We can be more ambitious
Humanity’s great challenges: climate change
The international scientific community has laid on the table the great challenges that humanity is facing to keep the planet as we know it today. Swedish scientist Johan Rockström’s portrayal of planet boundaries highlights the need to tackle major challenges such as biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, climate change with the impact of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) among others.
The first World Climate Conference convened by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) in 1979 already identified Climate Change as an urgent global problem, and it was during this event that governments were first called upon to face it. However, it was not until the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in Japan in December 1997, at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, that a real commitment to make an effort to combat climate change, was taken.
The Paris Agreement was a milestone on this path, with the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) reaching a commitment at a new Convention to keep global warming below 1.5°C, requiring GHG emissions to be reduced approximately a 45% by 2030 and to be achieve emissions neutrality by 2050.
A growing coalition of countries, cities, industries and other institutions have been committing to achieving net zero emissions. More than 70 countries, including major emitters such as China, the US and the EU, have set a net zero target covering around 76% of global emissions.
But we are still far from the right path to reach emission neutrality by 2050. The commitments made by governments to date, the current national climate plans, and for the 193 parties to the Paris Agreement, would still lead to a considerable increase of almost 11% in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, compared to 2010 levels. Humanity needs to be much more ambitious.
The European Union is firmly committed to reducing GHG emissions by 80% to 95% of 1990 levels by 2050. The reference framework is defined by:
- The European Green Pact (2020), a package of policy initiatives aimed at putting the EU on the path to a green transition, with the ultimate goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050.
- The more short-term Fit for 55 (2021) package, which refers to the EU’s target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030. The proposed package aims to bring EU legislation in line with the 2030 target.
This set of measures outlines the regulatory framework that will guide this path towards decarbonisation and which, to a large extent, will mark the policies outlined in the National Energy and Climate Plans (in Spain the PNIEC) at the level of each member state.
The latest revision of the PNIEC document in Spain sets a reduction in emissions for 2030 of 23% more than in 1990, and a renewable introduction of 42% in the final use of energy, reaching 74% representation in the electricity generation mix. These figures are surpassed by the current revision of the PNIEC, which updates the data upwards, with a renewable penetration of 48% in the final energy use, and 81% in the electricity mix. This increase aims to achieve an environmental improvement on the previous one, and achieve a 32% GHG reduction, improving by 9%. The target of zero emissions in 2050 could be brought forward by five years.
Figure1. CO2 emission reductions in Spain from2011 to 2022. SourceREE.
Key sectors for decarbonization
The energy sector is the source of about three-quarters (3/4) of today’s greenhouse gas emissions and holds the key to avoiding the worst effects of climate change. Replacing pollution generators, such as coal, oil or gas-fired power generation, with renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power, would drastically reduce carbon emissions.
Figure 2. Global electricity Review EU 2004 to 2022 CO2. Source: Ember-climate.
Looking at the overall picture of emissions in the energy sector today, there is a number of key economic sectors that governments need to address:
Energy use in industry (24.2%), with two key sectors included in this category:
- Steel (7.2%) and energy-related emissions from iron and steel manufacturing.
- Chemicals and petrochemicals (3.6%): energy-related emissions from the manufacture of fertilisers, pharmaceuticals, refrigerants, oil and gas extraction, etc.
Transport (16.2%), with the largest contributor being the:
- Road transport (11.9%): emissions from the combustion of petrol and diesel fuels from all forms of road transport, including cars, trucks, motorbikes, and buses. 60% comes from passenger journeys and the remaining 40% from road freight transport.
Energy use in buildings (17.5%), distinguishing between:
- Residential buildings (10.9%), with energy-related emissions from electricity generation for lighting, appliances, cooking, etc. and home heating.
- Commercial buildings (6.6%), energy-related emissions from electricity generation for lighting, appliances, etc. and heating in commercial buildings such as offices, restaurants and shops.
Figure 3. Global distribution of CO2 Worldwide. Source: European Comssion.
Global initiatives promoting decarbonization
In 2015, the United Nations published a master plan containing a series of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which, although not binding, were intended to guide and homogenise the efforts of different regions and countries to achieve common goals that would put an end to poverty, address the fight against inequality, climate change and environmental degradation, as well as promote prosperity, peace and justice. Goal 7: Energy, seeks in particular to ensure access to clean and affordable energy, which is key to the development of agriculture, business, communications, education, health and transport.
If we analyse the contribution of the energy sector to climate change, we observe that the proposals included in objective 7 seek to address those sub-sectors that contribute most to the production of GHGs in percentage terms:
- Promoting sustainable mobility in every area, but especially in the private sector. The need to promote electromobility based on renewably produced electric power is increasingly evident, promoting clean public transport in cities. Also, in the freight transport sector, where electrification is not easy, the use of synthetic fuels (road, air and maritime) will contribute to the decarbonisation of the sector.
- Establishing economic aid and support for the industrial sector to advance the energy transition. A growing number of electricity-intensive sectors all over Europe are making a significant contribution to the decarbonisation of their operations through on-site renewable energy installations or by signing PPAs.
- Driving initiatives of new technological developments related to Carbon Capture, Use and Storage (CCUS), as well as the so-called Solutions Based on Nature (SBN). Industries such as the steel and cement industries are the most active in this sector, and in Europe, thanks to support programmes such as the Innovation Fund, are enabling technologies to be validated with industrial-scale pilots.
- Promoting a building renovation plan to reduce emissions, supported by the use of clean energies such as solar energy, hydroelectric energy, wind energy or geothermal energy. Energy efficiency measures combined with self-consumption are a reality in many EU countries and are materialising in the different member states (although with disparities in the degree of progress.
- Regulating the price of the cost of emissions. The first emissions trading system (ETS) was established by the European Union in 2005 (EU ETS) and has since expanded. Currently, there are 34 ETSs in jurisdictions representing more than 55% of global GDP and one third of the population and covering 17% of global annual emissions. Among others, they have been implemented in countries such as the UK, China, New Zealand, South Korea, Indonesia, California and Canada, and are under development or under consideration in other countries such as Brazil, Vietnam and Colombia.
This set of initiatives, together with others also included in SDG 7, are vital to address from a global approach, and fundamental to promote decarbonisation; however, and unfortunately, the degree of implementation is very uneven between countries.
The effects of global warming, including extreme weather events, continue to impact people on a recurring basis, a new Climate Change Conference (COP28) will be held in Dubai this December. This forum is set to be an unprecedented opportunity to keep the goals of the Paris Agreement alive and will have the energy industry as its main focus. In this sense, it is vital to build a new energy system with joint action on the supply side (the oil and gas industry) and on the demand side, redesigning the relationship between policy makers, major energy producers and large industrial consumers. It is time for a definitive change from the global economy based on fossil fuels.