’But, the danger posed by war to all humanity --- and to our planet --- is at least matched by the climate crisis and global warming. I believe that the world has reached a critical stage in its efforts to exercise responsible environmental stewardship’
----- Ban Ki - Moon
Energy issue the world over, and its impact on the global environment and society will be highly appreciated if rather than treated in isolation, a more holistic approach is adopted particularly in its relation to climate change.
Climate change has come to be recognized as one of the most critical challenges ever to face human – kind. The world has recognized that climate change is no longer solely an environmental problem. Rather, it has become an economic, trade and security issue that will increasingly dominate global and national policies as its impact become more apparent.
The impacts range from sea level rise, melting ice caps and glaciers, along with increased incidences of drought and flooding. This in turn is already leading to more agricultural shortfalls, endangered water security and spread of vector – borne diseases. We know that the costs of inaction outweigh the costs of action.
Since climate change is a global problem, it requires a global response that embraces the interests and needs of all countries.
Africa is already a continent under pressure from climate stresses and is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change even if it is the least contributor to the problem. Many areas in Africa are recognized as having climates that are among the most variable in the world on seasonal and decadal time scales. Floods and droughts can occur in the same area within months of each other. These events can lead to famine and widespread disruption of socio-economic well-being. On estimates, it is reported that one third of African people already live in drought –prone areas and 220 million are exposed to drought each year.
Many factors contribute and compound the impacts of current climate variability in Africa and will have negative effects on the continent’s ability to cope with climate change. These include poverty, illiteracy and lack of skills, weak institutions, limited infrastructures, lack of technology and information, low levels of primary education and health care, poor access to resources, low management capabilities, and armed conflicts. The overexploitation of land resources including forests, increase in population, desertification and land degradation poses additional threats.
Africa will face increasing water scarcity and stress with a subsequent potential increase of water conflicts as almost all of the 50 river basins in Africa are transboundary.
The African continent is also vulnerable to a number of climate sensitive diseases including malaria, tuberculosis and diarrhoea.
Indeed climate change is an added stress to already threatened habitats, ecosystem and species in Africa, and is likely to trigger species migration and lead to habitat reduction. Up to 50% of Africa’s total biodiversity is at risk due to reduced habitat and other human-induced pressures.
There is unequivocal evidence that the earth’s climate is warming. By 2005, the average global temperature was 0.76 ‘C above the level in pre-industrial times, according to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which brings together hundreds of the world’s leading experts. The average temperature is rising by around 0.2 ‘C every 10 years. The decade 2000-2009 was the warmest since reliable records began in 1880.
The vast majority of the world’s leading climate experts attribute this warming to a build – up of greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted by human activities, in particular the burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – and the destruction of forests. Greenhouse gases are so called because they trap the sun’s heat in the atmosphere in the same way as the glass of a greenhouse.
Today the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2), the most important greenhouse gas, is at its highest level for thousands of years.
This man-made warming is causing discernible climatic and environmental changes, such as more frequent extreme weather, rising sea levels, and melting glaciers. In the long term, these changes threaten to cause serious damage to our economies and environment we depend on, putting the lives of millions of people in danger and causing the extinction of animal and plant species.
As a consequence, there is the increasing need to accentuate human activities that reduces greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. A rather environment friendly energy production and consumption alternative should begin to take centre stage of human’s activities.
GLOBAL ENERGY CONCERNS:
A growing body of evidence establishes the links between climate change and the CO2 emissions that arise from energy production and consumption. Growing demands in some rapidly expanding economies will dramatically change future emission trends.
Rising fossil fuel burning and land use changes have emitted, and are continuing to emit, increasing quantities of greenhouse gases into the earth’s atmosphere; and a rise in these greenhouse gases has caused a rise in the amount of heat from the sun withheld in the earth’s atmosphere, heat that would normally be radiated back into space. This increase in heat has led to the greenhouse effect, resulting in climate change.
Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse-gas contributions. Energy production and use have various environmental implications: since energy represents about 65% of global anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions, reducing emissions must necessarily start with actions geared to reduce emissions from fuel combustion.
The increased concentrations of key greenhouse gases are a direct consequence of human activities. Since anthropogenic greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, they produce net warming by strengthening the natural greenhouse effect.
CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have been increasing over the past century compared to the rather steady level of the pre-industrial era. The 2005 concentration of CO2 was about 35% higher than in the mid-1800s, with the fastest growing occurring in the last ten years.
Some impacts of the increased greenhouse-gas concentrations may be slow to become apparent since stability is an inherent characteristic of the interacting climate, ecological and socio-economic systems.
Among the human activities that produce greenhouse gases, the use of energy represents by far the largest source of emissions. Energy accounts for over 80% of the anthropogenic greenhouse gases in developed countries, with emissions resulting from the production, transformation, handling and consumption of all kinds of energy commodities. Smaller shares correspond to agriculture, producing mainly methane (CH4) and nitrogen oxide (N2O) from domestic livestock and industrial processes not related to energy, producing mainly fluorinated gases.
CO2 from energy represents about 83% of the anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions for the industrialized countries and about 65% of global emissions. This percentage varies greatly by country, due to diverse national energy structures.
Worldwide economic stability and development require energy. Global total primary energy supply (TPES) doubled between 1971 and 2008, mainly relying on fossil fuels. Despite the growth of non-fossil energy (such as nuclear and hydropower) considered as non-emitting, fossil fuels have maintained their shares of the world energy supply relatively unchanged over the course of the past 35 years. In 2008, fossil sources accounted for 81% of the global TPES.
Though coal represented only one-quarter of the world TPES in 2008, it accounted for 43% of the global CO2 emissions due to its heavy carbon content per unit of energy released. As compared to gas, coal is on average nearly as emission intensive.
Growing world energy demand from fossil fuels plays a role in the upward trend in CO2 emissions. Since the industrial revolution, annual CO2 emissions from fuel combustion have dramatically increased. The link between climate change and energy is a part of the larger challenge of sustainable development. The socio-economic and technological characteristics of development paths will strongly affect emissions, the rate and magnitude of climate change, climate change impacts, the capability to adapt and the capacity to mitigate the emissions themselves.
Trends in CO2 emissions from fuel combustion illustrate the need for all countries to shape a more sustainable energy future. Special emphasis should first be on the industrialized nations that have the highest per capita incomes and that are responsible for the bulk of cumulative emissions. However, with rapidly growing energy demand of developing countries, it is important that they also strive to use energy in a sustainable way. Enhancing efficiency and reducing the carbon intensity of energy supply, which is largely reliant on fossil fuels, are both fundamental steps towards a global low-carbon energy system.
CLEAN-GREEN ENERGY ALTERNATIVE: TOWARDS A LOW-CARBON GLOBAL ECONOMY.
Two important alternative energy sources to fossil fuels are becoming increasingly appreciated. These include biomass (bio fuel) and wind power. It is important however, that in considering these options the peculiarities of an adopting environment or society must be factored in.
Biomass is unique among the renewable energy sources in that it is easily stored (and is in effect, stored solar energy) and can provide a readily transportable source of all three energy forms ----- electricity, heat and transport fuels. Since the 1970s development of new technology means biomass can be converted into bio energy increasingly more efficiently.
Waste in the form of sewage sludge, or waste from the food industry is more and more seen as a possible source of renewable energy. The wet waste materials can be used in biogas plants, in which micro organisms transform the waste to methane. This methane can be used to produce electricity or run cars. The dry waste material can be used to fuel conventional furnace-boiler power plants to produce heat and electricity. In Africa, this waste energy so far is barely used in Zambia.
According to the world Bioenergy Association recent report, the amount of biomass available on a sustainable yield basis worldwide is theoretically enough to provide for all of the world populations’ energy needs. However, there are two outstanding issues that will need to be resolved to ensure that any significant supply of biomass or biofuels can be done equitably and sustainably. One main issue is that the availability or distribution of biomass worldwide is rarely in proportion to population density or energy demand.
