Climate: Big greenhouse gas cuts possible in Europe

The U.S. is the second-largest producer of coal in the world, thanks in part to massive surface mines like this one in Wyoming. Photo courtesy BLM.

Continued use of coal will make it tough for Europe to meet emissions targets.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Europe could cuts it greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent at a moderate cost, using existing technologies, according to an international multi-model analysis by the Stanford Energy Modeling Forum.

The researchers shared their findings just as the European Commission prepares to announce whether it will scale up its efforts on emissions reduction in the next decade.

“In the next two decades, it is possible to achieve the transformation using existing technologies,” says Brigitte Knopf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who led the study conducted by a dozen research groups.

But in the longer term, models show the cost of reducing emissions could go up, depending on what new technologies emerge to replace old ones. This indicates that technological progress is needed to keep costs in check.

“A clear price signal has to be set today, for instance in the European Emissions Trading System,” says Knopf. “It would provide an incentive for innovation that would prevent energy systems from being locked into long-lasting investments in CO2-intensive technologies, such as coal-fired power plants.”

“The current 20 percent emission reductions by 2020 could fall short of achieving the long-term climate targets set by the EU,” said Enrica De Cian of the Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei and the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change, Italy. “Short-term emissions reductions of at least 40 percent by 2030 are necessary to eventually meet the long-term target of an 80 percent reduction by 2050 aspired by the EU,” De Clan said.

By setting targets for 2030, the EU would signal its willingness to contribute to the global climate mitigation effort”, De Cian said. “And a positive reaction of other countries to this signal could foster technological change and innovation within Europe as well.”

Options explored by the study to reach the EU climate target range from renewable energies to nuclear energy and energy-efficiency increases.

“There’s a wide choice for decision-makers, depending on their preferences, so that’s a good thing,” said Detlef van Vuuren of the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and Utrecht University.

“Still, most model calculations optimizing the change of the electricity system project energy from biomass to expand threefold, and from wind even sevenfold by 2050,” van Vuuren said.

One remarkable finding is that Europe could do without relying on the much debated and as yet unproven technology of sequestering CO2 from power plant emissions and injecting it into the ground. This is a new result compared to the Roadmap study. Nonetheless, ‘Carbon Capture and Storage’ would be needed to achieve an affordable worldwide transformation.

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