressive cuts are possible in the United States and China should those countries emulate strict efficiency standards for buildings and appliances in Japan and Europe.
Elsewhere, Birol said there is room for improvements in how industrial motors operate, which he noted is part of China’s five-year plan for addressing climate change. He said efficiency of trucks in Asia is a particular area of possibility.
“The energy sector must adapt to climate change,” he said. “We hope that the energy sector will be on the right side of the equation.”
Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, attended the event at Columbia yesterday and came away applauding IEA’s efforts despite “a lot of sobering things in the report” that indicate global emissions of carbon are higher than ever.
Krupp said EDF is also pushing hard on efficiency. The group has launched its “Smart Power” campaign to change policies in the nine U.S. states that consume 50 percent of the country’s electricity.
“There is such a thicket of rules to protect the monopoly positions of utilities,” he said. “Surgery on these rules can, in our country, yield a lot of incentives for energy efficiency.”
Click here to view the IEA report on climate and energy.