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Era free of fossil-fuel powered vehicles comes into focus at COP26

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image source: IRENA

A world where every car, bus and truck sold is electric and affordable, where shipping vessels use only sustainable fuels, and where planes can run on green hydrogen may sound like a sci-fi movie, but here, at COP26, many governments and businesses said they have started to work to make it a reality.

Wednesday was another day of new announcements, statements and coalition-building, this time focused on the transport sector, which is responsible for approximately one quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel of Experts on Climate Change (IPCC).

The sector’s emissions have more than doubled since 1970, with around 80 per cent of the increase caused by road vehicles. The United Nations environmental agency UNEP calculates that the world’s transport sector is almost entirely dependent on fossil fuels.

But this could change in the coming decades.

At COP26, over 100 national governments, cities, states and major businesses signed the Glasgow Declaration on Zero-Emission Cars and Vans to end the sale of internal combustion engines by 2035 in leading markets in 2040 worldwide.  At least 13 nations also committed to end the sale of fossil fuel powered heavy duty vehicles by 2040.

Local efforts are also underway, with Latin-American cities, including Bogota, Cuenca and Salvador, aiming to transform to zero-emissions public transport fleets by 2035.

“The message for decision makers is: We need to make sure that we start normalizing that by 2035, we must stop selling petrol and diesel cars. For buses, it’s going to be earlier, 2030; heavy trucking, can give some time, 2040. The point is getting used to the idea of having a calendar so we can shift to zero emission options in all segments. This is not just for advanced markets in developed countries, it’s also for developing economies because we know the worst pollution is there,” said Monica Araya from the global initiative Drive Electric Campaign.

Ms. Araya was very clear that during the transition, developing countries must not become the dumping grounds for old technology from the richest ones, and instead they should be seen as drivers of transformational change.

“I grew up in Costa Rica. I do remember going to school on a third hand bus imported from the US. That experience shaped a lot of my thinking around this transition. I know, on the one hand, we have to make sure we transform the big markets that produce trucks, buses, cars, (but we also) have to activate changes in those markets so there are ripple effects,” she explained.

A green shipping industry

The shipping industry also made moves today with 200 businesses from across the shipping value chain committing to scaling and commercializing zero-emission shipping vessels and fuels by 2030. They also called on governments to get the right regulations and infrastructure in place to enable a just transition by 2050.

Meanwhile, 19 countries signed the Clydebank Declaration to support the establishment of zero-emission shipping routes. This means creating at least six zero-emission maritime corridors by the middle of this decade, while aspiring to see many more in operation by 2030.

“There’s about 50,000 merchant ships out there in the world so it is a large task at hand, and I think different parts of shipping will move at different paces. So, having the commitment of the Clydebank Declaration for green corridors enables first movers to trial and prove technology then bring down costs, create the policy, enable the ecosystems that are needed, and then others can learn from that and then follow,” Katharine Palmer, a UN Climate Change High-Level Champion, explained to UN News.

These green corridors mean the ships that transport goods all over the world would travel without using hydrocarbon fuels and instead would use fuels derived from green hydrogen – hydrogen generated by renewable energy – renewable electricity and other sustainable options.

“It also includes engaging with energy producers so they can produce enough (green) fuel. A public-private collaboration with governments [will also be needed] to put out the necessary policy,” the expert added.

In other good news, nine big-name brands including Amazon, IKEA, Michelin, Unilever and Patagonia announced that by 2040, they plan to shift 100 per cent of their ocean freight to vessels powered by zero-carbon.

The challenge of aviation

Aviation industry businesses and large corporate customers also announced an update of their Clean Skies for Tomorrow Coalition, whose mission is to accelerate the deployment of sustainable aviation fuels.

Now, 80 signatories have committed to boost the green fuel to 10 per cent of the global jet fuel demand by 2030.

These ‘green fuels’ are produced from sustainable feedstock such as cooking oil, palm waste oil from animals or plants, and solid waste from homes and business, and are very similar in chemistry to traditional fossil jet fuel.

If achieved, this will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60 million tonnes a year and provide around 300,000 ‘green’ jobs.

