Adopting Paris Agreement: breaking the typical mind-set

cop21The COP21 ended last week with a deal to keep global warming to ‘well below’ 2 degrees. It strives for a limit of 1.5 degrees, which means the end of fossil fuel and a full transformation to renewable energy. The draft document is legally binding and includes five-year reviews on the countries’ progress of their climate plans. Many experts are not convinced by the Paris climate deal, as there are no mandatory commitments of required resources and of emissions reduction, which means that there is no enforcement on how much the countries have to do to achieve the goal. Is enforcement really a necessity? Let’s come back to this question later.

Air pollutants

Many sources indicate that 45% of the CO2 emissions come from power generation plants, which is not surprising as 90% of them are coal-fired plants. As such they are considered as the most environmentally harmful form of generating energy. Unless we do something to transform these to renewable energy, we cannot expect a positive progress towards the goal. Many parties think that governments should start closing the existing coal-fired plants, but more parties think that there are currently not many alternatives to replace this technology. If there are, they will cost more and in the end will burden the end users. A very logical and typical thought when it comes to a new technology.

What about the transport sector? This sector accounts for around 15% of global CO2 emissions and the emissions from the transport sector is expected to increase under the Business-As-Usual scenario. In Europe, where a quarter of world’s motorised vehicles belong to, many initiatives have been taken to realise a transition to a low-carbon transport system. Promoting non-motorised transport modes for short distances, i.e. cycling and walking, has been facing a tremendous success in many European countries. Unfortunately, the same success story does not apply to the public transport system, which is most probably due to the much higher investments needed for public transport.

Boosting the use of electric buses

The public transport bus sector, which is the backbone of the European public transport system, has been facing a transition to non-fossil fuelled vehicles in the last decade. However, the progress is very slow. Diesel buses are still dominating the European public transport fleet. The battery bus technology has been accepted worldwide as the most ready-to-use fossil fuel free technology for buses (compared to bio-LNG and hydrogen), but somehow not many countries are willing to implement the technology. Higher purchase price, lower urban range that does not fit into the existing timetable, and lower passenger capacity, are some of the disadvantages of battery busses compared to the diesel ones. Again, a logical and typical thought when it comes to a new technology. It is always easier to point out weaknesses.

In the spirit of the Paris Agreement, shouldn’t we wonder whether it is still appropriate to just looking at the economic return on investment, instead of giving more consideration to the social return on the environment? Don’t we need to focus more on the opportunities than the obstacles?

The total cost of ownership (TCO) of deploying electric buses is indeed not lower than that of diesel buses. However, when the environmental cost is taken into account, the TCO of electric buses will be around 15 – 20% lower. The next question is, how much weight are we willing to give to the environment? As (passenger) transport mostly belongs to the public domain, will the government take the necessary measures to make a large scale deployment of electric buses possible? For example, by easing the regulation to install battery chargers along the routes, supporting the public transport operators to think out of the box and to be more creative in developing their business model towards the deployment of electric buses. Will Europe set a best practice of fossil fuel free public transport that can be adopted by other countries?

Next steps

Nearly 200 countries are now on a settled course after a deal has been reached in the COP21, can we expect more concrete steps and more ambitious measures to achieve the goal in the limited time we have? Are we going to stay in the typical mind-set or are we going to take the steps to break it? After all, it is about our planet and its liveability for the next generations. It is not enough to just do our best. We need to do whatever it takes to save the Earth. If we go back to the very first question, is enforcement then an issue?

Photo courtesy: United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11)

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