We must keep an eye on the future. As the superstorms and monsoon flooding of last year and the extreme heat and extreme cold of this year show – we still have a long way to go to deliver on the promise of the Paris Climate Change Agreement”, Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UN Climate Change (September 2018).

In 2017 temperatures were 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels. The El Niño gave the warmest year on record.

Extreme weather conditions were experienced in all the regions.

Antarctica’s ice is melting faster than ever. A study, published by Nature Magazine in June 2018 shows that ice losses from Antarctica tripled causing global sea level rise by 0.6mm/year against 0.2mm a year in 1992-2012.

According to NASA (2017), “Antarctica’s potential contribution to global sea level rise from its land-held ice is almost 7.5 times greater than all other sources of land-held ice in the world combined. The continent stores enough frozen water to raise global sea levels by 190 feet (58 meters), if it were to melt entirely. Knowing how much ice it’s losing is key to understanding the impacts of climate change now and its pace in the future.”

 

This evidence is corroborated by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Global temperatures in January-May 2018 were the the highest on record, mostly because of changes in the La Niña event, which tends to have a cooling effect.

Climate change is increasing extreme weather events. Global warming is playing out in real time: heatwawes and wildfires, drought and water scarcity, extreme rainfall and storms, flooding and landslides are the face of climate change. This will not happen in the future. It is happening.

Climate change has long been predicted to increase extreme events.

According to the 2018 Global Risks Report of World Economic Forum,  “ there is increasing awareness across business, governments and civil society of the urgency of tackling extreme weather risks,  associated over recent decades, with  serious disruption of critical infrastructures and agricultural systems, increasing loss of human lives as well as  rising costs”.

Climate Change in Europe

All European regions are vulnerable to climate change,with different and some time unexpected impacts. Αccording to the European Environmental Agency (EEA), climate change is increased the probability of various extreme weather and climate events. “As land and sea temperatures increase and precipitation patterns change, wet regions are becoming wetter – especially in winter – and dry regions drier, particularly in summer. Climate-related extremes such as heat waves, heavy precipitation and droughts are increasing in frequency and intensity”

UK, Baltic Region and Continental Europe

UK, Baltic Region and Continental Europe In summer 2018 a “little” change in the jet stream ordinary trend (the west to east winds highly influencing Europe’s weather) has left Scandinavia and the UK hot and dry, with high temperatures and unusual wildfires. Increasing storm surges, associated with rising sea levels risk, are endangering coastal areas and floodplains, driving flooding and erosion. Germany and Central Eastern Europe countries already experience river floodings that-will increase in the coming years.

 

Southern and south-eastern Europe

The Mediterranean and the Balkans are becoming a climate change hotspot. In the summer of 2017, record high temperatures of over 40 °C ( ‘Lucifer heatwave’) from the Iberian Peninsula to the Balkans and Turkey, exacerbated drought and water scarcity, damaging agriculture and causing many wildfires. Without considering the deadly impact of the heatwaves.

In the near future, climate change projections performed with high-resolution models of the Mediterranean Sea indicate that remarkable changes will occur. From 2021 onwards we can expect substantial warming (≈1.5°C in winter and ≈2°C in summer) and less rainfall (≈-5%). The decrease of precipitation and drought will worsen the water availability in southern and eastern Mediterranean, as well as will increase the desertification.

The present situation is already critical. Considering that the minimum threshold of water required to meet the regions water requirements (1,700m³/ capita/ year). 180 million people living in the south and east Mediterranean basin are already water-poor, since they have only 1,000 m3 per capita each year. About 80 million of them experience a serious shortage, having access to just 500 m3 per capita per year.

What we have in our hands is a widening “Water Divide” in the Mediterranean Region, which will contribute to social instability and migration.

Water for irrigation and food production constitutes one of the greatest pressures on freshwater resources. In many parts of the Mediterranean region, agriculture accounts for ~ 80% of available freshwater withdrawals, due to the widespread irrigation of crops. Most irrigation water is abstracted during the summer when demand peaks and water is least available. In this context, the key option is technological and biotech innovation in food production.

