17 January 2017
Mitigation Update: France, China Announce Mitigation Commitments, IEA Reports on Energy Efficiency
UN Photo/Pasqual Gorriz
story highlights

France submits its Long-term National Climate Plan, in which it commits to to reduce carbon emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels by 2030, and achieve a 75% reduction by 2050.

China announces investments of 2.5 trillion yuan (US$361 billion) in renewable power generation from 2016 to 2020 to achieve 50% of zero emissions electricity generation by 2020.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that energy efficiency measures are responsible for 80% of the downward pressure on energy consumption.

17 January 2017: The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has confirmed its earlier estimate that 2016 was the hottest year on record, with global temperatures reaching an unprecedented 1.2 Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Nonetheless, the end of 2016 and the beginning of the new year did bring some welcomed developments in terms of mitigation action, including commitments from France and China.

The WMO provisional statement on the climate for 2016 indicates that temperatures spiked in the early months of 2016 because of a very strong El Niño event and remained well above the long-term average for the latter part of the year. It reports that long-term indicators of human-caused climate change, including record carbon dioxide concentrations, glacier melt and low sea ice, continued. [WMO Press Release]

The breaking of these record temperatures makes mitigation action all the most urgent. This first Mitigation Update of 2017 brings you news on energy and climate plans by France and China, on emissions from the transport sector, and energy efficiency.

France and China Announce Climate, Energy Plans

Ending 2016 on a high note, France became the fifth country to submit its Long-term National Climate Plan to the UNFCCC, after Canada, Germany, Mexico and the US. France commits to reduce carbon emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels by 2030, and achieve a reduction of 75% by 2050. This means that annual emissions reductions must accelerate from 8 megatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2eq) per year to 9-10 Mt for the years to come. Sectoral targets are spelled out for three “carbon budget” periods ranging from 2015-2018, 2019-2023, and 2024-2028, followed by a long-term target to be achieved by 2050. The plan further states that the national low-carbon strategy is founded on two pillars: including carbon footprint reductions as key consideration in all economic decisions; and redirecting investments to support the energy transition, through interventions such as environmental quality labels, guaranteeing public funds, and gradually increasing carbon taxes without increasing overall tax burden. [UNFCCC Press Release] [France’s National Low-carbon Strategy (in French)] [France’s National Low-carbon Strategy (English Summary)]

China kicked off the mitigation news for 2017 with its announcement to invest 2.5 trillion yuan (US$361 billion) in renewable power generation from 2016 to 2020 in a bid to achieve 50% of zero emissions electricity generation (including nuclear) by 2020. Solar power is expected to receive up to 1 trillion yuan, followed by 700 billion yuan to be invested in wind energy and 500 billion for hydroenergy projects. The investment is part of China’s 13th five-year plan covering the 2016-2020 period. In another section of the plan, China also announced to undertake efforts to reduce total energy consumption by 15% by 2020, compared to 2015 levels. The strategy to achieve this target includes measures such as cutting high-emissions industries and promoting low-carbon industrial processes, increasing the efficiency of using coal, and promoting energy efficiency measures in all major industries. [State Council of the People’s Republic of China Policy Release]

The IEA report titled ‘Energy Efficiency Indicators Highlights 2016’ reveals that global economic development is increasingly decoupling from the growth of energy use.

Measuring Progress in Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency is sometimes called the “the first fuel” as all countries can reduce their energy consumption through improvements in energy intensity. The International Energy Association’s (IEA) report titled ‘Energy Efficiency Indicators Highlights 2016’ provides a comprehensive overview of energy efficiency-related data collected from IEA member countries since 2009. On the global level, it reveals the following trends: global economic development is increasingly decoupling from the growth of energy use. Since 1990, global gross domestic product (GDP) has increased by 90%, whereas total primary energy supply grew by 56%. The IEA notes that in the residential sector, measures such as better insulation have led to significant improvements in energy intensity of space heating. The report mentions countries such as Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Korea, the Netherlands and Spain, which have reduced energy intensity by more than 30% since 2000. IEA also reports that efficiency gains in the industry and services sectors were driven by improvements in energy intensity in the manufacturing sector. Several countries with a dominance in energy intensive processes such as Finland and the US have achieved the highest gains in energy efficiency. The report also mentions energy efficiency in the transport sector, which has benefited from modal shifts, such as a switch from cars towards passenger trains in some countries. Overall, IEA estimates that energy efficiency measures are responsible for 80% of the downward pressure on energy consumption. [IEA Report Abstract] [Energy Efficiency Indicators Highlights 2016]

