SINGAPORE: On Dec 12, governments around the world celebrated a climate change deal.
After the annual two-week COP21 (Conference Of Parties) summit in Paris, France,negotiators from nearly 200 countries signed on a legal agreementthat is partly legally binding and partly voluntary to limit the rise in global temperatures to less than 2°C.
While an agreement has been reached, the hard part now begins – putting it into action.
And energy experts on Channel NewsAsia's Perspectives say the goals are unattainable if current government policies towards fossil fuels and clean energy remain the way they are.
From an over-abundance in subsidies to the fossil fuel and oil industries, to a lack of policies that enable clean energy technologies to go into markets, governments and incumbent energy providers are simply not doing enough to meet climate change goals, said the panellists.
Prof Phil Taylor, Director of the Institute for Sustainability and Professor of Electrical Power Systems at Newcastle University (UK) said: "What we have to realise is that energy markets worldwide are dominated by a small number of very large companies and those present incumbents are making significant profits, so there isn't really a big driver to make the change that we need. Incremental change isn't going to be good enough.
“We've been taking too long and too slow and we're not really seeing leadership from our governments to take us where we need to get to. It's not happening fast enough.”
During a live recording of Channel NewsAsia’s Perspectives on Nov 16 at the Siemens Center in Singapore, Prof Taylor was joined by Dr Armin Bruck, CEO of Siemens Singapore; Dr Matthew Peloso, Founder and Director of Sun Electric; and Mr Sohail Hasnie, Principal Energy Specialist at the Asian Development Bank.
REGULATORS BEHIND THE TIMES
According to Mr Hasnie, policy makers and regulators are behind the times because many are not keeping up to date with clean energy technologies that are available.
"A lot of efficiency decisions do not get made because even the policy makers are not really aware of the technological changes. It is very important that we build the capacity (of knowledge and understanding) of policy makers and their advisers,” said Mr Hasnie.
According to Mr Hasnie, even average policy makers are not aware of the 80 per cent price reduction in solar energy over the last six years.
“If you ask the average policy makers about what is rooftop solar, they will say, 'When we last checked it was expensive.’
"Problem is when they last checked it was 10 years back.”
Mr Hasnie added that current government subsidies to the oil and fossil fuel markets do not encourage change.
“We give lots of subsidies globally, almost close to half a trillion dollars. So fossil fuels have been moving but clean energy is not getting enough support.”
ENACT DRASTIC CHANGES
(From left) Perspectives panellists Matthew Peloso, Sohail Hasnie, Phil Taylor, Armin Bruck and moderator Teymoor Nabili. (Photo: Amaranthine Photos)
Panellists also took questions from the audience and suggested changes to kick-start a departure from our reliance on fossil fuels.
Mr Peloso called for a more open energy market that gives consumers a choice by allowing Beta and existing low-carbon technologies to go in.
“Governments need to liberalise energy markets. That means more energy customers can have a diverse range. So those people who do want to access sustainable solutions or different pricing schemes, they can access that. That’s very important. People need to come in, look, participate and see what technologies are suitable for them and for their needs,” said Mr Peloso.
Mr Bruck called for a defined set of rules to be established in markets and for old systems to be upgraded so users can have the choices that Mr Peloso suggested.
Said Mr Bruck: “The infrastructure change to a smart-grid scenario, which is happening here and there, needs to happen. But we need a policy update because without a rule book, nobody knows where we stand and what happens. This will encourage lots of user-specific energy services to suit lifestyle needs.”
For new technology to come in, Prof Taylor encouraged governments and policy makers to be brave, and to take leadership to allow new entrants to challenge the incumbents while not hampering economic growth.
“It’s a big challenge but the technologies are there. We need disruptive change so governments need to intervene. And we need to be honest about the level of subsidies they give to fossil fuels at the moment, which is in the trillions of dollars worldwide.
“We need to subsidise renewable and clean technologies as importantly as fossil fuels to stimulate the growth of low-carbon technologies. We need to make sure we can invest pre-emptively in the infrastructure that will enable that low-carbon transition.”
Mr Hasnie said change ultimately lies in governments to stop financing fossil fuels and evaluate their contrasting attitudes to fossil fuels and clean energy.
Said Mr Hasnie: “The consumers do not know that out of their pockets they are providing huge subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. The issue is that the playing field is completely distorted. What the oil and fossil fuel industries are doing is status quo, because they’re getting handouts.”
Mr Hasnie suggested that by allowing cities to thrive on new technologies, attitudes to oil and fossil fuels will change.
“It is important that governments wake up because technology is changing every day, renewable energy is available, and storage is becoming very cheap.
“The car on the street now is riding on a subsidised fossil fuel because the choice is not as great now, but in 20 years, when electric cars are established, you might see cities say, ‘If you have a tailpipe, do not enter my city because my children have a right to clean air.'”