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This blog is expressly directed to readers who do not have strong training or backgrounds in science, with the intent of helping them grasp the underpinnings of this important issue. I'm going to present an ongoing series of posts that will develop various aspects of the science of global warming, its causes and possible methods for minimizing its advance and overcoming at least partially its detrimental effects.

Each post will begin with a capsule summary. It will then proceed with captioned sections to amplify and justify the statements and conclusions of the summary. I'll present images and tables where helpful to develop a point, since "a picture is worth a thousand words".

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The European Union’s Energy Roadmap for 2050

Summary.  The European Union (EU) has issued an Energy Roadmap for 2050.  It calls on the 27 member nations of the EU to reduce energy consumption by 20%, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, and increase use of renewable energy by 20%, with respect to levels in 1990, all by 2020.  Subsequently, the Roadmap sets the goal of decreasing emissions by 80% to 95% below 1990 levels by 2050.  A major contributing mechanism to attaining these goals is the EU’s energy trading system, an emissions cap-and-trade regime. 

Introduction.  Over the last several decades it has become increasingly clear to climate scientists and policy makers that burning of fossil fuels for energy by humans around the globe emit carbon dioxide, CO2, an important greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.  CO2 and other greenhouse gases lead to increased global average temperatures.  These have adverse climatic effects on a regional scale, leading variously to aridity and drought, or extreme rain and floods, and sea level rise, among other harmful effects.

The Kyoto Protocol of 1998. In response to this realization the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) established guidelines for reducing humanity’s emissions of greenhouse gases, in the 1990’s.  The Kyoto Protocol, developed in 1998, established the goal of reducing the emission of CO2 by at least 5%, depending on the nation, below the level for 1990 by the period 2008 to 2012.  The European Union (EU) members at that time acceded to the Protocol with a reduction minimum of 8%, and began implementing programs intended to achieve this goal.  (Today’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, China and the United States, are not covered by the Kyoto Protocol, China because it was considered a developing country and so excluded, and the U. S. because the U. S. Senate voted against accession.) 

The EU has expanded.  The EU has expanded in more recent years, and currently numbers 27 countries, including nations of the former Soviet Union and others, encompassing 500 million people.  As such, climate agreements directed toward the EU cover more countries, with more inhabitants, than at the time of the Kyoto Protocol.  In 2005, the EU began operating its Emissions Trading System (ETS; a “cap-and-trade” regime).

Goals for 2020. The EU recently issued a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% below the levels of 1990 by the year 2020, to increase energy production from renewable sources to 20% and to reduce overall energy use by 20%.  In the period from 1990 to 2009, the gross domestic product of the EU, a measure of the total production of goods and services, grew by 40%, while overall emissions were reduced by 16%.

EU’s Energy Efficiency Goals for 2020 Will Not Be Met Future projections for efficiency improvements based on detailed global and EU modeling and scenario development, however, do not sustain the historical efficiency recorded through 2009, as seen in the following graphic for projections based both on 2007 and 2009.

Mtoe, millions of metric tonnes of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions.
Source, European Commission “Roadmap for moving to a competitive low carbon economy in 2050”, issued in 2011;

As noted in the graphic, policies and activities directed toward reducing energy consumption that are currently in practice would achieve only about a 10% reduction compared to no action (“Business as usual”) by 2020.

The European Union’s Roadmap For a Low Carbon Economy in 2050.  The EU issued its Roadmap for moving to a competitive low carbon economy in 2050” on March 8, 2011.   It was developed using a detailed atmospheric model assembled within the EU.

A Need to Develop the Roadmap.  The Roadmap points out the failing identified above, and others.  Listing reasons for striving toward a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, it identifies benefits for energy security, including relief from the EU’s current increasing dependence on foreign sources for fossil fuels and economic risks arising from unpredictable and higher prices for fuels.  It recognizes that at the time of writing, impacts of severe weather increasingly may have negative impacts on economic development; these include more frequent and/or more severe consequences of extreme weather such as storms and floods, hot weather including heat waves and drought, and rising sea levels.  The following graphic shows such effects as a bar chart of the number of events plotted for each calendar year from 1980 to 2009.