Adaptation to water scarcity in the Mediterranean

The continued expansion of natural water consumption is not a viable option for water resource management in the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean needs a sustainable approach to the management of its water resources. To this end, water resources must be oriented towards a “circular water economy” prioritizing reuse. That means improving the technologies, infrastructures and systems to build closed loop and zero liquid discharge systems.

We must explore further sea water desalination. We must learn from case studies such as the Hadera seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) desalination plant in Israel, the largest in the world. Israel covers more than 50% of its needs for Israeli households, agriculture and industry from the sea.

The challenge of Resilience in Europe

The EEA estimates that in the last decades the cost of climate-related extreme events is €400 bn. This sum does not include the development of future infrastructure for the defence against future events.

What is necessary is a “resilience” approach.

Resilience is ‘the capacity of social, economic, and environmental systems to cope with a hazardous event or trend or disturbance, responding or reorganizing in ways that maintain their essential function, identity, and structure, while also maintaining the capacity for adaptation, learning, and transformation.’ (IPCC 2014 Summary for policymakers)

“Resilient responses start with surviving, which involves coping with stresses and shocks but possibly living a reduced quality of life as a result. A more active response, adapting, involves making changes to structures, lifestyles or livelihoods in response to the stresses and shocks, leading to an altered and potentially improved quality of life. Transforming goes one step further and involves making fundamental  changes to the system.” ( The Royal Society, 2014)

The resilience of vulnerable areas and cities need a holistic approach. Engineering and ecological resilience should be guided by a long term vision of land uses adaptation and transformation, as well as of the natural  resources conservation and efficient ecosystems productivity.

There is an urgent set of priorities to safeguard Europe against climate change: a. step up coastal zone management and  protection to resist floods; b. increase the stabilising of river banks and natural floodplains, as well as construction of owerflow basin and emergency drainages in order to prevent flooding in the urban crossing; c. ensure integrated water resource management for all the uses, looking at building a “circular water economy” that maximises use and reuse; d. bolster our desalination capacity to tackle drought and fight against forest fires; e. build resilience in agriculture, reducing sensitivity to drought and increasing adaptive capacity to climate change. That includes taking measures to guarantee soil quality(fertility, salinity and erosion) as well as shift crops from open-air to greenhouse production with closed water systems; f. improve energy and water distribution systems vulnerable regions and cities to secure the continuity of services and/or the fast recovery; g. design urban infrastructures to reduce vulnerability to he; h. restore hydrogeological balance to reduce landslides risks; i. manage our forests to reduce the impact of heatwawes.

These are urgent challenges as heat is rising. In 2017 CO2  emissions had risen by 2% .

At the end of September 2018 the atmospheric concentrations of CO2  reached 405.54 parts per million, compared with a pre-industrial baseline of 280 parts per million.

The global challenge of decarbonization

CO2  emissions and concentration are not in the trajectory of the Paris Agreement, a long way from the 2C  objective. As a result, to meet 2C global emissions must fall more quickly if they peak later.

This means that the decarbonisation of global economy should be accelerated.

The trend of investments in exploitation and uses of coal and oil shows that we are going in the opposite direction.

If the international community will not be able to reverse the trend, the best case scenario is a  difficult resilience of the nations and communities to 4C, with unpredictable geopolitics implications.

The Paris Agreement, as evident, is not able to address the complicated issue of decarbonization, given surging demand from emerging economies, particularly India, China, South-East Asia, South America and the Middle East. There is an urgent need for innovative global measures, easy to manage, and global initiatives that benefit all the countries involved. 

Moving forward, a global carbon tax is easy and could be effective.

This would have a direct and non-distorting effect in all the countries on the selection of sources and on the efficiency of energy end-uses.

In this regard, the view of the former USA Treasury secretary Larry Summers is interesting:

“I think the replacement of command-and-control regulation with a carbon tax is a positive step. It will reduce uncertainty and thereby encourage investment. Raising carbon prices has the virtue of discouraging all types of carbon use, be it from power production or transportation, from changing fuels or reducing energy use. It is therefore likely an efficient way to reduce emissions”. (Larry Summers: Why we should all embrace a fantastic Republican proposal to save the planet- February 9, 2017. The Washington Post).

