The energy system is at the beginning of an inevitable transition, which has a focus on renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable development. Transitions will occur more rapidly and look differently in some parts of the world than others. Driving the transition is a range of factors including growing prosperity, changes in resource availability, technology & cost developments, political imperatives, shifting social norms and ever increasing environmental concerns.
The two fundamental and strongest influences behind the energy system transition is a growing population and climate change. There is broad acknowledgment and consensus that the world’s population is expected to grow to 9 billion people by 2050. In addition to this increase, more people will be coming out of poverty and having access to energy for the first time. This will be more so in emerging economies such as China and India, where people will want access to basic ‘luxuries’ that many high income countries enjoy such as electricity, a TV set, a fridge. According to The International Energy Agency (IEA), energy demand could double by 2050, from its baseline just a few years ago.
Following publication of a series of reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) there is now significant consensus and not much debate over the scale of the problem and the impacts of climate change. If left alone, and not considered the impacts will be severe, irreversible and will include rising global warming, rising sea levels and acidity and extreme weather events such as floods and storms. The publications from the IPCC bring a necessary wake-up call. The IPCC warns that ’warming of the climate system is unequivocal and unprecedented, with emissions rising faster than ever before’.
Key questions that need to be asked are how are we going to tackle the rising growing energy demand and global warming? How do we build a sustainable energy future? How do we ensure we act now and swiftly before time runs out? The hard truth is that time is passing and CO2 emissions are accelerating.
There is little doubt that the impact of climate change on the environment, and on economies is of great concern to governments, civil society and to the private sector. However the debate is polarized on many fronts. For example one issue is that developing nations say high income countries, which have historically produced the most C02 since the Industrial Revolution, must do far more to cut emissions since they are responsible for climate change. Meanwhile high income countries are saying emerging economies, such as China have to accept both a cap on emissions and a reduction for real progress to actually occur.