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Energy independence policies will not save the climate

06/10/2016 - Reducing energy imports and mitigating climate change are often portrayed as complementary. However, new research published in the journal Nature Energy shows that while ambitious climate policies would lower energy imports, energy independence would not bring significant climate benefits. Co-benefits of climate policies are of key importance for decision-makers choices, the authors highlight.
Energy independence policies will not save the climate

Greenhouse gas emissions reductions and costs from policies focused on energy or climate change. Figure from: Jewell et al 2016

“We know that if we were to radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuel imports would fall. But we found that the opposite isn't true: restricting energy imports would have a very small impact on emissions,” says lead-author Jessica Jewell from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). The study used five different global energy-economy-climate models to examine scenarios for policies focused either on reducing the emissions that cause climate change or on cutting oil, gas, and coal imports.

The scientists found that restricting fuel imports would lower 21st century emissions by only 2 to 15% of baseline, which corresponds to future warming of roughly 3.5°C to 4°C over pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. In contrast, policies focused on climate change mitigation would need to achieve a 70% reduction in emissions in order to limit global warming to no more than 2°C by 2100. These emission reductions stimulate on the one hand domestic renewables and energy efficiency much more than policies focused on reducing energy imports and on the other hand they reduce the use of fossil fuels, which are traded to a large extent.

The overall costs of energy independence policies are 3 to 20 times lower than those of ambitious climate mitigation, according to the study. This might make it more likely that the energy independence polices are pursued. “However, fossil fuel exporters such as the Middle East and Russia would lose revenues and hence bear a disproportionate share of the costs both in the case of climate change mitigation and in the case of energy independence policies pursued by importers," says co-author Nico Bauer of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. "However, climate mitigation policies might be more attractive to the exporters since in this case they at least can take part in the negotiations of the conditions.”

The study is part of a larger research effort that aims at identifying the extent of co-benefits of climate policies with other fields of public policies. The present study focused on synergies with energy security. Other fields of interest are air pollution and health, water stress, bio-energy and land use, income distribution, etc. This research effort is undertaken to assess the broader implications on social and environmental sustainability issues related to climate change.


Article: Jewell J., Vinichenko V., McCollum D., Bauer N., Riahi K., Aboumahboub T., Fricko O., Harmsen M., Kober T., Krey V., Marangoni G., Tavoni M., van Vuuren D., van der Zwaan B., Cherp A. (2016): Comparison and interactions between the long-term pursuit of energy independence and climate policies. Nature Energy. doi:10.1038/nenergy.2016.73

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