The economist William D. Nordhaus suggests that the range of carbon tax, to be effective, should be from 30 $/ton in 2020 up to 160 $ in 2050. (The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics for a Warming World, William D. Nordhaus Yale University Press, 2013)

The Global Energy Interconnection is the first concrete global-scale technological and industrial cooperation proposal aiming to ensure universal access to electricity by 2050, while halving CO2 emissions compared to 1990 (11.5 billion tons).

In 2016, China promoted the Global Energy Interconnection Development and Cooperation Organisation (GEIDCO), whose aim is to identify and program technological solutions shared worldwide in order to “meet the global electricity demand by promoting the development of alternative and green solutions.”

The objective  of GEIDCO is to promote the worldwide interconnection of power grids by 2050 in order to optimise the use of electricity coming from every power plant on the planet, employing supercritical UHV AC (alternate current) and DC ( direct current) lines for fast, longdistance power transmission as well as smart grids to boost end-use efficiency.

The Global Energy Interconnection (GEI)  project is based on three pillars:

  • the development of supercritical ultrahigh voltage direct current (UHV-DC) lines for the lossless, long-distance transmission of electricity;
  • Storage of energy from renewables (thermodynamic solar power, hydrogen, high-capacity batteries);
  • Building smart grids and energy efficiency in the local distribution and final energy uses

GEI could be the backbone of a decarbonized world economy thanks to the full exploitation of renewables and clean technologies. UHV grid continuity coupled with increased storage capacity of hydro, solar and wind energy will enable quicker distribution of power from renewables, even when it is generated in remote areas or when local supply exceeds local demand.

In other words,

  • energy from renewables from remote areas can gradually replace energy from fossil fuels : clean replacement
  • the final uses of energy will gradually covered by electricity : electricity replacement

GEI could indeed drive  to turn on lights in those areas where a total of three billion people have little or no access to electricity. GEI is an unprecedented worldwide technological and industrial cooperation plan, to meet 2 milestone commitments of the international community: “Sustainable Energy for All” and “Paris Climate Agreement”

GEIDCO has estimated that the development, installation and management of generation plants, UHV-DC transmission lines and local smart grids will move investments for close to 50 trillion dollars. A similar figure has been projected by the International Energy Agency for the global energy system to comply with the 2015 Paris Agreement provisions, whereby the global temperature rise this century must be kept below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

The challenge of decarbonization in Europe

In the last 26 years the  EU’s combined GDP grew by 53%, while total emissions decreased by 23%. Primary energy demand and GDP continue to decouple, and the carbon (GHG) intensity decreased by about 50%.

Despite the progress in the low carbon intensity, fossil fuels   account today for about 72% of  EU primary energy consumption. Subsidies provided by Member States ( e.g. support to coal/lignite mines, capacity payments for emission intensive power plants, tax incentives for diesel cars )  increase the share of fossil fuels in the energy mix.

This current policy undermines the 2050 EU low carbon  objectives : carbon emissions are projected to decrease by 40%  instead  of 80% .

Oil and petroleum products supply mostly the transportation sector (two-thirds of final demand), increasing the carbon intensity of the European economy.The priority is decarbonising transport, improving electrification and e-mobility as well as promoting the shift from diesel to alternative (biofuels) and low carbon fuels (natural gas/LNG) in  shipping,aviation and heavy trucks. That is the only way to reduce drastically the demand of oil and petroleum products.

At the moment, a quarter of all electricity in the EU is produced by coal fired plants, sometime as back-up for renewable energies) and  industrial processes such as steel production. Coal and the other solid fuels have the higher “CO2 to energy” content. Reducing coal use is a top priority.

One of the ways forward is substitution of coal with natural gas in both power generation and heating/cooling sectors. LNG imports supply mostly shipping  and heavy-duty tracks. Although natural  gas/LNG  is a fossil fuel,  it is the best short term available option as back-up capacity  of renewable energies, to generate electricity   when “the wind doesn’t blow” and “the sun doesn’t shine.”

