Ac­tion urged to fight cli­mate change

IEA di­rec­tor hope­ful agency and partners can lead the world out of global predica­ment

China Daily European Weekly - - Last Word - By LIU JIA in Brus­sels For China Daily

The In­ter­na­tional En­ergy Agency’s mem­bers and its partners can help lead the world out of its cli­mate predica­ment, says IEA Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Fatih Birol.

That is his mes­sage as representatives of around 200 coun­tries gather in Poland for the 24th United Nations Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change, also known as COP 24. Birol, from Turkey, is urg­ing gov­ern­ments to find solutions and limit global warm­ing ef­fi­ciently.

“Cli­mate change and en­ergy are very close, be­cause about 85 per­cent of car­bon diox­ide emis­sions come from the en­ergy sec­tor,” Birol says.

The 30-mem­ber IEA, founded in 1974 in the wake of the 1973 Arab oil cri­sis, in­cludes 22 Euro­pean coun­tries, Ja­pan, the United States and Canada. China joined the Paris-based group in 2015, as one of its eight as­so­ci­a­tion coun­tries. The IEA’s mis­sion is to en­sure re­li­able, af­ford­able and clean en­ergy for its mem­ber coun­tries and be­yond.

Birol says the IEA is closely watch­ing this year’s UN cli­mate change con­fer­ence, which is tak­ing place in the Pol­ish city of Ka­tow­ice from Dec 2 to 14. He says he hopes the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity will take rapid ac­tion to avoid cli­mate catas­tro­phe.

“When gov­ern­ments make de­ci­sions on en­ergy, they have to think about it in terms of af­ford­abil­ity — the en­ergy price will have an im­pact on eco­nomic growth and con­sumers’ pock­ets, em­ploy­ment and the en­vi­ron­ment foot­print. We have to look at all of these is­sues to­gether,” he says.

Birol points out that the en­ergy sec­tor has a cru­cial role to play in com­bat­ing cli­mate change, and all nations must rec­og­nize that their poli­cies on en­ergy tran­si­tion will have sig­nif­i­cant im­pacts on the shared fu­ture.

Be­fore tak­ing over as ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor in 2015, Birol had served IEA for two decades as chief economist and di­rec­tor of global en­ergy eco­nomics, re­spon­si­ble for the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s World En­ergy Outlook pub­li­ca­tion. The 60-year-old en­ergy ex­pert founded and chaired the IEA En­ergy Busi­ness Coun­cil, which pro­vides a fo­rum for co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the en­ergy in­dus­try and pol­i­cy­mak­ers. Apart from his role at the in­sti­tu­tion, he is also the chair­man of the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum’s en­ergy ad­vi­sory board and a mem­ber of the UN sec­re­tary­gen­eral’s High-Level Group on Sus­tain­able En­ergy for All.

Ac­cord­ing to the United Nations, this year marks the dead­line agreed on by the sign­ers of the Paris Agree­ment to adopt a work pro­gram for the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the com­mit­ments. Other pledges that global lead­ers made at COP21 in Paris, such as in­creas­ing fi­nanc­ing for cli­mate ac­tion and de­vel­op­ing na­tional cli­mate plans by 2020, will also be re­viewed.

The two-week ne­go­ti­a­tions in Poland are ex­pected to fi­nal­ize the im­ple­men­ta­tion guide­lines and pro­duce a rule book on how to carry out the land­mark 2015 Paris cli­mate ac­cord, which aims to limit the rise in global tem­per­a­tures to be­tween 1.5 C and 2 C.

“I am re­ally wor­ried there is a grow­ing dis­con­nect be­tween the calls from dif­fer­ent in­ter­na­tional bod­ies and what is hap­pen­ing in the real en­ergy mar­ket,” Birol says, re­fer­ring to the lat­est warn­ings made by sev­eral United Nations agen­cies on ac­cel­er­ated global warm­ing.

He refers to the warn­ing in Novem­ber by the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change, a UN body, that the world is not cut­ting emis­sions fast enough.

“When the IPCC an­nounced there is an ur­gent need to cut emis­sions, we, the In­ter­na­tional En­ergy Agency, an­nounced that global emis­sions will reach a his­tor­i­cal high in 2018, a sig­nif­i­cant rise,” he says.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased by the UN En­vi­ron­ment Pro­gramme on Nov 27, to­tal an­nual green­house gas emis­sions reached a record high of 53.5 bil­lion tons in 2017 af­ter three years of de­creases. UNEP’s Emis­sions Gap Re­port also es­ti­mates that global green­house gas emis­sions in 2030 could be be­tween 13 bil­lion and 15 bil­lion tons, which is more than the level needed to keep global warm­ing within 2 C this cen­tury.

