Yesterday the International Energy Agency released their annual . Since many world governments take their cues from the agency’s figures, it’s well worth paying attention to what the IEA are saying. This year, they’re warning about a climate change lock-in. It’s not a term I’ve seen used much, but it’s a useful one.
Infrastructure has a long life expectancy. Houses built today will still be occupied 50 years from now. Power stations might last 25 or 30 years. So it really matters that what we build today is as future-facing as possible. If you open a new coal power station this year, you will have to account for its carbon emissions for the next quarter of a century. Policy decisions are made all the time that commit us to certain ways of life – ways of travelling, doing business, heating our homes – for decades to come.
Adding all these commitments together, you can see the total amount of CO2 that is going to be locked-in by our infrastructure choices, and that’s what the IEA presented this week:
If current development carries on in its current trajectory, the carbon budget will be maxed out by 2017. “Without a bold change of policy direction, the world will lock itself into an insecure, inefficient and high-carbon energy system” says the agency.
Unfortunately, the IEA is still beholden to politics and is using the benchmark of 450ppm, which many fear is far too high a concentration of CO2. 350 is a much safer target to aim for, and that puts us over the budget already.
What do we do about it? We put a moratorium on new coal power stations, streamline the planning permission for new wind farms, hold our nerve on the feed-in tariff, fund research for renewable energy technologies, and pursue efficiency measures wherever they can be found. Most importantly, we need to raise the standards for the built environment so that all new infrastructure is part of the solution and not part of the problem.