A Small Group Of Countries Can Trigger Global Energy System Decarbonization

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In examining the trends behind the initial transformation and decarbonization of the global energy system, the Climate Action Tracker has concluded that not only are the current changes driven by a small coalition of countries and sub-national actors, but that all that is needed to accelerate global decarbonization is for these smaller coalitions to continue driving rapid transitions.

The Climate Action Tracker published a new report this week, Faster & Cleaner 2: kick-starting global decarbonisation, which concluded that “Triggering a global transformation of our energy systems as required by the Paris Agreement does not take the whole world–it can be started by just a small group of countries.” Specifically, while we have definitely seen transformational changes to the power and transport sectors, these changes have been led by a small group of countries and sub-national actors, which have in turned affected the global market and developed the technologies so far that change has escaped the boundaries of those initiating it and impacted a wider circle of countries.

“Germany, Denmark, and Spain introduced strong policy packages to encourage renewable energy, providing signals to investors and developers to invest in the new technologies,” said Markus Hagemann, of NewClimate Institute and lead author of the report. “Next came the UK and Italy, and then China, whose bulk manufacture — especially in solar technology — provided economies of scale.”

What did these policy packages result in? According to the report, between 2006 and 2015, installed wind power capacity increased by a whopping 600%, and solar energy capacity increased by a mind-blowing 3,500%. Experts believe that, by 2030, solar PV is expected to become the cheapest energy generation source in most countries.

“There is still a long way to go toward total decarbonisation, but the power sector has picked up huge momentum,” said Hagemann.

“The policy packages of early movers included strong financial support schemes such as feed-in tariffs as well as mid to long term renewable energy targets,” added Andrzej Ancygier, of Climate Analytics. “These gave certainty to investors and triggered the massive growth and price drops we see today. This initiated the wide spread application of such instruments where, by 2015, 146 countries had implemented such support schemes.”

A similar trend has been observed in the transport sector, with the production of electric drive vehicles helping to drive more than one million sales in 2016.

“The same formula can be applied to electric cars — while they have further to go than renewable energy, all the signs are there for the decarbonisation of this sector to take off,” explained Sebastian Sterl, of NewClimate Institute. “Again, we find this change was started by just a few key players, this time Norway, the Netherlands, California and, more recently, China.”

According to Climate Action Tracker, the drive that we have seen in the power and transport sectors is based in part on policy packages that are able to help kick-start the sector, focusing on technology takeup, campaigns on changing consumer behavior, and research & development. The authors of the report believe that “transformative coalitions” of a small number of countries and sub-national actors can introduce and focus on these sorts of policy packages, tailored to the specific situations of each country and region. “This strategy would ensure effective policy implementation in a number of countries, triggering a global market dynamic,” the authors found.

“We conclude that single countries and a diverse set of actors within them taking action in parallel has, in some sectors, led to dynamics that are shifting global markets,” the authors of the report noted. However, and somewhat unsurprisingly, while these changes are being made, “the pace of technology deployment is not sufficiently rapid to meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.”

Further, the report found that a “transformative coalition of countries and sub-national actors in the building sector could accelerate the sector’s decarbonization” — starting at first in the countries making the changes, and then slowly moving into the wider global sector. The authors of the report — from the three organizations that make up the Climate Action Tracker — Climate Analytics, Ecofys, and the NewClimate Institute, as well as experts from the ClimateWorks Foundation — showed that the global building sector has seen only “modest progress” and “lags far behind its technological potential.” In 2010, the building sector accounted for 19% of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions through the use of heating and cooling, appliances, and cooking. However, while there are proven technological solutions to driving down emissions for the sector, the report found that “they are aplied primarily at the margin and in niche markets.”

“With the building sector, there are proven technological solutions that can result in new, zero-carbon buildings,” said Yvonne Deng of Ecofys, a Navigant company. “Innovative financial mechanisms to increase the rate of retrofitting buildings, as well as good examples of building codes for new builds, would drive adoption of these technologies.”

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Joshua S Hill

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at about.me for more.

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