Green: meteorological events such as storms; Blue: hydrological events such as floods; and Yellow: Climatological events such as extreme temperature, drought and forest fires.  The Solid Line is a long-term trend line for the yearly totals.  
Source: European Commission “Roadmap for moving to a competitive low carbon economy in 2050”, issued in 2011;

Even though the year-by-year counts of events show variability, merely a subjective estimate across the time presented in the graphic shows that the counts for the meteorological events (green bars), the hydrological events (purple bars), and climatological events (yellow bars), each in turn, are about 2 to 3 times more numerous by 2006 to 2009 compared to 1980 to 1983.  These increases correlate with increases in emissions of greenhouse gases over this time frame, and with the corresponding increase in average global temperature as well.  Indeed, two reports in the scientific journal Nature in February 2011 for the first time show direct statistical causality between global warming trends and extreme rain and flooding events.  

Global Temperature Objective
.  Furthermore, the Roadmap stands by the objective of restricting global warming to no more than 2°C (3.6°F) above the average global temperature that prevailed prior to the industrial revolution that was agreed to at the Copenhagen (2009) and Cancun (2010) meetings held under the UNFCCC.  Currently the average global temperature has increased by about 0.75°C during that time.  Various climate models predict that further global temperatures may increase anywhere from 1.1°C to 6.4°C beyond today’s level.

Climate Modeling Provides Details on Reductions in Energy Use by Economic Sectors.  The climate model prepared the EU’s energy objectives in the context of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.  In order to keep the globe as a whole on track to limit average temperature rise to 2°C, global emissions of greenhouse gases must decline by about 50% by 2050, which is the recommendation of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  Since it is understood that developing countries may need to continue using energy and emitting greenhouse gases during this period, their contribution to meeting these goals may be reduced.  In recognition of this need the EU in its Roadmap sets forth the stringent restriction for itself of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 to 95% from the emission level of 1990, by 2050, as recommended by the Cancun Agreement.  Analysis of the sectors of the economy contributing to this goal yields the projections of greenhouse gas emissions shown in the following graphic.

Relative greenhouse gas emissions charted at 5 year intervals by economic sector.  Actual results shown through 2010; projected results thereafter.  The red line shows projected results using policies in place prior to the Roadmap.  The remaining projections include technologies and policies to be implemented under the Roadmap.  Source: European Commission, “A Roadmap for moving to a competitive low carbon economy in 2050” March 8, 2011.

Achieving this objective envisions reductions in emissions of 1% per year until 2020, then 1.5% per year from 2020 to 2030, and finally 2% per year until 2050.  These should provide about 25% reduction in emissions by 2020, about 40% by 2030, and about 60% reduction by 2040.  A main mechanism for achieving the target is the ETS cap-and-trade regime covering industrial sources, and other efficiencies from building improvements, services, agriculture and transport.  The ETS program will provide both the needed clear price signal for CO2 emissions and long-term predictability so that the private sector can lay plans to progress toward these objectives. The 2020 goal also relies on an increase to 20% in the use of renewable energy sources, and on specific energy efficiency programs covering operations and activities throughout the economy.

Details of various technologies and practices that will lead to the significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions required are presented in the Roadmap and in an accompanying publication on energy efficiency.

In an earlier post on this blog Warmgloblog proposed that the earth’s atmospheric concentration of CO2 and other greenhouse gases was analogous to a bathtub containing CO2. The bathtub had a faucet delivering new CO2 into it, and a drain that removed little or no CO2, leading to a buildup of CO2 in the bathtub.  In a second post, Warmgloblog discussed a commentary by Hoffert in the journal Science stating the critical necessity of acting immediately to eliminate new emissions of greenhouse gases.