But what about solar or electric? According to Lauren Uppink, head of Aviation at the World Economic Forum, these power sources might be possible for short flights in the future.

“There will be a small portion of the energy demand that will rely on new technology like hydrogen and battery, but long haul is not feasible for the physics of it. So sustainable aviation fuels are our only solution for decarbonizing and flying carbon neutral,” she told UN News.

The expert also announced that the first electric and hydrogen fueled planes will possibly start being deployed by 2030, and the transition of the industry could also generate thousands of green jobs in developing countries.

The COP26 draft agreement text is released

 Beyond transport, the other big news at the conference on Wednesday was that the COP26 draft agreement was published by the Presidency, a preview of the final outcome document of the conference when it wraps up on Friday.

The document urges countries to strengthen their national commitments and submit their strategies for their net-zero plans by 2022 to keep the 1.5C goal within reach.

It also includes, for the first time in a COP outcome text, a mention of ‘loss and damage’, as well as a call to end fossil fuels subsidies.

“The eyes of the world are very much on us. So, I will ask you to rise to the challenge” Alok Sharma, COP26 President, told negotiators during an informal plenary.

“We have all shifted gears this week as we seek to accelerate the pace and I still have the intention to finish COP26 at the end of Friday, this Friday for clarity!” he said, sparking some nervous laughter in the room (COP negotiations are known for spilling over beyond their official day).

Later in the day, Mr. Sharma told journalists that the text, drafted by his office, will change and evolve as countries begin to engage in the details but the commitment to accelerate action this decade must be “unwavering”.

“I want to be clear: We are not seeking to reopen the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement clearly sets out the temperature goal well below 2 degrees and pursuing efforts to 1.5 degrees,” he said, adding that the presidency is aiming to chart a path across the three main pillars of Paris: finance, adaptation and mitigation.

He said getting to the final draft of the text would be a ‘challenging’ task but stressed that there is a lot at risk if an ambitious outcome is not reached.

“Everyone knows what’s at stake in this negotiation. What we agree in Glasgow will set the future for our children and grandchildren, and we know nobody wants to fail them,” he told journalists.

Mr. Sharma cited Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Motley’s words last week: “Two degrees for her country and many others is a death sentence”.

“We are fighting tooth and nail so that we have an ambitious outcome, and I have reminded negotiators that world leaders set out ambition last week and we need to deliver. [If that doesn’t happen] the negotiators and world leaders are going to have to look people in their countries and other countries in the eye and explain why we didn’t get this one over the line,” he underscored.

Civil society: ‘A text that creates an illusion of action is worse than no text at all’

 Members of the NGO Climate Action Network said that they welcomed the first mention ever of “loss and damage” recognizing that communities dealing with the challenges of rebuilding and recovering after climate disasters need the support of the world to do so but said that the text’s words were just “fluff”.

“When it comes down to it, they will make no difference to the communities, to the small holder farmers, to the women and girls in the Global South. This text will still not do anything for those who have been hit the hardest by deadly flooding, cyclones, droughts, rising sea levels,” said Teresa Anderson of Climate Policy Coordinator of Actionaid International.

Indeed, she said the text was yet more empty rhetoric, and that merely calling the situation “urgent” means nothing without a real commitment to action.

“If COP26 doesn’t match its recognition of urgency with real action to address it, to meet the needs of the people in the frontlines of the crisis, then it will be an empty vessel. A text that creates the illusion of action is arguably worse than no text at all,” Ms. Anderson declared, and added that the people of the world were sick and tired of “all this pretense” and of “leaders sitting on their hands…while devastation is heading our way.”

She said world leaders need to “go back and get it right by referencing all fossil fuels – not just coal – and by recognizing equity, by demanding more of the biggest polluters, and linking the call to action with finance for developing countries,” she added.

Finally, she said net-zero promises are a myth used by polluters and governments to lure people into a false sense of security that the climate crisis is being addressed.

“If you scratch the surface of a net zero target, you’ll likely search in vain for the radical systemic transformation in energy, food, transport, and industrial systems that are so urgently needed to ensure a livable planet,” Ms. Anderson said.

