- Climate change is one of the biggest and most urgent long-term challenges facing the world today
- ‘The energy transition’ means reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with our energy use
- The Paris Agreement legally binds countries to take action to limit global warming
- The UK was the first major economy to sign a Net Zero commitment into law
- Decarbonising our energy system is a large, complex challenge and one in which consumers, businesses and policymakers will all need to play a part.
Climate change stands as one of the most pressing long-term challenges of our time. Human activities, particularly the release of greenhouse gases (GHGs), have set the world on a path of unprecedented warming. The Earth's average surface temperature has risen by approximately 1.1°C since the late 1800s, with most of this increase occurring in the past 35 years.
The consequences of climate change are increasingly visible: severe droughts, water shortages, destructive wildfires, rising sea levels, coastal flooding, polar ice melting, extreme storms, and a decline in biodiversity. These impacts have far-reaching implications for our health, food security, housing, safety, and livelihoods.
Urgent action is required to prevent further harm. And the key to reducing our collective carbon footprint and transitioning to a low-carbon economy lies in what’s known as "the energy transition."
‘The energy transition’ means reducing the GHG emissions associated with our energy use
The primary source of GHG emissions is the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. These fuels release emissions including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, sulphur dioxide (SOx), and nitrous oxides (NOx) during the combustion process. These emissions trap heat in the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.
As we confront the imminent threat of climate change, it is imperative to shift our reliance from fossil-based energy sources to renewable energy sources. Renewable energy is energy that comes from a source that won't run out, such as wind or solar power. Such sources are natural and self-replenishing, and usually have a low- or zero-carbon footprint. This transition is often referred to as "the energy transition" or "the decarbonisation of the energy system."
Today, the fuel we deliver is primarily used for transportation (fuelling both on-road and off-road vehicles and machinery) and heating (for off-grid homes, businesses, and various commercial applications), as well as some selected power generation uses.
Petroleum products have been the primary means of powering transportation for over a century. Similarly, the first central heating systems using heating oil as a source of fuel date back to the late 19th century. Since then, heating oil has remained a reliable and popular choice for off-grid homes, businesses, and various commercial applications.
However, with transportation being the largest source of GHG emissions in the UK and the heating of buildings responsible for 20% of the country's emissions, change is needed.
The Paris Agreement legally binds countries to take action
In 2015, global leaders came together to address the urgent need for climate action and signed the Paris Agreement. The agreement aims to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
It encourages countries to set their emission reduction targets and implement strategies to achieve them, emphasising the transition to renewable energy sources as a critical aspect of addressing climate change.
The Paris Agreement highlights that greenhouse gas emissions must peak before 2025 at the latest to limit global warming to 1.5°C. However, current measures, as of 2022, are falling short of this goal, despite global pledges.
The UK was the first major economy to sign a commitment to Net Zero into law
In 2019, the UK government made ambitious commitments to achieve "Net Zero" greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, becoming the first major economy to enshrine this target in law. This means balancing greenhouse gas emissions with removal from the atmosphere, necessitating a significant shift to renewable energy sources and a reduction in fossil fuel use, aligned with the 1.5ºC target of the Paris Agreement.
Since 2019, the government has introduced several policies outlining its direction for removing carbon from the UK’s economy, homes, and businesses.
These include: The Ten Point Plan (2020), which highlighted key areas of focus, such as investing in offshore wind and advancing low carbon hydrogen production and deployment; the Net Zero Strategy (2021), which outlined sector-specific targets and initiatives, addressing industries like agriculture, aviation, and heavy industry; and the Heat and Buildings Strategy (2021), which aims to revolutionise the way buildings are heated and powered, putting forward ambitious measures to improve the energy efficiency of homes and commercial buildings, including grants and incentives for retrofitting.
However, with the UK amongst other countries falling short of the Paris Agreement, further change and development will be needed in the coming years.
Decarbonising our energy system is a large, complex challenge
Achieving these goals will require substantial changes on a large scale, and not just in the UK. The energy transition is a complex challenge involving various stakeholders, including governments, businesses, and individuals.
Shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy requires investments in new technologies, changes to equipment, enhanced energy efficiency, infrastructure upgrades, and adjustments to consumption patterns that are deeply embedded in our daily lives.
There is no single solution to this challenge. It requires a multitude of technologies and new energy services to replace fossil fuels, given their widespread use in our economy, transportation, and heating systems.
The energy trilemma is a framework of three core objectives that governments and policymakers need to balance when considering the energy transition. It comprises of:
- Sustainability: the need to decarbonise energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions
- Security: ensuring the security and reliability of energy supplies
- Affordability: minimising the cost of energy to consumers
Delivering effective solutions that consider sustainability, security, and affordability is a complex task.
Only through a comprehensive, balanced, and large-scale approach can we move closer to achieving a sustainable energy future.
Embracing the energy transition
The energy transition represents a global shift towards a cleaner, more sustainable energy future. It is driven by the need to reduce GHG emissions, combat climate change, and create a more sustainable world.
However, transitioning our energy system to rely on lower carbon energy sources is a complex process that demands the involvement of various stakeholders, a shift in mindsets and behaviour, and significant changes in how we produce, distribute, and consume energy. It’s a challenge in which consumers, businesses and policymakers will all need to play a part.
Fossil fuels: fuels found in Earth's crust that contain carbon and hydrogen – including coal, oil, and natural gas - which can be burned for energy. Unfortunately, fossil fuels are a non-renewable resource and release greenhouse gas emissions when burned.
Net Zero: Achieving a balance between the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere and the amount removed or offset, resulting in no additional contribution to global warming, relative to 1990 levels.
Greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs): Gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, released into the atmosphere due to human activities, contributing to the greenhouse effect and global warming.
Climate change / global warming: Long-term shifts in Earth's climate, mainly caused by increased greenhouse gas emissions, leading to rising temperatures, extreme weather events, and environmental changes.
The energy transition: The ongoing process of shifting from reliance on fossil fuels (such as coal, oil, and natural gas) to more sustainable and renewable energy sources (like solar, wind, and hydro) to combat climate change and ensure a sustainable energy future.
The energy trilemma: A three-fold framework for policymakers in the energy sector that involves balancing three main objectives: ensuring energy security, providing affordable energy, and promoting environmental sustainability. Achieving progress in one area often comes at the expense of the other two, making it a complex and delicate balancing act.
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