Is climate change reversible?

The IEA’s World Energy Outlook for 2011 was released yesterday in London, which takes a look at the latest data and policy developments to provide an analysis of today’s global energy markets and the outlook for the next 25 years. The main issue that becomes clear in this report is that limiting global warming to a ‘safe’ 2°C is becoming more and more unrealistic. This is not too much of a surprise if you look at data that was revealed back in May by the International Energy Agency (IEA), that despite the worst recession for 80 years, emissions had risen by a record amount in 2010.

A deadline has been given of 2017 for new international climate action to take place; if this is not seen then limiting global temperature rise to a safe level may no longer be achievable.

This warning came just 18 days before the start of the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) in Durban. It was planned, after a series of delays, that this would be the year for introducing a successor to the Kyoto protocol, as there have been no signed agreements since. But, it seems that despite the urgent need for us to change our way of supplying and using energy, there is very little in the way of encouragement from some of our world leaders. The UK is amongst a number of countries that want to postpone the talks for a few years, in the hope of getting a plan into action by 2020. By the IEA’s Chief Economist, Fatih Birol’s calculations, this will be too late.


Fossil fuel subsidies are now 6 times higher than those for clean energy

It seems that in the midst of the recent global economic crisis, tackling climate change has slid down the priority list. Not only that, but our current attitudes towards energy efficiency and carbon emissions are as if scientists have not been warning us about it for the past two decades. This is illustrated quite nicely by the fact that fossil fuel subsidies (which are still rising) are now 6 times higher than those for clean energy. Quite clearly, we are taking far too many steps in the wrong direction. Our existing energy infrastructure accounts for 80% of the total energy-related carbon emissions that are allowed by 2035 if we are to limit warming to 2°C, yet USA, Europe and the UK all have plans for new fossil-fuelled power stations. These will contribute significantly to increasing, rather than curbing, greenhouse gas emissions. The current nuclear power situation is also likely to lead to increased emissions, as the Fukushima disaster has led to the decision by some to abandon nuclear energy all together. The investment in renewable energy is going to have be much higher than previously thought to make up for the nuclear energy gap, especially if you consider that the demand for energy is only going to increase, quite substantially, in the near future.


So, rather a pessimistic outlook for future climate change and this has been without looking at the ever increasing emissions from developing countries. I suppose we have to trust that our World Leaders will manage to agree to something in Durban that will hopefully be one positive step towards limiting global temperature rise.