The activist told journalist that with the draft outcome document leaders are ‘still failing us” with empty words that are not on target to meet the scale of the “enormous challenge facing humanity.”

“Where is the support to help people forced to pick up the pieces from climate disasters? Where is the action to meet all this urgency? And where are the commitments to limit global warming or to back up climate finance?” she concluded.

Also today, Greta Thunberg and other youth activists announced on Twitter that they sent a letter to the United Nations filing a legal petition to the UN Secretary-General urging him to declare a system-wide climate emergency, which would allow him to send resources and staff to countries most susceptible to climate change disasters.

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Colombia’s energy districts: an example for the region

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image: UNIDO

An energy district is a local institution that leads, implements and accelerates a locally-owned, inclusive and clean energy transition. In the process, energy districts create local jobs and retain and grow wealth, while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions and air pollution.

Colombia is a pioneer South American country in the promotion of this approach. Beginning in 2013, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), together with Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), has been implementing an energy districts project in cooperation with the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development (Minambiente) and the public utility of the city of Medellín (Empresas Publicas de Medellín – EPM).

In its second phase, beginning in 2019, the project has been working closely with national and city-level authorities and stakeholders to improve and implement national and sub-national policy and regulatory frameworks to promote further development of energy districts; reinforce knowledge and capacities for energy districts of all market players; and provide technical assistance to some 10 selected cities so that they can include energy districts in their urban planning and support the realization of two-three near-future mature projects.

From the 17-19 November, the UNIDO project and partners, ACAIRE (Colombian Association for Refrigeration and Air Conditioning) and CIDARE, the Centre of Research and Development in Air Conditioning and Refrigeration hosted the Third International Conference for Energy Districts, a virtual event bringing together national and international experts from industry and academia, and representatives from the public sector and international organizations.

Carlos Eduardo Correa, Colombia’sMinister of Environment and Sustainable Development, stated that the conference was the ideal scenario to show the achievements of the country in the implementation of district energy as a contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals.

“All of our actions, plans, projects and regulations, are geared towards the achievements of the Nationally Determined Contributions, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and, at the same time, the contribution of low-carbon development. Here, Colombia has an important experience and is an example for the region,” he stated.

The progress of district energy in Colombia and the region, the importance of their implementation in urban planning, energy maps and clean energy transition, the mechanisms to finance these projects and the use of renewable energies in their execution, were some of the main topics addressed by more than 30 national and international speakers during the three days of discussions.

“The implementation of the project has, as a main component, the sustainability of knowledge and capacities in Colombia. That is why the support and work with academia are fundamental to strengthen the capacities of all the actors in the value chain and promote the education of professionals in the areas of sustainability and energy efficiency, among others,” noted Alex Saer, Director of Climate Change and Risk Management at the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development.

The conference was also the opportunity to celebrate the awards of the Second Competition for Universities in District Energy, with the objective of designing a business model for the sale of thermal energy applied to residential users.

The contest, which had the participation of eight universities from Colombia, awarded the first-place winner team with  fully funded attendance to the International District Energy Association Campus Energy in Boston in February 2022.

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Global energy efficiency progress is recovering – but not quickly enough

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A rapid expansion of technologies and solutions that drive more efficient use of energy across the economy is necessary to keep global climate pledges within reach, according to a new IEA report, which urges governments to take the lead in mobilising the required increase in investment.

Global progress on energy efficiency has recovered this year to its pre-pandemic pace, but that was already well short of what would be needed to help put the world on track to reach net zero emissions by mid-century, according to Energy Efficiency 2021, the IEA’s annual market report on the topic. Total annual investment in energy efficiency worldwide needs to triple by 2030 to be consistent with a path towards reaching net zero emissions by 2050, as set out in the IEA’s Roadmap to Net Zero by 2050.

The IEA’s latest global assessment of market and policy trends in energy efficiency highlights the urgent need for stronger implementation of clean energy policies – with energy efficiency at their core – in order to reach international climate goals. This is the first update of the IEA’s energy efficiency market report since a raft of new spending commitments aimed at supporting the economic recovery were announced by governments over the course of 2021.