However, modern bioenergy chains are usually associated with burning fossil fuels which are not carbon neutral. Thus, the production of biomass energy almost always entails the use of fossil energy for the farming, transportation and manufacturing stages of the process. Nevertheless, increasing biofuels use is an alternative to oil consumption that reduces greenhouse gas emissions. In countries like Brazil sugarcane-based ethanol ----- currently the most effective biofuel at displacing GHG emissions ----- is already mitigating GHGs.
Despite the potentials of this energy option, other arguments are that it could be achieved at the expense of food security as food and biomass will have to compete for land. Economic models show that biomass energy agriculture would displace food agriculture in a free-market economy.
For a continent like Africa however, the technicalities and attendant pitfalls of the biomass alternative leaves it open to a more acceptable cleaner and greener energy option ----- wind energy. Going by the global concern on a safer energy source coupled with the peculiar realities in the African continent wind energy is non-negotiable.
The wind is an abundant energy resource. Wind energy is a real alternative to emission producing fossil fuels and, crucially, can be deployed and begin reducing CO2 emissions immediately.
Wind energy is already fighting climate change. In 2008, wind power in Europe avoided the emission of 91 million tonnes of CO2.
At the end of 2009, close to 158.5 GW of wind power capacity was operating in more than 75 countries around the world ----- in Europe, Asia, North and South America, Africa and Australia. This was 38.5 GW more than in the previous year, an increase of 32%. This increase is not extraordinary for the wind energy sector, which has seen an average growth of 28% over the past decade.
The boom in wind energy demonstrates that there is a huge and growing global demand for emissions-free wind power, which can be installed quickly and virtually everywhere in the world.
The countries boasting the largest wind energy capacity include the US, Germany, Spain, China, and India. Although, the development of the modern wind industry has been led by European countries, other regions, especially North America and Asia, are catching up fast.
The US wind energy market broke all previous records in 2009 with new installations of 10GW, reaching a total installed capacity of over 35GW at the end of the year, a 40% increase over the previous year. In 2009, the US was the number one market in terms of total wind generation capacity.
New wind projects completed in the US in 2009 accounted for about 40% of the country’s new power production capacity added that year. The total number of people employed in the sector has reached 85,000 in the US.
Both China and India now rank among the top five wind energy markets.
China’s wind energy installations have seen tremendous growth, doubling every year since 2004. 2009 was no exception as China reached a total capacity of 25.8 GW, and this tremendous growth rate will continue in 2010.
India is also continuing to grow at a healthy rate, and reached close to 11 GW of installed wind capacity at the end of 2009.
In Europe, wind energy is now the fastest growing new power generation technology, and region hosts around half of the world’s operating wind turbines. At the end of 2009, Europe has reached an installed capacity of 75GW. The leading European markets continue to be Germany and Spain.
Germany’s wind power fleet, which stood at 25.8GW at the end of 2009, accounted for 7.5% of the country’s net power consumption.
Spain’s wind generating capacity amounted to 19GW at the end of 2009, and 36TWh produced by wind accounted for 14.5% of her power demand. In November 2009, a new record was broken with wind energy providing more than 50% of the country’s electricity needs for several hours.
However, the country with the highest penetration of wind energy in the world is Denmark, which meets around 20% of its electricity demand with a large network of wind farms.
Africa represents the least contributor to wind energy supply. A country like Nigeria still heavily depends on fossil fuels for her energy supply, a far cry from the recent global advancement in the area of energy. This scenario presents a paradox as vast arable land and other requirements which support wind energy are abundantly surplus to requirements. Given the population strength of Nigeria, her economy would ordinarily have become a large market in wind energy.
The social realities in the African continent can only support the substitution of wind power for fossil fuels and their sizeable CO2 emissions, and therefore helps combat climate change. Because wind turbines do not consume fuel and their operation and maintenance expenses are low, the marginal cost of wind power is minimal. Therefore, an increase in the amount of wind power in the electricity mix means that more expensive and polluting technologies (oil, coal and gas) are pushed out of the market.
