WHY DO WE TALK ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT IN THE ENERGY POLICY CONTEXT?
If we scaled down the age of our planet (about 4.6 billion years) to 46 years, it would mean that the humanity has been around only for 4 hours and its industrial revolution began a minute ago. In that time, much irreversible damage has been done to our natural environment.
It is useful to conceive of natural environment as our life support system, i.e a set of natural systems that interact to provide us with a wide range of services necessary to sustain our lives and enable our activities on every level. Our actions in the field of energy use and production put a tremendous strain on the sustainability of our resources and, in the long-term, on the well-being of the humankind. That is why it is crucial to consider the environmental aspects while discussing policy related to energy.
Examples of energy-related impact on the environment include waste generation, water contamination or landslides. Most notably, however, gas emissions from burning fossil fuels contribute to the worsening air quality and the global warming. Moreover, the burgeoning of the global population has caused a massive growth in demand for energy - in consequence, this has led to further-reaching depletion of the planet’s resources and an increase in the extent of the above-mentioned ecological problems.
In order to preserve the humanity’s “regular” way of living people would have to take a step forward towards keeping our eco-system stable. This can be achieved through sustainable resource management; energy efficiency combined with decreasing the demand in certain areas (zero energy consumption housing; use of industrial residual heat, etc.); emissions reduction in power sector by increasing renewable energy share and cutting fossil fuels usage; and through better waste management. Nevertheless, these solutions will only work on the condition of regional and global cooperation - more so when it comes to energy policy goals rather than combatting the effects.
The European Environment Agency1 defines the following risk areas, and energy is concerned in all of them: air pollution, biodiversity, climate change, land use, water, chemicals, health.
The EU28 is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels,2 which in 2012 accounted for 74.6% of the total gross inland energy consumption compared to renewables at only 11%. The share of fossil fuels (gas, solid fuels and oil) in the total gross inland energy consumption of the EU28 declined from 83.0% in 1990 to 74.6% in 2012 at an annual rate of 0.3 % per year.
The EU boasts to have some of the world's highest environmental standards.3 The Environment policy helps to green the EU economy, protect nature, and safeguard the health and quality of life of people living in the EU:
- Green growth entails developing integrated policies that promote a sustainable environmental framework.
- Protecting nature. Europe is working to safeguard natural resources and halt the decline of endangered species and habitats. Natura 2000 is a network of 26 000 protected natural areas, covering almost 20% of the EU's land mass, where sustainable human activities can coexist with rare and vulnerable species and habitats.
- Safeguarding the health and well-being of people living in the EU
- Water, air pollution and chemicals are among people's top environmental concerns. EU policy aims to guarantee safe drinking and bathing water; improve air quality and reduce noise; reduce or eliminate the effects of harmful chemicals.
- Global challenges. As a global actor, the EU plays a key role in international efforts to promote sustainable development globally.
Environment Action Programme to 20204
Current EU policy up to 2020 is based on the 7th Environment Action Programme5 – the dual responsibility of the EU institutions and national governments. It identifies three key objectives:
- to protect, conserve and enhance the Union’s natural capital
- to turn the Union into a resource-efficient, green, and competitive low-carbon economy
- to safeguard the Union's citizens from environment-related pressures and risks to health and well-being
Four so-called "enablers" shall help Europe deliver on these goals:
- better implementation of legislation
- better information by improving the knowledge base
- more and wiser investment for environment and climate policy
- full integration of environmental requirements and considerations into other policies
The 7th Environment Action Programme will be guiding European environment policy until 2020. In order to give more long-term direction it sets out a vision beyond that, of where it wants the Union to be by 2050:
"In 2050, we live well, within the planet’s ecological limits. Our prosperity and healthy environment stem from an innovative, circular economy where nothing is wasted and where natural resources are managed sustainably, and biodiversity is protected, valued and restored in ways that enhance our society’s resilience. Our low-carbon growth has long been decoupled from resource use, setting the pace for a safe and sustainable global society."
All these general statements at the end of the day help to compose and implement somehow more tangible EU Directives that are to be implemented across the Union touching the industry and all final consumers. It will very much up to the latter on whether they will choose a new water saving and energy efficient washing mashine or a car that is able to run on the required 10% bio ethanol fuel mix6.
The first global awareness of damage caused to the environment was already shown in 1972 with the report “Limits to Growth” by the Club of Rome. Fruitful global discussions however only led to the first agreement in the 1990’s with the signing of the Kyoto Protocol7, followed by continuous further, mostly unsuccessful, discussions until today8.
The next step is the upcoming 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11), otherwise known as “Paris 2015” to be hosted in France from November 30th to December 11th, 2015. The main objective of the annual Conference of Parties (COP) is to review the Convention’s implementation.
COP219 will, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.
What was the outcome of COP20 in Lima?
In 2014, COP20 held in Lima attracted over 15,000 official delegates, and negotiators concluded talks with the ‘Lima Call For Climate Action’, a draft document that lays the foundations for a new global climate deal.
When you “google” “environmental problems” the system gives you about 80 100 000 results just within 0,34 of a second. If you curious enough to open first pages of suggested sources you will find unique and repetitive lists of Environmental Problems on Earth.
When you “google” “environmental solutions” the system gives you about 52 900 000 results within 0,32 of a second. And those are mostly the web-sites of companies, which offer eco-friendly solutions.
LINKS FOR FURTHER RESEARCH
- Introduction to the topic of Energy by the European Environment Agency
- Environment Action Programme to 2020
- “Energy! Let’s save it!” is a series of cartoons developed by the EU dedicated to the energy efficiency at home
- “Animals save the planet” is a series of funny cartoons showing human’s behaviours projected on animals
- Check if your city survives! What the Earth would look like if all the ice melted?
- Several websites and webinars deal with the topic of climate change and specifically with COP21 at the moment. An example is this webinar: IRENA (28 Sep 2015) "Understanding the COP21 Contributions in Light of Renewable Energy in Latin America: Mexico and Costa Rica”. Subject: Renewable Energy | Topic: Legislation and Policy