Transport Sector’s Emissions in the Spotlight

In related energy efficiency news, a report by the European Energy Agency (EEA) titled ‘Monitoring CO2 Emissions from Passenger Cars and Vans in 2015’ assesses whether the manufacturers of cars and vans in the EU have met the EU’s 2015 targets for reducing emissions in the transport sector. Energy efficiency in transport can be measured by tracking the amount of CO2 emitted per kilometer traveled. By this measure, average emissions of cars sold in the EU in 2015 were 27% lower than emissions of those sold in 2004. Emissions of vans decreased to 168.5 gCO2/km which exceeded the target of 175 gCO2/km. The report notes that emissions reductions must continue at a similar pace to achieve the 2020 targets of 95 gCO2/km for cars and 147 gCO2/km for vans. The report presents individual data for the major manufacturers noting that most of them also met the 2015 targets individually. The publication does note, however, that there is increasing recognition of the inadequacy of New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) on which the report’s data are based, as it does not represent real-world driving conditions. Therefore, the study states, from 2017 onward data will be collected based on the World Harmonized Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) [EEA Press Release][Monitoring CO2 Emissions from Passenger Cars and Vans in 2015]

Speaking on a different aspect of emissions in the transport sector, Kitack Lim, Secretary General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), expressed concern that including shipping under the EU’s Emissions Trading System (EUETS) could hamper efforts to reduce emissions from the shipping sector. In a letter to the Presidents of the European Parliament, the EU Commission and the EU Council, Lim cautions that such a step could undermine international collaboration led by IMO. In 2016, IMO adopted a monitoring mechanism under which all ships must collect fuel-consumption data. Further decisions on fuel efficiency and emissions reductions are expected in the near future, as outlined in the IMO roadmap for developing a comprehensive strategy for GHG emissions reductions in the shipping sector. [IMO Press Briefing]

One strategy that could help IMO members comply with emissions reduction targets is developing alternative propulsion systems that use low or zero emissions sources of energy. A hydrogen-based propulsion system, for example, would generate no emissions. The ‘Energy Observer’ is a prototype research vessel using such a zero-emissions propulsion strategy. Supported by, among other institutions, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the vessel is designed to be 100% energy autonomous. It will travel using only hydrogen produced with solar and wind energy captured on board. Later this year, the Energy Observer will embark on a five-year tour around the world to test its energy system. [UNESCO Press Release] [Energy Observer Website]

New Data on Wood for Fuel and Construction

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN reported an increase in wood production driven by growth in the production of wood pellets used as bioenergy and wood for housing construction. Wood pellet production grew by 8% in 2015 for a total of 28 million tons. Almost 60% of the total was produced in North America. The Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) together now produce more wood pellets than Germany and the US, which used to be the highest volume producers. The production of oriented strand board, a type of wood panel used for housing construction, grew by 7% globally. This increase is relevant for mitigation efforts as the use of wood-based products in housing construction can replace more carbon-intensive materials such as concrete. Furthermore, the long lifetime of buildings provides a temporary sequestration of the carbon contained in wood based materials. The data were published as part of a regular update of FAO’s forest product statistics. A more comprehensive review and analysis of the data will be published in April 2017 as part of the FAO Yearbook of Forest Products. [FAO Press Release] [UN News Release] [2015 Forest Products and Figures] [FAO Yearbook of Forest Products Website]

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