Costs and benefits envisioned for the Roadmap.  The EU Roadmap projection identifies investment expenditures required for implementation, as well as benefits resulting from the program.  They provide compensating amounts, as well as non-material benefits, so that major expenditures are not foreseen to be required.

Expenditures projected for investments.  The Table below shows anticipated annual expenditures arising internally within the EU according to the Roadmap, for each year from 2010 to 2050.  The EU’s figures in euros are converted to U. S. dollars at the exchange rate in March 2011.

Billions of €
Billions of US$ (2011)
Buildings and appliances
Vehicles and transportation infrastructure
Electricity generation and grid
Total including other expenses not shown

The Roadmap points out importantly that delay in starting the program would increase the total required expenditures, and would cut into investment and startup timelines.

Benefits foreseen under the Roadmap.  It is predicted for the interval 2010 to 2050 fuel savings would range from €175 to 320 billion per year (US$ 250 to 457 billion per year).  Consumption of energy would be about 30% below the level of 2005 without adversely affecting energy services.  The EU economy would have a more secure energy base, since oil and gas imports would be about half of today’s needs.  The savings would be about €400 billion (US$ 570 billion) in 2050, equivalent to more than 3% of today’s EU GDP.  In addition, the Roadmap points out that all the money spent as investments stays within the EU rather than being sent abroad to pay for fuel imports.

The Roadmap estimates that up to 1.5 million new jobs will be created by 2020.  In the short term these would arise from the need to renovate and retrofit buildings, provide insulation materials and develop the fixed assets to be used for renewable energy sources.  Long term job prospects under favorable conditions will result from new energy research and technology development, and creation of new ventures focused on energy innovation.

Conclusions.  The EU Roadmap for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to the range of 5% to 20% of the levels that prevailed in 1990 is a very ambitious, but essential, undertaking.  It puts the EU, and the nations of the world, on a path to limiting atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations to a level that climate scientists have agreed should not be exceeded. 

The EU Roadmap is an affirmation of the need to achieve a low-carbon economy that is absent from the goals of other major emitters of greenhouse gases.  China is on a path that is predicted to continue to increase its use of fossil fuels at least through 2035.  As of 2008, coal, the fossil fuel yielding the highest amount of CO2 per unit of energy provided, constituted 71% of the total energy consumed in China.  Thermal power generation capacity, based mostly on coal, is estimated to increase from 650 GW in 2009 to 1,000 GW by 2020.

The U. S. has no national energy policy of any kind in place at this time.  It produces about one quarter of the world’s greenhouse gases, but its emission rate is relatively mature, and is predicted to grow modestly from 2009 to 2035. Three regional consortia of states have been formed within the past four years, and so don’t have the history of working within the Kyoto Protocol.  The (Northeast and Mid-Atlantic) Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has been operating since 2005.  It has very modest goals and affects only electric power generation.  The Western Climate Initiative was formalized in 2007 and will begin operation in 2012.  It aims to achieve 15% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions across the region’s economy by 2020.  The Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord, organized in 2007, has goals that are numerically identical to those set forth in the EU Roadmap.  Currently prospects for new energy legislation in the U. S. Congress establishing a single national policy are bleak.

The nations of the world have to date been incapable of reaching agreement on central aspects of limiting greenhouse gas emissions, as seen for example by the outcomes of the UNFCCC conferences in Copenhagen (2009) and Cancun (2010), although the Cancun meeting did reach important binding agreements.  The EU Roadmap appears to be first significant effort to implement the “deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions … required according to [climate] science, and as documented in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change” as set forth in the Cancun Agreement.  The rest of the world, both developed and developing countries, should begin similar efforts as soon as possible.

© 2011 Henry Auer


  1. As future needs and supply are difficult to predict, the plan presents numerous scenarios examining the possible impacts, challenges and opportunities of modernizing the energy system.

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