Global insurance giant Swiss Re has issued a report: Building a sustainable energy future: risks and opportunities that begins and ends with questions. The first:
With an expanding population and world economy powered by oil, coal and gas, fossil fuels have become a large part of our daily lives. But this has come at a price: greenhouse gas emissions, which adversely affect our climate. How much higher will this price rise before we achieve a more sustainable energy system?
The report’s answers are at once hopeful and deeply troubling.
International policymakers have set a target of 2°C as the maximum permissible increase in global warming. Even that may be disastrously high. Temperature rises above 2°C, Swiss Re says, would lead to "irreparable" ecological damage and consequent harms to people, businesses, and economies.
The report analyses different future energy mix scenarios ranging from a future with no attempt to curb global warming; to more moderate scenarios of a “slow greening” of the economy and varying technological advances and political action.
In the report’s best-case scenario, low-carbon technologies could supply 92% of the global power supply by 2050. But – and this is a big but - this would cap the global temperature increase at 3°C, a full degree above the international target.
In the rest of the scenarios, emissions also exceed the 2°C limit, with unimaginable temperature increases of up to 5°C by the end of the century.
Swiss Re thus expects costly adaptation to be a major part of a global response to climate change. Swiss Re says that without any adaptive measures, climate risks “could become uninsurable in the most exposed locations.”
The report says:
If we want to tackle climate change while providing energy for a growing and developing world, there is no alternative to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This will require a fundamental change in the way we produce and consume energy. Based on the analysis of future climate and energy markets, renewable energy is set to become an increasingly important part of the electricity generation mix. But fossil fuel energy will remain the dominant energy source for power generation for quite some time. Supporting best practice approaches, efficiency gains and carbon capture and sequestration technologies are therefore of great importance to limit emissions as much as possible.
The report, providing a glimpse of what our global energy mix could look like in less than four decades, ends with another “fundamental question: which scenario will we opt for?”
The report has no answer for that.