Weak energy policy threatens COP21 targets

Article by Staff Writer

SEVERAL major countries will struggle to achieve the emissions reductions targets agreed at the COP21 talks in Paris due to weak energy policies, according to a new report from the IChemE Energy Centre.

The report, commissioned by the Energy Centre and launched on 6 June, was researched and written by four academics from Imperial College London, UK – Sofi Hinchliffe, Renée van Diemen, Clara Heuberger, and Niall MacDowell. Transitions in Electricity Systems Towards 2030 investigates and rates the electricity generation systems and policies in seven countries – Australia, China, India, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa and the UK. All of these countries have strong communities of chemical engineers, and are significant emitters of greenhouse gases.

Around 30–40% of CO2 emissions in the seven countries comes from power generation, and the authors write that reforming it will be “pivotal” to the transition to a low-carbon economy. Modelling suggests that by 2050, 80% of electricity generation should come from low-carbon sources to have any chance of keeping the rise in global temperature below 2?C.

The researchers assessed each of the countries on six “condensed principles of rational energy policies”:

  • evidence-based policies – communicated in a transparent manner
  • negative emissions – policies should aim for an absolute reduction in emissions
  • energy efficiency – should be pursued wherever possible
  • renewable energy – policies should lead to the deployment of renewable energy
  • governance – governments should avoid policy reversal and honour previous commitments
  • years ahead – long-term policies are essential for investor confidence

Countries could score 1, 0, or -1 in each category, depending on the policies in place.

The UK came out on top, based on the team’s analysis, with a score of 2, rating favourably in evidence-based policies, negative emissions and renewable energy, but scoring negatively on governance. China and Singapore scored 1 each, both doing well on evidence-based policies and renewable energy but not on negative emissions. Malaysia, South Africa and India did not do so well, scoring -1, -3 and -4 respectively. Bottom of the pile was Australia, with a score of -5. This is due largely to weak emissions reductions targets and policy reversal driven by cost reduction.

“The Australian government's justification for their repeal of a carbon pricing mechanism was to ensure international competitiveness on the energy market. However, it has hindered progress in reducing electricity sector emissions,” said van Diemen.

The report came to five conclusions, including that in all countries surveyed, there is an emphasis on stimulating economic growth, and that concerns about energy security promote the diversification of the electricity mix in each country. Shortages in electricity drive capacity expansion and improvement, and private sector investment will be key to expanding electricity generation, particularly in China, India and South Africa, where much of the infrastructure is in private hands. Finally, with the exception of the UK, few countries have long-term plans beyond 2030 for the energy sector, including on installation of renewable capacity.

“The Paris agreement represents an important step in tacking climate change, but this must now be matched with sustained action commensurate with achieving the ambitious 1.5?C target. Many governments are taking positive steps, but the current commitments by some nations will be insufficient to meet climate goals. Serious consideration must be given to the policy measures that will be required to achieve these demanding emissions targets; and implementation must follow quickly,” said MacDowell.

A recording of the report’s presentation, its findings and discussion is available on IChemE’s YouTube channel.

Article by Staff Writer

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