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Climate and Energy Policy in the Global Context

October 17, 2014

by Brandon Huck, Coordinator, UNA-SNY Energy Project

On September 17, the Southern New York Division’s (SNY) Energy Project held an event entitled “Climate and Energy Policy in the Global Context” at the UN Foundation Office in Manhattan. The featured speakers were Tapio Kanninen, PhD and George Garland, DBA.   David Stillman, PhD, a UNA-SNY Division board member and Executive Director, Public-Private Alliance Foundation, served as the event’s moderator. The nearly 30 other participants included UN staff and consultants, UNA members, professionals from various fields, faculty, and students. The event coincided with the lead up to Climate Action Week in New York City.

Dr. Kanninen’s presentation began with graphs depicting how the recent growth in fossil fuel emissions is increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, matching historically high average temperatures and leading to sea level rises. Dr. Kanninen also posed a series of questions related to global energy consumption patterns and the need to produce more energy from renewable sources to displace the world’s heavy reliance on fossil fuels. Among his key points were:

– Increased demand and use of fossil fuels from the ‘BRICS’ and other rapidly developing countries is only adding to the already unsustainable levels of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere.

– Only 30-40 percent of current proven fossil-fuel reserves can be burnt to have a reasonable chance of remaining below the 2°C target increase in the earths’ average temperature. Yet the flow of investments into fossil energy is about 3-4 times bigger than into renewable energy sources.
– Present alternative energy sources – primarily solar, wind, and nuclear—contribute only a small proportion of global energy supplies relative to fossil fuels and would not sustain current global economic growth.

– The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is marshalling experts from various fields in robust dialogue and reporting about climate change’s causes and effects. However, its call to “double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix” is not enough on its own.

– One proposed market solution is a cap-and-trade system and this option will be included in the climate change discussions at the 2015 Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Paris.

– Global challenges are more than interconnected than ever, but humans consistently underestimate the impact or threat from these connections.

Dr. Kanninen finished by underscoring that the change of focus from short-term to long-term sustainable development goals (SDGs) is not going to be easy. Therefore, there is a need to educate people at all levels about the climate change crisis and to provide ways for them to do their part to help stem the tide of climate change.

Dr. Garland started by noting that China has passed the U.S. in total CO2 emissions, with the U.S. now second and India third. However, the U.S. still leads by far in per capita emissions. Meanwhile, the EU altogether produces about half the level of U.S. emissions.

He also pointed to several facts from recent reports and studies on the impact of current energy consumption:

– An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report predicts that at current energy use rates, the world will miss the proposed carbon reduction goals by a factor of more than two.

– The OECD’s International Energy Agency foresees world energy consumption being up 56% by 2040, with approximately 90% of the increase coming from countries outside the OECD.

– US Energy Information Agency foresees a 25% increase in power generation by 2040, with one-third of increase coming from renewables and two-thirds coming from natural gas.

– A recent McKinsey report indicated that the US could reduce its energy consumption by 20% through efficiency programs. Although more than 75% of US states now have energy efficiency requirements, state and local governments must continue to take the lead in innovating.

– The US is stymied from taking more action at the federal government level to reduce emissions due to either political stalemate between the President and U.S. Congress or because of legal barriers, such as state lawsuits against energy use regulations proposed by the EPA and other agencies.

– One corrective measure that could be used is implementation of a tax on carbon emissions.

– Bangladesh offers an example of a government that is encouraging its people to change their behaviors, for example by promoting solar power, by taxing energy usage, and by cooperating with private enterprises to identify effective incentive programs.

Dr. Garland concluded his remarks by warning that the UN’s ‘Sustainable Energy for All’ initiative is likely to be insufficient in solving for the lack or limited access to energy that 1 billion people suffer from daily.

Resources

Click here for a video of the event

You can receive Dr. Kanninen’s presentation and Dr. Garland’s notes by emailing a request to: unasouthernny@gmail.com.

UN Global Pulse: Features the work of scientists and statisticians who produce data on climate change.

Climate Action:  Climate Action works with the UN Environment Program to establish and build partnerships between business, government and public bodies to accelerate international sustainable development and advance the ‘green economy,’ partly through media.

Climate Reality Project: The Climate Reality Project trains individuals as speakers available to the public to discuss climate change topics and provides other opportunities personal involvement and action.

‘The Future of Energy‘: A new non-profit film about the clean energy revolution.  The site provides action plans and opportunities for screening the film.

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