6/27 The Stark Challenges of Climate Change and Renewable Energy
As manager of DVRPC’s Office of Energy and Climate Change Initiatives, my eye is always drawn to events that address both issues. Thus, I was excited to be invited to attend Energy and Climate: One Day Two Great Events, an all-day event on May 4th at Rutgers University, sponsored by Rutgers Energy Institute, Climate Institute, and School of Arts and Sciences. The morning was billed as the Eleventh Annual Rutgers Energy Institute Energy Symposium, and the afternoon as Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability: From the IPCC to New Jersey Practitioners. The presenters included national and global experts on energy and climate change, including the both current chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and a former IPCC chair.
Among the speakers was Dr. Richard Newell, Founding Director of the Duke University Energy Initiative, and the former Administrator of the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the agency responsible for official U.S. government energy statistics and analysis. Rich and I were friends in grad school, so I was particularly interested in hearing him speak.
Dr. Newell’s talk was wide-ranging, sharing his thoughts on global energy supply and demand over the rest of the century, with attention to the impacts of that energy on global warming. He summarized the dilemma we face: meeting energy demand is core to economic improvement, yet both the production and use of energy harms the environment. While U.S. coal and oil use peaked in 2005, the big drivers in the global energy technology and fuel market is new demand from developing countries as their citizens’ demands for improved standard of living begin to be met. This demand for energy is growing so rapidly that it outstrips the growth in clean energy, so it will of necessity be met largely by fossil fuels—coal in electricity generation and oil in transportation.
Dr. Newell provided some hope: there is tremendous progress being made to reduce CO2 in energy production—low-carbon electricity is the fastest growing sector of new electricity generation in the U.S. And the use of energy has become much more efficient, both in stationary applications (buildings and equipment) and in transportation—progress in electric vehicles and in the fuel efficiency of internal combustion engines, not to mention the progress being made in distributed generation, energy storage, and demand response. Greater Philadelphia could be doing much more in this area—increase the solar requirements in the AEPS, change regulations to encourage distributed generation, etc. We need to continue to appeal to PJM, PECO, the PUC, the Wolf administration, and the legislature to do what is needed to help speed the transition to low- and no carbon energy.
However, the magnitude of the transformation required is daunting. Energy-producing and energy-using capital stock is widely distributed and generally privately owned. This capital will be replaced with cleaner, low- or no-carbon production of energy, more efficient energy-using capital. However, this transition will take time, and will not happen globally at a rate fast enough to meet rising global energy demand. Dr. Newell estimated that if all the technology and policy stars align to make the global transition to cleaner energy as easy as possible, global CO2 emissions would level off and start to decline by 2030 or so, reaching zero by late in the century, leveling off with a global atmospheric CO2 concentration on the order of 500 ppm.
Dr. Newell highlighted three areas where we need to focus our national and global policy efforts to assure we move as fast as possible to a low- or no-carbon global energy system. They are:
In a later session, Sir Robert Watson, PhD, Director of Strategic Development at the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, and Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from 1997 to 2002, among many distinguished positions, presented his views on the prospects for global action to be taken on reducing GHGs, and the future global climate we can expect given those prospects.
Sir Robert said that his most optimistic view is that end-of-the-century global warming—requiring, for instance, that the $100 billion dollars per year investment in helping developing countries reduce their GHG emissions promised in Paris actually occurs—will reach 3°C to 4°C, or 4°F to 7°F. Sir Robert noted that this level of global temperature rise will mean higher temperature over land. The impacts on ecosystems and economies are difficult to grasp. Unfortunately, my own reading on global climate change indicates that Sir Robert’s optimistic outcome—as stark as it is—are indeed a best case. Hence the importance DVRPC is giving to helping prepare our region for the impacts of climate change.
The day left me with a sense of the stark challenge we face as world, and the deep importance of doing everything we can to wean the world off of fossil fuels. As Dr. Newell noted, the challenges of climate change and energy can be overwhelming, and require mental resilience. However, it also left me with a lot of hope. The issues of clean energy and climate change are no longer fringe issues. They are at the center of national and global conversations. The Paris agreement is a step in the right direction, albeit not far or fast enough. Progress is being made on the technology, the policies needed to help that technology are being adopted more rapidly than many thought, and the economics are moving rapidly in the right direction. We have a long way to go, and we will have to prepare for climate change as we transition our energy system. But the work is essential and worth all the effort we can give it.
Rob Graff, Manager, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission- Mr. Graff manages the Office of Energy and Climate Change Initiatives for the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), the MPO and regional planning forum for the nine counties and 5.5 M people of Greater Philadelphia. Prior to joining the Commission in 2007, Mr. Graff was an Associate Scientist at Tellus Institute in Boston, where he helped create the Global Reporting Initiative, now the global standard for corporate sustainability reporting. He earned a Master of Public Affairs and Urban & Regional Planning degree from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University.
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