Focus on Energy Independence Will Not Save the Climate, Says CEU-led Study

Reducing energy imports and mitigating climate change are often portrayed as complementary, but new CEU-led research shows that ambitious policies to reduce energy imports would have little impact on climate change and energy imports would not bring significant climate benefits. Energy independence policies could also be achieved much more cheaply than policies needed to limit global warming to 2°C, according to a new CEU-led study published in the journal Nature Energy. The 2°C target was agreed in 2010 and re-affirmed at the United Nations Paris climate talks in December.

Previous research has shown that climate policies would benefit other areas including energy security. The new study, led by CEU alumna Jessica Jewell (currently at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, IIASA), in Austria), CEU PhD student Vadim Vinichenko, and CEU Professor of Environmental Sciences and Policy Aleh Cherp, explored how policies focused on energy security would affect greenhouse gas emissions. They found that restricting energy imports would have a very small impact on emissions.

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 ambitious restriction of fuel imports would lower 21st century emissions by only 2 to 15 percent 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, in order to limit global warming to no more than 2°C by 2100, we would need to achieve a 70 percent reduction in emissions.

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,” said Jewell. “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?”

Cherp believes that the answer to this question depends on how different the costs of the two objectives are. “If it costs about the same to stop climate change and reduce imports, both policies are more likely to be adopted together. If, as our study shows, they are very different, it’s more likely that the much cheaper energy independence would be pursued separately. Of course, we need to analyze more real-life policies to check whether this hypothesis is true.” A new CEU initiative called the Political Economy of Energy Transitions (POLET) project involves the CEU Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy, the CEU School of Public Policy and IIASA to answer precisely this question by analyzing the interaction of political coalitions pursuing different but inter-related energy objectives.

Dr. Nico Bauer, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and co-author of the study, noted that major 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. “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,” he said.

The study also examined a less ambitious climate policy based on pledges similar to those submitted to the Paris climate meeting in December 2015. 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.

For more information contact:

Prof. Aleh Cherp

Environmental Sciences and Policy

Iceberg image credit: anjči