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The making of a globally sustainable energy system

ucftpe024 November 2016

sustainable world (c) istockphoto

Blog by Steve Pye, Paul Ekins, Ian Hamilton, November 2016

As delegates at COP22 in Marrakech convene to discuss how to implement the Paris Agreement, there is a continuing focus on how to move to a sustainable global energy system. The challenge is that fossil fuels have long been the mainstay of the energy system, and an essential driver of growth. Rapidly reducing our reliance on their use is no small task, but one that is essential if we are to succeed in achieving the climate ambition set out in the December 2015 Paris Agreement.  The challenge is brought sharply into focus when we consider that the global energy system accounts for 65% of anthropogenic GHG emissions[1], but will need to be a net zero-emitter at some point between 2050 and 2100.  (more…)

Industry doesn’t have to suffer to protect the environment

ucqbnwh10 October 2016

london-1205328_1280 pixabayAddressing climate change requires strong measures to decarbonise the supply of energy. However, there are concerns that decarbonising energy supply simply drives up the cost of energy – and that this can have a chilling effect on high energy using sectors, such as manufacturing and industry. In this situation, it is sometimes suggested, carbon reductions are achieved, but only because industry packs up and moves its operations to other countries with lower energy costs, to continue to produce its emissions there. (more…)

The costs and benefits of EU energy and climate policy

ucftmgr4 April 2016

alternative-2489_1920 (c) pixabayMichael Grubb, Professor of International Energy and Climate Change Policy at UCL, examines claims that EU energy regulation increases the costs of UK energy bills and argues that many benefits are often overlooked.

With a speech today by Amber Rudd, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, energy issues have exploded into the Brexit debate. Not before time. An article by Conservative MP Dominic Raab which accompanied his announcement of support for leaving the EU (Sunday Times, 21 Feb) stated that ‘skewed EU energy regulation will add £149 to bills by 2020.’  In an angry reaction to Rudd’s speech today, Matthew Elliot, the Vote Leave campaign chief executive, reiterated claims that EU regulation adds £billions to overall UK energy bills.

Irrespective of exact numbers, there appears to be a widespread belief by many who favour Brexit that the EU’s energy and climate policies impose significant, unjustified costs on the UK and that we could avoid these by leaving. (more…)

A research journey from Italy to UCL

ucqbna114 March 2016

italy-924043_1280I was raised in Italy and every woman raised in Italy loves fashion, and don’t get me wrong, I really do love fashion. The region where I come from (Le Marche) produces some of the best and most famous shoes made in the country. When I was about to graduate I had to choose the topic of my master thesis.  My professors were expecting a thesis on how business clusters could boost the Italian economy. I decided to do something different however because I did not want to follow the fashion path that everyone was expected to do. The first person who pushed me to think differently was my brother. He kept asking me: do you really want to work in fashion? This is not going to change people’s lives, it will make them more beautiful, but it will not solve any real issues. (more…)

But what will our world look like?

ucfaete11 December 2015

sustainable world (c) istockphoto

I am in the business of foresight, projections and scenarios. As a scientist I cannot tell you what the future brings nor what our world will be under +2, 4 or 6 degree warming. What I can say, is that as an individual I have deep concerns.

The climate change community has been applying scenario techniques to bridge gaps between the physical and social change that is envisioned due to climate change. The most recent addition is the introduction of so-called Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs) to describe alternate world futures (O’Neill et al., 2015). These futures can be coupled with different representative concentration pathways (RCPs) that correspond to the language of “+2/4/6… degree warming”. Despite the level of emissions or warming considered under a given pathway, what is clear, is that most of the scenarios pose challenges for our societies in the 21st century.

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Future Energy – Thoughts on conditions for environmentally sound UK shale gas development

ucftpe028 January 2015

shale gas extraction © istockphotoTwo recently published papers (McGlade & Ekins (2015) and McGlade et al. (2014)) examine possible futures for fossil fuels, with a particular focus on the ‘bridging’ role that natural gas may be able to play during a transition to a global low-carbon energy system. Drawing on the findings of these papers, we have commented that the UK may be able to develop some of its potential shale gas resources within the context of a global effort to keep average global warming below 2 oC with a reasonable likelihood. This note aims to discuss the conditions that we consider are necessary for this to be the case. (more…)

Negotiating Climate Change – Guest Seminar by Jeffrey Sachs

Andrew ZP Smith23 January 2015

Professor Jeffrey Sachs is Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, in New York, where he holds two professorships; he is also Special Advisor to the current UN Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals (a role he held for the previous Secretary General too). A busy man, so when he took the time to get in touch about the recent paper in Nature, by Dr Christophe McGlade and Professor Paul Ekins OBE, on which of the world’s fossil-fuel resources must remain unburned, and where they are, we hoped a brief email discussion might lead to collaboration sometime in the future. So it was a delight when Professor Sachs offered to drop by and present a talk just a few days later, and thanks to Kiran Dhillon and Paul Ekins, it happened. Here’s my summary of his talk:

Image: Prof. Jeff Sachs (c), with UCL Energy Institute Director Prof. Bob Lowe (l) and Prof. Paul Ekins OBE (r), Director of the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources

(more…)

Climate Change – The Lima Hangover

ucftmgr13 January 2015

sustainable world (c) istockphoto

sustainable world (c) istockphoto

The 20th Conference of Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate change opened in Lima on 1st December and finally closed at 1.30am on the morning of Sunday 15th.  As ever the case with complex global negotiations, the late finalisation reflected hard-fought struggles to reach agreement – in this case, establishing the final roadmap for the Paris COP21 in December 2015 on which hinge hopes for an effective new global treaty on tackling climate change.

Most commentators greeted the Lima outcome positively, somewhere on the spectrum between relief and enthusiasm. Some of those usually inclined to scepticism about international negotiations were marked in their praise. It may have helped that the organisation was smooth (no mean feat with more than 10,000 people attending), the venue unusually convenient for negotiators and observers alike, and the weather fine. A good atmosphere helps. Lima was marked above all by a sense of optimism, energy and – dare I say it – inclusiveness, which has been largely lacking ever since the collapse of the Copenhagen summit in 2009. (more…)

Rio+20: “the future we want” or “old shoes in a new box”?

Chiara Armeni23 May 2012

The 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro, brought sustainable development to the forefront of the international policy agenda. A set of key principles (Rio Declaration on Environment and Development), a blue print for action to implement sustainability (Agenda 21) and three multilateral environmental agreements (the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention on Combat of Desertification) represent the main outcomes of that conference and have informed the direction of international environmental and climate change law and governance since. Rio also led to the establishment of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) to monitor progress on the agreed goals.

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Feeling the squeeze

Katherine E Welch23 April 2012

credit: Planet Under Pressure/Elsevier

The consensus of the academic community gathered at the Planet Under Pressure conference in London at the end of March seemed to be that the pressure is indeed on, and change is needed – now.

The conference, pegged as the largest gathering of global experts on environmental and social issues in the lead up to Rio+20, aimed to send a clear message to those gathering in Brazil in June about the challenges the planet now faces. Indeed, the conference organisers, in a declaration on the state of the planet, said that safeguarding the Earth’s natural processes to ensure the wellbeing of civilisation was the defining challenge of our time.

Climate change, the global financial crisis and food, water and energy insecurity threaten civilisation as we know it – Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General

The sense of urgency from speakers was palpable, and their warnings stark. Population growth, increasing urbanisation and ever-greater resource demand are placing increasingly unsustainable pressures on the natural system, with many systems now believed to be at thresholds or “tipping points” beyond which changes can not be reversed.

(more…)