Energy sector needs major revamp: IPCC

Consortium of scientists says limiting global warming will require major transitions in the energy sector

April 04, 2022 09:22 pm | Updated April 05, 2022 09:25 am IST - NEW DELHI

Coal being unloaded from a rake at a power plant. Photo used for representation purpose only.

Coal being unloaded from a rake at a power plant. Photo used for representation purpose only. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Limiting global warming will require major transitions in the energy sector and this will mean drastically reducing fossil fuel use, widespread electrification, improved energy efficiency, and the use of alternative fuels, a consortium of scientists part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in a statement on Monday. These scientists were part of Working Group 3, or those with expertise to analyse how best the impact of greenhouse gas emissions could be mitigated.

An aspect of the report, of particular relevance to India, is that there is no place for new coal plants. The panel finds that all coal-fired power plants, without the technology to capture and store carbon (CCS), need to be shuttered by 2050 if the world aspired to limit global temperature rise to 1.5c.

According to the Central Electricity Authority, India has about 211 GW of operational coal-fired power plants — roughly 10% of global capacity. As per Global Energy Monitor data, another 31 GW was being constructed and about 24 GW in various pre-construction phases. None of the existing under construction coal-fired power plants in India have CCS facilities.

‘Untapped potential’

“Having the right policies, infrastructure and technology in place to enable changes to our lifestyles and behaviour can result in a 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This offers significant untapped potential,” IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Priyadarshi Shukla said in a statement, “The evidence also shows that these lifestyle changes can improve our health and wellbeing.”

The Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC Working Group III report, as the document is known, was approved by 195 member-governments of the IPCC, through a virtual approval session that started on March 21. It is the third instalment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), which will be completed this year.

Though the report was expected to be ready late last week, negotiations between scientists and governments over the report extended well into Sunday, as officials from major emerging economies insisted that the report acknowledge their developmental needs.

Methane reduction

In the scenarios by the scientists, limiting warming to around 1.5°C requires global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest and be reduced by 43% by 2030; at the same time, methane would also need to be reduced by about a third. Even if this happened, it was almost inevitable that this ceiling would be temporarily breached but, with appropriate action, it could again dip down by the end of the century.

“It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C,” IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Jim Skea, said in a statement, “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”

The global temperature will stabilise when carbon dioxide emissions reach net zero. For 1.5°C, this meant achieving net zero carbon dioxide emissions globally in the early 2050s; for 2°C, it is in the early 2070s. Even limiting warming to around 2°C would still require global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest and be reduced by a quarter by 2030, their report emphasised.

“The latest IPCC report is a stark reminder to all developed countries to significantly bring forward their transition to a net-zero economy. This would leave additional carbon space for countries like India to meet their development priorities on the path to achieving their net-zero target. Further, to accelerate the low-carbon transition, developed countries should ensure higher flows of finance and technology transfer in critical areas such as renewables, electric vehicles, green hydrogen, and others. Failure to arrest the planet’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is likely to cause irretrievable damage to our ecosystems, which in turn could disproportionately devastate the economies and vulnerable communities in the Global South,” said Arunabha Ghosh, CEO, Council on Energy, Environment and Water.

India has committed to net-zero year, or when it would cease to be a net carbon dioxide emitter, of 2070 and has defined a pathway to transition to renewable energy sources but also insisted on its right to coal use given its developmental needs as well underlining that the historical responsibility of climate change from fossil fuel rested with the developed countries, who needed to shoulder much of the mitigating burden.

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