Importance of Natural Resources

Which kind of energy transition would help tackle climate change?


Energy is key to human life. We need
energy to grow the food we eat, to transport the products that we
consume but also to generate the electricity we use. This has been true
all over human history. At the beginning we were using mostly biomass and animal strength. With the first Industrial Revolution we started to use coal as a
key energy source. Later on, we started also to use oil, and
this remains true today. Our consumption of coal has been increasing over time.
The same goes for our consumption of oil but also of nuclear, natural gas, and
renewables. The history of energy is therefore very much the history of
energy additions where we have added on top of one another different energy
sources. This led to a rise in carbon dioxide emissions. As we kept on
consuming more and more coal, oil and gas we kept on emitting more and more carbon
dioxide in the atmosphere and this is now the main cause [of] climate change. Climate change is the main reason why we talk about the energy transition today in Europe. But the term energy
transition had a different meaning in the past. The term energy transition was
created in the 1970s by the US administration of President Jimmy Carter
and it was used at the time to describe the main challenge of US policy in the
70s which was to decrease the US dependence on imports of Arabic oil. In
the 80s a new word was created in German and this word is ‘energiwende’ it means
energy turn and it was created by the German greens in order to describe what
was their perception of the main political
challenge for German energy policy which was to turn away from nuclear energy. But
when we talk about the energy transition today in Europe, we talk about a
transition that we want to do in order to fight climate change. It is a
transition away from a dirty past and towards a clean energy future. It is a
transition from an inefficient system towards an efficient system. It is a
transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources. So this energy transition away from a dirty path towards a clean energy future, is it a
reality today in Europe? Let’s have a look at the data. In Europe
energy demand has been increasing over time until 2006. In the year 2006, for the
first time in modern European history, energy demand Europe started to decrease. This is the first positive piece of news. As we consume less energy we also tend
to consume less fossil fuels. The second good piece of news has to do with the
energy supply in Europe. When we look at the energy sources that make the energy
mix of Europeans today, we see that oil, coal and gas have diminished but they do
still account for around 75 percent of the energy mix. The only energy source in
Europe that has been increasing over the last 15 years are renewable energy
sources. Therefore Europe is already engaged in
the energy transition. In Europe we are already consuming energy more
efficiently and consuming more renewables. Therefore our consumption
of fossil fuels and the carbon dioxide emissions of our energy system are
decreasing, but this is not enough. If we really want to fight climate change, if
we really want to keep global warming below 2 degrees as it is said in the Paris climate agreement, we need to do much
more and much faster. The first thing is about the global challenge. Fighting
climate change cannot be done by Europe on its own. It is a global endeavor
because what matters in the end our global greenhouse gas emissions, and
innovation here is key. Because Europe maybe accounts only for 7% of the
global population, only 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions but Europe does account for 20% of the global economy and around 1/3 of the high-level
scientific publications. And it is therefore through innovation that Europe
can play a major role in the global fight against climate change. The second
reason why the European energy transition is not enough today
it has to do with the speed of the transition. When we look at climate
science the International Panel on Climate Change tells us that we need to
reduce carbon dioxide emissions very quickly, very fast, and we should reach a
near zero carbon dioxide emissions level in the 2050 decade. If we want to do that
at that speed we need a lot of innovation in Europe, we need a lot of
innovation across the board. We need to have innovative business models,
innovative behaviors, innovative technologies, and first and foremost
innovative policies, and this is what this course is about.


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