FEEM on Nature Energy: “Comparison and Interactions between the Long-term Pursuit of Energy Independence and Climate Policies”
While climate policies would have a beneficial effect for energy security in most countries, energy independence policies would not bring significant climate benefits.
Ambitious policies to reduce energy imports would have little impact on climate change, and could be achieved much more cheaply than the climate mitigation measures needed to limit climate change to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100 according to a new study published in the journal Nature Energy. The 2°C target was agreed in 2010 and re-affirmed at the Paris climate talks in December.
Previous research has shown that climate policies would bring benefits for other areas, including improved energy security and reduced air pollution. The new study, led by IIASA researcher Jessica Jewell, explored how policies focused on energy security would affect greenhouse gas emissions. The article is the outcome of a research project led by Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (FEEM) named LIMITS, and sponsored by the European Commission.
“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 Jewell.
The study used five different energy-economy models to examine eight long-term scenarios for policies focused either on reducing the emissions that cause climate change or on cutting oil or all energy imports. It shows 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.
The study also shows that reducing energy imports would cost between 3 and 20 times less than climate stabilization by 2100.
“To understand which policies are likely to be pursued, we need a better understanding of their relative cost. If a government is interested in reducing energy imports, how much are they willing to pay to achieve that? Specifically are they willing to pay for expensive climate stabilization policies and have energy security as a ‘co-benefit’ or is it more attractive to separately pursue much cheaper measures for reducing imports?” says Jewell.
The study also examined a less ambitious climate policy based on pledges similar to those submitted to the Paris climate meeting in December. It shows that the policy cost for these pledges is comparable to the policy cost for energy security policies, while limiting climate change to 2.5°C to 3.2°C by 2100.
Massimo Tavoni, the scientific coordinator of the LIMITS research project and coordinator of the ‘Mitigation, Innovation and Transformation Pathways’ research programme at FEEM, argues that more studies like this are needed. “Mitigating climate change is a complex task which needs to be understood in the context of other policy objectives, such as energy security, air pollution, environmental impacts etc. The outcome of the Paris agreement calls for a deeper understanding of these inter-relations. Robust analytical tools and international collaborations like the ones which have led to this article are needed to provide guidance on how to frame efficient and effective policies for safeguarding the environment and the economy.”