To calculate how much CO2 is avoided by producing electricity from wind power, it can be assumed that each kWh of wind power displaces a kWh created by the energy mix of coal, oil and gas at the time of production.
Wind energy is the only power generation technology that can deliver the necessary cuts in CO2 emissions from the power sector in the critical period up to 2020, when greenhouse gas emissions must peak and begin to decline if we are to have any hope of keeping global mean temperature increase below 2 ‘C. In 2010, wind energy produced more than 435TWh of clean electricity and saved more than 260 million tons of CO2. In 2020, this figure is expected to be as high as 1.5 billion tons every year.
Africa’s present socio-economic contraption makes the continent the best suited for wind energy. This is down to the fact that wind energy does not only provide environmental, but also economic benefits, and the sector has now become an important player in the world’s energy markets, with the 2009 market for the turbine installations worth about €50 billion [US$ 70 billion].
The wind industry also creates many new jobs; over 600,000 people are now employed in this industry, and that number is expected to be in the millions in the near future.
To occasion the much required paradigm shift from fossil fuels to wind energy in Africa, policies and laws have to be re-evaluated and strengthened. The constitutional barriers to wind energy development in Africa constitute one of the largest banes in that sector. A country like Nigeria where so much powers is vested on the government at the centre poses a huge challenge. With greater powers devolved to the federating units, particularly local government and development areas in the aspect of power generation, the development of wind power will be actualized at much faster pace, since these areas will address the issue of power given their various peculiarities.
Greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are warming the earth, causing changes to the global climate that will have increasingly severe human, economic and environmental impacts over the coming decades.
Preventing global warming from exceeding the present threshold is both technologically feasible and economically affordable if the world takes strong action in the near future. The cost is estimated at around 1% of global GDP. This is far less than letting climate change take its destructive course, which is expected to cost at least 5% of global GDP and could reach 20% or more in the long term – with an economic impact equivalent to the world wars of the 20th century.
Moreover, building the low-carbon global economy that is needed to prevent dangerous climate change will stimulate innovation in clean technologies, such as renewable energy and energy efficiency, thus creating new sources of economic growth and jobs.
Two major international agreements have been adopted to address climate change: the 1992 United Nations framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Both are based on the principle that industrialized countries should take the lead in combating climate change as they are responsible for the bulk of emissions since the industrial revolution and have greater financial resources. More actions should be taken to ensure compliance. Also, a much more ambitious global pact is needed to sharply reduce the world’s GHG emissions over the coming decades to prevent dangerous climate change.
There should be a comprehensive and legally binding global framework that requires action by all major economies. This must include the United States and other big emerging economies in the developing world. Together, China and the US account for almost half of global GHG emissions today. The global framework must appear superior to national laws and policies and must be flexible enough to allow the development of various regions according to their peculiarities.
The Cancun Agreement comes in handy here. The Cancun Adaptation Framework was established yo allow better planning and implementation of adaptation projects in developing countries through increased financial and technical support, including a clear process for continuing work on loss and damage. The Cancun Agreement provides the frame work for a legally binding agreement of both the Kyoto and UNFCCC agreements.
Such global framework could take care of mitigating factors like centralization of power and authority on climate change issues and energy matters, land use act, etc., peculiar to continents like Africa.
While cutting emissions, we must also adapt to climate change. Adaptation means anticipating the adverse impacts of climate change and acting to prevent or minimize the damage they can cause.
For less developed continents like Africa, extensive research should be embarked upon to access possible means of exploiting green energy alternative.
Inferentially, education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information are essential for gaining public support for measures to combat and cope with climate change. All these and other concrete steps, e.g. financing green energy in less developed countries, should be taken to save the earth.
Comrade Ayodele Adewale
Executive chairman, Amuwo-Odofin L.G.A.