16 January 2013

The Global Energy Assessment: Implications for the UK and international policy

On 30 November, 2012, energy experts gathered in London to discuss how findings of the Global Energy Assessment (GEA) could be applied by national and international decision makers, with particular focus on the UK Energy Bill. 

©Chatham House

©Chatham House

The Global Energy Assessment, coordinated by IIASA, is the first fully integrated assessment of the global energy system to date. GEA is the first report to concurrently look at energy challenges including sustainability, access, and pollution, while addressing international goals of limiting climate change to less than 2° C above pre-industrial levels.

“I hope this report will be read at least in summary by politicians and digested in detail by their advisors,” said Lord Martin Rees, former president of the British Royal Society, who introduced the event along with IIASA Director & CEO Prof. Pavel Kabat. The report was characterized as “an encyclopedia of the future of the planet” by Chatham House Associate Fellow Walt Patterson in his welcome to the Chatham House venue. Rees added, “IIASA is uniquely placed to make this assessment. IIASA is an organization that is spearheading the study of these things in an international context.”

The event included discussions of global energy access, a key focus of GEA, as well as an in-depth discussion of energy policy in the United Kingdom, which released the full text of its new Energy Bill on 29 November, the day before the London event. Forty-three of the over 500 GEA authors and reviewers hail from the UK: 14 of them attended the event.

“The Global Energy Assessment is about the grand transformation toward a sustainable future,” said IIASA Deputy Director and GEA Director Nebojsa Nakicenovic. “Current trends are not sustainable. We are hitting planetary boundaries.” Nakicenovic introduced the report and some of its key findings and spoke specifically about findings related to energy access.

Energy access

“Energy is key to development,” said Nakicenovic, “Out of 7 billion people on the planet, 3 billion cook with solid fuels and 1.5 billion lack access to electricity.” The GEA shows that increasing energy access while cutting emissions of greenhouse gases is possible.

Michael Liebreich ©Chatham House

Michael Liebreich, Chief Executive, Bloomberg New Energy Finance

Michael Liebreich, CEO of Bloomberg New Energy Finance noted that renewable energy is no longer an alternative energy form, with 1.25 trillion dollars invested last year in the sector. But only 5% of that investment is flowing into developing countries. Liebreich said, “The solution to that has to be systems approaches. It’s going to involve energy, water, and reducing food loss.”

Energy access is not just a problem in rural areas, noted GEA author David Satterthwaite of the International Institute for Environment and Development. He said “700 million urban dwellers lack access to clean fuels.”

Lisa Emberson, Stockholm Environment Institute researcher and GEA author, said “If we achieve the GEA target of universal access to clean energy for 95% of the global population by 2030, there would be multiple environmental and human health benefits.” She pointed out that air pollution and climate change are closely linked, and have ties to food security as well.

Chris Llewelyn-Smith of the University of Oxford said, “The report has done a good job of showing what is possible. The big challenge is to make it happen.”

Sustainable energy in the UK

During the second session of the event, speakers explored the relevance of the GEA for informing decisions by national policy makers, in the context of the release of the UK energy bill on 29 November. Many speakers noted the importance of energy efficiency and investment in renewable energy, both in Europe and around the world.  The UK energy panel included GEA reviewer Jim Skea of Imperial College London, Nick Mabey of E3G, GEA author David Fisk of Imperial College London; Ravi Gurumurthy of the Department of Energy and Climate Change; and Kirsty Hamilton of Chatham House.

In order to meet the many energy-related challenges, developed countries including the United Kingdom must make drastic changes in the way they use energy – a so-called energy transformation. In 41 of 60 scenarios assessed in GEA, the world could simultaneously meet energy challenges ranging from climate mitigation to reduced air pollution and improved energy access. However, Nakicenovic noted, “In these scenarios you need to have no increase in energy demand in Europe. Efficiency plays a key role.”

The panelists then turned to discussing the UK energy bill. Skea said, “GEA says transformation is possible. The energy bill is aspiring to be transformational as well.” Skea emphasized the importance of stable policies and investment climates that are stable. “That’s definitely the objective of the energy bill,” he said. 

Gurumurthy described some of the details of the new UK energy bill, and responded to criticism of the bill. He pointed out that the aim of the energy bill was to be both flexible and durable over the next 20 years, encouraging major changes in investment in the direction of efficiency and renewable energy.

GEA Co-President and moderator of the event Ged Davis concluded, “The conventional wisdom that a high inertia system will continue much as is.  What GEA says, is that if you have views on what should change – it gives you information on how to get there.”

©Chatham House

From left: Ged Davis, GEA Co-President, Nebojsa Nakicenovic, Director, Global Energy Assessment, and Deputy Director, IIASA; Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith, University of Oxford; Lisa Emberson, Stockholm Environment Institute, University of York; David Satterthwaite, International Institute for Environment and Development; Michael Liebreich, Chief Executive, Bloomberg New Energy Finance

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Last edited: 09 October 2013


Nebojsa Nakicenovic

Emeritus Research Scholar Transformative Institutional and Social Solutions Research Group - Energy, Climate, and Environment Program


Video footage of the event is available on YouTube.

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