Natural gas is also  a transitional “low carbon” resource to replace the carbon intensive  coal and petroleum in  power sector, heating and cooling, driving towards the drastic reduction of  solid fuels, with a significant outcome both in decarbonisation and energy security of Europe. That’s why natural gas is a strategic “energy bridge” towards the decarbonisation, while at the same time the  security and diversification  of supply are essential for the future of Europe.

In this context, the priority European Gas Corridors pave the wave forward. According to  Miguel Arias Cañete, the European Commissioner for Energy and Climate Action “ a key major project for our diversification efforts is the Southern Gas Corridor, to bring gas from the Caspian region directly to Europe. It is a measure of the success of all involved that the first gas from Azerbaijan was delivered to Turkey this summer and that it should arrive in Europe as of 2020” (April 2018).

The Southern corridor (TAP)  will supply natural gas from Azerbaijan to Greece, Western Balkans and Italy with the initial capacity of 10 billion cubic meters (bcm) per year, improving the decarbonization of the Southern Eastern Europe as well the natural gas supply to Europe.

North Stream 2

The project is aimed to  supply natural gas from  Russia directly to Germany with the annual capacity of 55 billion cubic meters.  North Stream 2 will double the North Stream pipeline, supported by the European Union and operating since 2011.

The project is finalized mostly to meet the demand of Germany, committed to phase out in the medium term coal fired power  and nuclear plants.

Five European energy firms are financing the pipeline: German energy groups Uniper and Wintershall, Anglo-Dutch group Shell, Austria’s OMV and France’s Engie.

From a technical and economic point of view the project does not seem to have real alternatives. Nevertheless, the project is highly divisive. On the one hand, the European Parliament is concerned that the project increases Europe’s dependence on a single energy supplier, while USA underlines  the risks of  supply disruption as in the case of Ukraine. On the other hand, the legal service of the Council of the European Union has recently rejected a European Commission proposal to extend the bloc’s internal energy market rules to regulate North Stream 2.

Decarbonising the German economy should be the priority to link North Stream 2 construction with the energy security concerns, also taking into account that a large LNG terminal, fueled mainly by US gas,  will be built in northern of Germany ( Brunsbuettel).

Electricity Interconnection  

Interconnection and decarbonisation are the two sides of the same coin.

Efficient and well integrated electricity European networks, in combination with the smart grids  dissemination, reduce the primary energy demand as well as the fossil fuels import, improve the continuity of dispatching electricity from renewable energies, increase the electrification and  the final uses of electricity in transportation and heating/cooling sectors.

European interconnection should be reviewed in the context of the new “energy reality”, in order to maximize the supply of renewables  in the grid.

Today, because of the lack of HV transmission lines from the wind power in northern Europe to the consumption centers in the southern, when the winds blows hard the surplus is not dispatched in the grid in efficient way.

This is the same for the solar energy in Southern Europe.

New advanced and effective technologies -like Ultra High Voltage Direct Current lines (UHVDC) – can allow the long distance and cross border  transmission of electricity from renewables along the Priority European Electricity Corridors.

The new corridors can become the backbone of the European Super Grid, like the North Sea Countries’ Offshore Grid Initiative, which aims to create a regional supergrid.

The interconnection of the European electricity network can also facilitate the supply of electricity from non European regions.

The Chinese proposal (Global Energy Interconnection) for building an HVDC interconnection to transmit “clean” electricity to Europe has been evaluated by the Joint Research Center of the European Commission (2017).

According to the Joint Research Center, “given the challenges of finding a steady source of clean electricity to meet the ever increasing power demand of Europe the moment to study and consider the advent of such an interconnection is just right”. 

The transmission of clean electricity to the European grid can change dramatically the current energy scenarios : the energy dependence from fossil fuels could be set near zero, while the security of electricity supply should be addressed and managed.

It’s certainly better.

In conclusion, resilience to climate change and decarbonization are crucial challenges for the future of Europe. But, one may hope than in overcoming this challenge, Europe has the chance to lay the foundations for sustainable development and create thousands of good paying jobs in the process. What Europe is invited to implement is the biggest infrastructural development project since the Second World War and this is perhaps a timely time to push forward. Europe needs the positive energy and so does the planet.