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UN Sustainable Energy Initiative Could Put World On a Path to Climate Targets

Feb. 24, 2013 — The UN’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative, if successful, could make a significant contribution to the efforts to limit climate change to target levels, according to a new analysis from IIASA and ETH Zurich.
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The study, published today in Nature Climate Change, showed that reaching the 3 energy-related objectives proposed by the United Nations in their Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) initiative, launched in 2011, would reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change and, in combination with other measures, could help keep global temperature rise from exceeding the internationally agreed target level of 2°C.

“Achievement of the 3 objectives would provide an important entry point into stringent climate protection,” says Joeri Rogelj, ETH Zurich researcher and IIASA-affiliated scientist, who led the study. The study found that the short-term objectives, which aim for 2030, would help achieve long-term climate targets. However, to ensure achievement of stringent climate objectives, SE4ALL would need to be complemented by other measures, the researchers say.

The SE4All objectives include providing universal access to modern energy, doubling the share of renewable energy globally, and doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency — all by 2030. While the SE4All objectives do not explicitly address climate change, it is clear that sustainable energy is a prerequisite for reducing greenhouse gas emissions: 80% of human carbon dioxide emissions come from the global energy system, including transportation, buildings, industry, and electricity, heat, and fuel production.

“Doing energy right will promote the Millennium Development Goals, such as poverty eradication and social empowerment, and at the same time kick-start the transition to a lower-carbon economy,” says IIASA researcher David McCollum, who also worked on the study. “But the UN’s objectives must be complemented by a global agreement on controlling greenhouse gas emissions.”

While the UN energy objectives are formulated as global goals, the researchers also note that regional and national actions will be vital to achieving them. IIASA Energy program leader Keywan Riahi and study co-author says, “The next step for this initiative is already underway, with a large number of national plans that underpin the global objectives.”
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