June 19, 2012 Access to clean, reliable and affordable energy is one of the major sustainability and human development challenges of the 21st Century. Energy empowers communities, yet reliance on traditional and fossil energy sources has escalated concern about the safety and security of energy supplies in many regions of the world, created enormous inequity, reduced life expectancy, and contributed to many environmental issues, including climate change and ecosystem degradation.
What can be done to help societies continue to develop in a sustainable way and what will be the costs and benefits of achieving this new, clean and equitable energy future?
The key findings of the Global Energy Assessment (GEA) were released on June 19th during the RIO+20 Conference on Sustainable Development. The GEA, the most comprehensive and first ever fully integrated global assessment of energy systems, involving many of the world's leading energy specialists, outlines a range of resources, technologies, policy options and pathways that would facilitate a transformation of energy systems and address these challenges. These necessary changes will require significant investment in new energy infrastructure, major improvements in energy efficiency -- particularly in the building and transport sectors -- decarbonization of fossil-fuel based energy systems, and investment in the development and use of renewable energy sources.
The GEA analysis finds that such a transformation is economically viable and the co-benefits to human health and the environment more than balance the up-front investments needed to bring about this transformation. Additionally these investments would enable the delivery of clean, sustainable energy to the 1.4 billion people living without electricity and the 3 billion without access to modern cooking fuels or devices. This could be achieved without additional increases in greenhouse gas emissions.
The GEA analysis indicates that a rapid transformation to clean energy technologies would require an increase in annual investments from present levels of approximately $US1.3 trillion to $US1.7 trillion, about two percent of current world gross domestic product. The difference corresponds roughly to the current energy subsidies that are often impeding the needed transformational change.
A major finding of the GEA is that some energy options provide multiple benefits. This is particularly true of energy efficiency, renewables, and the co-production of synthetic transportation fuels, cooking fuels, and electricity with CCS, which offer advantages in terms of supporting all of the goals related to economic growth, jobs, energy security, local and regional environmental benefits, health, and climate change mitigation.
The GEA explores sixty alternative energy transformation pathways and finds that forty-one of these pathways simultaneously satisfy the following goals:
- Universal access to affordable modern energy carriers and end-use conversion (especially electricity and clean cooking) by 2030;
- Enhanced energy security at regional and national levels;
- Climate change mitigation (contain global mean temperature increase to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, with a probability of at least 50%); and
- Improved human and environmental health by controlling household and ambient air pollution, ocean acidification, and deforestation.
The GEA considers all aspects of energy, inclusive of sectors that intersect with the energy system (such as health, water, transport, building, land-use, and forestry) and offers direction for all sectors and regions on how to achieve necessary reforms.
Involving more than 500 scientists, policymakers, industry specialists, and energy experts, from 70 countries, the GEA is unique in that it involves specialists from a broad range of interests and disciplines that intersect with energy (e.g. health, environment, economics, and security).
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The above story is based on materials provided by International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.
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