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close this bookEnergy after Rio - Prospects and Challenges - Executive Summary (UNDP, 1997, 38 p.)
close this folder2. Energy and Major Global Issues
close this folder2.2 Energy and Environment
View the document2.2.1 Health
View the document2.2.2 Acidification
View the document2.2.3 Climate Change
View the document2.2.4 Land Degradation

2.2.3 Climate Change

According to the 1995 Scientific Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “The body of statistical evidence now points towards a discernible human influence on global climate.” This influence is due to the increase in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases since pre-industrial times, and the effect of this increase on the energy balance of the Earth.

It is now the view of the IPCC that continued increases in greenhouse gas concentrations, as a result of human activity, will lead to significant climate change (enhanced global warming) in the coming century. However, uncertainties still exist limiting our ability to quantify human influence and project the future. Nevertheless, it appears that major changes are required in current fossil-fuel-based energy consumption patterns. This is because business-as-usual is likely to increase carbon emissions by a factor of three by 2100, whereas according to the IPCC, emissions will have to fall far below the present level in order to stabilise the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2).

Earlier IPCC findings spurred governments to sign the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) in Rio (1992). Since 1994, the UNFCCC has now been ratified by more than four-fifths of the UN member states (164 as of end of 1996). The UNFCCC involves voluntary, rather than binding, emission stabilisation commitments. Targets and timetables for emission reductions are now being negotiated. Inventories of human-related emissions of CO, (1990-1995 and 2000 projections) have shown that most industrialised countries will not, in fact, meet their voluntary target of limiting their year 2000 emissions to 1990 levels.

The threat of climate change is principally an energy-related problem. Current energy systems are based on the combustion of fossil fuels which account for 76% of the world’s primary energy. This combustion leads to about three-fourths of the annual human-related emissions of the main greenhouse gas CO2. These annual emissions accumulate, increasing the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. Even taking into account the quantitative uncertainties, current energy patterns are leading the world down a path that is unsustainable by threatening the global climate. This is the energy-climate change nexus.