“I think that many coun­tries around the world could take cli­mate change se­ri­ously. But when I look at the in­ter­na­tional de­ter­mi­na­tion to tackle cli­mate change a few years ago and to­day, I see, in gen­eral, that there was a greater ap­petite three years ago from po­lit­i­cal lead­ers around the world. But I hope this trend can be re­versed some­time soon,” Birol says. “Such a dis­con­nect can only be solved through in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the gov­ern­ments all around the world.”

On the side­lines of the G20 sum­mit in Ar­gentina on Nov 30, China, France and the UN re­it­er­ated firm com­mit­ment to fight­ing cli­mate change and call­ing for ef­fec­tive and trans­par­ent im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Paris Agree­ment in all as­pects.

Ac­cord­ing to the G20 joint state­ment, lead­ers look for­ward to a suc­cess­ful out­come at the COP24 cli­mate change con­fer­ence, de­spite the with­drawal of the United States from the Paris Agree­ment.

In line with the goals set by the Paris Agree­ment, the Talanoa Di­a­logue, man­dated by the United Nations Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change, is a process de­signed to help coun­tries im­ple­ment and en­hance their na­tion­ally de­ter­mined con­tri­bu­tions by 2020.

In ad­di­tion, the United States has af­firmed its strong com­mit­ment to en­ergy ac­cess and se­cu­rity, uti­liz­ing all en­ergy sources and tech­nolo­gies, while pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment. The G20 economies all agreed to seek pos­si­ble na­tional paths aim­ing to achieve en­ergy tran­si­tion to­ward a low-emis­sions fu­ture.

Con­fronted with en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges, one un­doubtable im­per­a­tive is to reach for tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances, Birol says.

Ac­cord­ing to IEA’s Re­new­ables 2018 re­port, re­new­able en­ergy sources used in meet­ing global en­ergy de­mand are ex­pected to grow by one­fifth in the next five years to reach 12.4 per­cent in 2023. Re­new­ables are fore­cast to meet more than 70 per­cent of global elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion growth by 2023, led by so­lar pho­to­voltaic and fol­lowed by wind, hy­dropower, and bioen­ergy.

“When we look at the num­bers, re­new­able en­ergy is grow­ing very strongly and re­new­ables’ share in the en­ergy mix is in­creas­ing, thanks to the drop in cost and pol­icy sup­port from ma­jor economies such as China, which is the global leader for both so­lar PV and wind power, Euro­pean coun­tries and the US,” Birol says.

“But in or­der to solve the cli­mate problems, re­new­ables alone are not enough. We also need other new other ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies, clean tech­nolo­gies such as nu­clear power, car­bon cap­ture and stor­age, elec­tric cars and so on,” he says.

From his point of view, China is play­ing a key role in shap­ing the fu­ture of low-car­bon en­ergy tech­nolo­gies by lead­ing in­vest­ment and in­no­va­tion of cleaner en­ergy sources. Birol says the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has made enor­mous ef­forts to­ward low­car­bon en­ergy tran­si­tion, with the aim to achieve the fastest and great­est progress in tack­ling cli­mate is­sues.

“Firstly, China is push­ing for zero car­bon tech­nolo­gies, in­clud­ing so­lar, wind, hy­dropower, nu­clear power and car­bon cap­ture and stor­age. Sec­ondly, China is re­plac­ing coal with gas. China to­day is over­tak­ing Ja­pan to be­come the world’s largest im­porter of nat­u­ral gas. The nat­u­ral gas is help­ing to re­duce the lo­cal pol­lu­tion in cities in or­der to make the skies of China blue again. Thirdly, China is work­ing closely with the IEA, try­ing to im­prove en­ergy ef­fi­ciency,” he says.

“If I can give you three top projects, one is to in­te­grate re­new­able en­er­gies in the best way to the Chi­nese elec­tric­ity grades; sec­ond is how we can make sure that the China gas mar­ket and rel­e­vant reg­u­la­tion is de­signed in the best way so that the gas be­comes a sig­nif­i­cant part of the Chi­nese en­ergy mix; and third, like Europe, China is de­sign­ing its emis­sions trad­ing sys­tem. It will be the world’s largest car­bon mar­ket. We are help­ing the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment to de­liver the best,” he says.

In ad­di­tion to closer ties with the IEA, Birol also ex­pects more close co­op­er­a­tion be­tween China and its mem­bers on in­vest­ment in sus­tain­able in­fra­struc­ture.

“I hope to see that the Chi­nese emis­sions peak sooner than later, which will be good news for Chi­nese peo­ple, and also for the rest of the world,” he says.


Fatih Birol, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional En­ergy Agency, says in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion is the key to tack­ling cli­mate change.

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