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Energy to 2050, Scenarios for a Sustainable Future, 2003

Energy to 2050, Scenarios for a Sustainable Future, 2003


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Published by: i-people on Mar 28, 2008
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With respect to climate change, the main consideration used in the
scenario development is that the global energy/economy system would
find itself on a GHG emissions path that does not cause "dangerous
anthropogenic interference with the climate system" (Article 2 of the
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change-1992).
However, there is still considerable uncertainty as to what emission levels
and rates constitute such "dangerous interference".

Some basic facts help constrain this element of the analysis. The climate
system is controlled by a large number of factors, many of which are beyond
human control. However, since the industrial era began, the increase of
emissions connected to human use of fuels or of land has been progressing
at an unprecedented pace. CO2and some other greenhouse gases are long-
lived, i.e. tend to stay for a long time in the atmosphere. When the rate of
emission of CO2is significantly higher than the rate at which it is absorbed


3.A Normative Scenario to 2050: the SD Vision Scenario

by the ecosystem, as is the case presently, emissions concentrations
increase. This increase, in turn, leads to temperature changes.

In practice we are unable to pinpoint with satisfactory accuracy the extent
of possible damage stemming from any specific increase in average
temperatures. Furthermore, inertia in the climate system is such that the
change in temperature will take place only gradually and reach a new
equilibrium level only over hundreds of years. By the time this change
occurs, it will be too late to act to avoid it. The equilibrium temperature
change over the next 100 years has been estimated by the IPCC (2001a)
to lie between 1.4°C and 5.8°C.

Uncertainties make it difficult to estimate the risk. However, we know that
human activities lead to emissions at a rate substantially higher than the
global ecosystem can absorb. If we want to stabilise emissions at any level,
we need ultimately to reach a point in which net emissions are close to
zero. To get to that point, we will first need to reverse the current trend of
rapidly increasing emissions, especially those stemming from the energy
sector, currently of about 22.6 billion tons per year (if we only consider
CO2, as done in the IEA World Energy Outlook 2002) and increasing at
about 1.1% per year.

The IPCC third Assessment Report computed distinct emissions trajectories
compatible with different stabilisation levels of emissions concentration.
These trajectories have themselves a significant range of variation. If for
instance we assume a target of 550 parts per million volume (ppmv) for
emissions stabilisation by the end of this century, then cumulative carbon
emissions over the 21st

century cannot exceed 4033 GtCO2(in an
optimistic estimate) and global emissions should peak between 2020 and
2030 and start decreasing afterwards. In fact, global emissions would
need to fall below 1990 levels before 2100, and perhaps as early as 2030
(see IPCC TAR Synthesis Report, Table 6.1). If the goal is more ambitious
(450 ppmv stabilisation) we need to limit cumulative carbon emissions
over this century to between 1340 and 2680 GtCO2and start reducing
emissions between 2005 and 2015. Less stringent emissions stabilisation
targets than 550 ppmv would provide more time for adjustment – but
carry larger risks in terms of climate impacts.

Although we know that at some point we will have to reduce global
emissions, the uncertainties that plague every stage of the climate change
cycle make it difficult to gauge more specifically any mitigation strategy1


3.A Normative Scenario to 2050: the SD Vision Scenario

1.For more extensive discussions of the difficulty in identifying long-term targets, especially in the
context of policy action, see J. Pershing and F. Tudela (2003) and C. Philibert et al. (2003).

Only the most aggressive emissions stabilisation strategies seem to be
relatively "safe" (assuming there is consensus on the level of safety) but
these carry fairly high economic costs in terms of foregone income growth,
because they require an emissions reduction effort that with current
technologies is difficult to achieve. On the other hand, less aggressive
strategies risk simply shifting part of the burden (in terms of negative
impacts of climate disruptions on societies in areas of health and natural
amenities and the ability to create wealth) to future generations.

In developing this normative scenario exercise two alternative types of
target were initially considered:

■an arbitrary global emissions reduction target with respect to 2000
levels (similar in structure to that proposed by the Kyoto Protocol); and

■a target focusing on decarbonising the energy supply (for this case,
calling for a given share of zero carbon sources in total world primary
energy supply, by the year 2050).

While the first target, if met, would ensure that global emissions would
indeed be reduced, it has not been acceptable either to the US or Australia
– nor to date, to any developing countries. The second alternative puts a
strong accent on development of non carbon-emitting technology, which
could be a vital precursor to a transition to a non-carbon-based economy,
although not ensuring that emissions will be actually decreasing on a
global level by 2050.

Thus, the second alternative was chosen for this exercise. The selected
target calls for a 60% share of "zero carbon" sources in total world
primary energy supply, by the year 2050.
There is necessarily a high level
of arbitrariness in adopting any precise number for such a long-term target.
Earlier analysis (IEA, 2002a) shows, for instance, that the international
community may not be in the position to adopt firmly a very long term
GHG concentration target that should be reached at all costs. On the
contrary, that analysis suggests that one should perhaps aim at "low"
concentration levels but make full achievement of this aim conditional
upon the level of real abatement costs - which cannot be known today.
However, setting such an aim within this scenario provides a basis for
assessment, and allows for an examination of the types and stringency
of policies that would be required should such a target in fact be

Strictly speaking the qualification of "zero carbon source" may only apply
to energy produced from nuclear fission and renewable technologies (and


3.A Normative Scenario to 2050: the SD Vision Scenario


3.A Normative Scenario to 2050: the SD Vision Scenario

perhaps, later, to nuclear fusion). However in the discussion that follows,
technologies of capture and storage of CO2are fully included, and
considered to reduce emissions by an amount equal to the assumed
storage of CO22

. It is also important to note that, while carbon
sequestration in agriculture and forestry sinks has been considered by
climate negotiators as an acceptable way to mitigate emissions, this
option is not discussed here and the analysis focuses on energy issues.

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