The report comes shortly after the end of the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, whose final statement specifically called for the rapid scaling up of energy efficiency measures, recognising their key role in decarbonising energy systems. 

“We consider energy efficiency to be the ‘first fuel’ as it still represents the cleanest and, in most cases, the cheapest way to meet our energy needs. There is no plausible pathway to net zero emissions without using our energy resources much more efficiently,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “A step change in energy efficiency will give us a fighting chance of staving off the worst effects of climate change while creating millions of decent jobs and driving down energy bills.”

The report notes that governments have scaled up existing, employment-intensive efficiency programmes, but it also highlights that substantial potential for job creation remains untapped. For example, investments in the energy efficiency of buildings – a well-established driver of construction jobs – are expected to rise by 20% in 2021 compared with pre-pandemic levels. Even with this record level of spending, the report details how 4 million more jobs could be added by 2030 by further increasing spending on efficient buildings, appliances and other measures in line with the IEA’s Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario.

After its worst year in a decade in 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic shifted the centre of economic activity away from services and towards industry, the rate of improvement in global energy intensity – a key indicator of how efficiently the world’s economic activity uses energy – is expected to recover in 2021 to 1.9%. This is line with the average annual rate of improvement over the past 10 years but well below the 4% needed between 2020 and 2030 in the IEA’s pathway to net zero emissions by 2050.

As energy efficiency offers some of the fastest and most cost-effective actions to reduce CO2 emissions, front-loading efficiency measures into net zero strategies will be crucial for closing the gap between climate ambitions and current trends. This year’s report examines over 40 energy efficiency milestones mapped out in the IEA Roadmap to Net Zero by 2050 that can enhance efficiency and help get emission reductions on track.

In addition to well-developed energy efficiency policies such as appliance standards – which in some countries have avoided electricity usage equivalent to their total wind and solar power generation – the report also underlines the increasingly important role for digital technologies in energy efficiency’s future. Rapid uptake of digitally connected devices is helping to expand the scale and scope of benefits from energy efficiency, and can deliver a cheaper, easier and more cost effective clean energy transition.

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Fatih Birol urges Middle Eastern producer economies to accelerate clean energy transition

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IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol today received a lifetime achievement award at the major international energy industry conference ADIPEC, which is hosted by the United Arab Emirates. The award was presented by Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the UAE Special Envoy for Climate Change, in recognition of Dr Birol’s long-standing work assessing the global energy sector and providing clarity on how it can adapt to the clean energy transition.

The acknowledgement of Dr Birol’s efforts to advance the clean energy transition comes at a time when the IEA is multiplying its efforts to build a broad coalition to accelerate global climate action that includes the oil and gas exporting countries in the Middle East and North Africa. It also comes after the recent announcement that the United Arab Emirates will host the COP28 Climate Change Conference in 2023, after Egypt hosts COP27 next year.

“I would like to congratulate Fatih Birol on a truly well-deserved recognition of his lifetime’s commitment across the energy landscape. His understanding of how the whole energy system fits together is unparalleled. Moreover, his practical approach to ensuring sustainable development is having – and will continue to have – a positive, powerful impact on how the world makes an equitable and orderly transition to the energy system of the future,” said Sultan Al Jaber in presenting the award to Dr Birol in Abu Dhabi.

“The global warming that is already affecting us all worldwide is especially treacherous for Middle Eastern and North African countries – some are experiencing warming at a far higher rate than the global average. The region is today going through its worst drought in over 900 years,” Dr Birol said in his acceptance speech during the awards ceremony in Abu Dhabi. He underscored the need for oil and gas producing economies to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and rapidly shift towards cleaner alternatives.

“More than at any other point in recent history, fundamental changes to the economic model of resource-rich countries look unavoidable. The future will look very different from the past,” he told the audience. “That is why it is so important that we work together. We need to deploy traditional strengths in support of economic diversification and low-carbon transformation. First movers – countries that take a proactive approach to this – could do especially well.”

In his remarks, Dr Birol highlighted that the IEA’s work with multiple countries across the region centres on supporting efforts to decarbonise energy systems while also securing the economic benefits that the clean energy transition can bring.

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