Energy at COP23

What happened in Bonn at COP23 regarding energy?


The Rise of Environmental Concern

During the 70s environmental concern increased and with time institutions were created. In 1988 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] appears with the task of evaluating the environmental and socio-economic impacts of climate change.

April 23, 1970: First Earth Day in the United States. Picture from the New York Times

In 1992 the UNFCCC was adopted in the Earth Summit at Rio, Brazil,  whose goal is to “stabilize greenhouse gas [GHG] concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” (UNFCCC). The governments that have ratified the UNFCCC are known as the Parties to the Convention, and they meet every year in the Conference of the Parties [COP] since 1995. Today, there are 197 parties (Allan et al., 2017).

COP21 Logo

The two most important meetings [COPs] elaborated the Kyoto Protocol [COP3, Japan] and the Paris Agreement [COP21], which established the framework for avoiding global temperature to rise this century above 2 degrees Celsius comparing pre-industrial levels. The Agreement establishes Nationally Determined Contributions, which are GHG reductions determined by each country, individually and unilaterally (UNFCCC).

Issue: Energy

I decided to focus on energy during the COP23 because of its massive impact on climate change. We cannot achieve the commitments established in the Paris Agreement if we do not launch a revolution in the energy sector. The main source of energy in the planet comes from fossil fuels, and fossil fuels are the main responsible for the greenhouse effect that is changing our environment. If we manage to reduce the use [and abuse] of fossil fuels, we can diminish our emissions and make of the Paris Agreement a feasible document.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) the world’s total primary energy supply [TPES] for 2015 was 13,647 Mtoe: 81.4% of the this number comes from fossil fuels. This number varies among countries and regions, but overall, the vast majority has fossil fuels as a preponderant source in their matrices.

Pumpjack on an oil well.

Although renewable energy generation world-wide has been growing at a rate of 3.6% per year since 1990 [rate that is faster than the total electricity generation growth rate: 2.9%], their total amount in the TPES remains relatively low [at least if we plan to reach the goals signed in the Paris Agreement] (IEA). We need to address this issue urgently.

The Energy Day

November 10th was the “Energy Day” at COP23 and panels were organized to tell the story of ongoing energy transformations, success cases, announce commitments made and offer recommendations for the future.

COP23 Logo

There were four main panels during the Energy Day: The State of Play, Enabling Change, Catalyzing Action and Accelerating Progress. All four of them counted with the exposition of diverse sectors including government, civil society, companies, international institutions and academia [clic here for a detailed description of each panel’s participants and here for the video of these panels]. The panels overall highlighted the increasing adoption of renewable energies due to a decrease in their costs.

Conclusions from the panels:

  1. Fossil fuels remain a very important source of energy all over the world.
  2. The energy transformation needs to take place now.
  3. Energy transformation towards renewable energies can also serve as a means to gain energy access in areas where there is no electricity at all.
  4. Energy transformation and energy efficiency as”two sides of the same coin” [Adnan Z. Amin].
  5. Investment is key for catalyzing this process.
  6. All stakeholders need to work together: government, companies, individuals, NGOs, international institutions, financial entities.

Main Outcomes

Powering Past Coal Alliance

Lead by the United Kingdom and Canada, the Powering Past Coal Alliance is a commitment signed by countries and cities that seek to reduce the use of coal following the goals from the Paris Agreement. According to the document, coal-fired power plants produce almost 40% of global electricity today, contributing to climate change and to detrimental health conditions [respiratory diseases and premature deaths]. Analysis from the document say that 800,00 people die each year in the world from the pollution generated by burning coal.

A protester holds a sign against coal and dirty energy during COP23 at Bonn, Germany, November 15, 2017. Picture from Voa News.

IEA Clean Energy Transitions Program

On November 7th, 2017, IEA launched the Clean Energy Transitions Program to support clean energy transitions around the world. During COP23, this Program was given 30 million Euros by 13 countries [including Canada, Denmark, the European Commission, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom].

The program will provide technical support for countries [especially developing countries] in order for them to adopt renewable energies.

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