While most countries – minus Donald Trump’s America – have notionally signed on to the 2015 Paris Agreement goal of working towards holding the global temperature rise to a maximum of two degrees centigrade, few are on track to slash their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions sufficiently to meet the target. Indeed, world-wide emissions are still increasing – climbing by 1.8 per cent in 2018, driven by growing energy use and ongoing economic development in China, India and many other emerging market economies.
Even as concerns mount over the effects of a warming climate, the world remains overwhelmingly dependent on GHG-producing fossil fuels. True, a transition to “clean” energy – i.e., energy that doesn’t generate GHGs – is underway, but the pace is slow and the adoption of less carbon-intensive energy is largely restricted to the electricity sector. Stupendous amounts of energy are needed for heating and cooling, transportation, and to support many industrial processes – all served by ubiquitous fossil fuels. In 2018, heating and cooling accounted for more than half of overall global energy use, and transportation for almost one-third. While there is welcome progress in shifting away from fossil fuels to produce electricity, this is less true for the other components of energy demand; electricity is not a substitute for many of these uses.