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The Paris Agreement on climate change signals the end of business as usual for energy industries. For the first time in history more than 150 developed and developing countries have promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But how binding are these agreements? And do they provide impetus for local action in Africa?

World leaders meet at the UN in New York 22 April formally to sign the Paris Agreement on climate change. The European Union is already translating the agreement into action, says Miguel Arias Cañete, European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, in this article for the OECD Yearbook 2016.

Is replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources such as solar and wind really feasible? A lot has to happen first, including a change in how we use energy. 

©Phil Noble/Reuters

When the International Energy Agency (IEA) was formed in 1974, concern over climate change was in its infancy. While the greenhouse effect was known it was not widely recognised, and the debate about the long-term effect of CO2 emissions was confined more or less to academia. 

©Olivier Martin-Gambier

OECD Business brief

"Electric vehicles are the only practical, affordable solution to our planet’s environmental challenges–and they are available today."

What role can nuclear energy play in combating climate change? According to the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), it can play a very pivotal one.

©Jackie Naegelen/Reuters

Faced with heavy pollution and congested roads, Paris is turning to electric vehicles to restore air quality. Its incentive policies for all forms of transport should inspire cities all over the world to follow suit.

©Charlotte Moreau

A residential site on the rue Saint Charles in the 15th arrondissement of Paris was the first retrofit under the Climate Plan led by the city’s property management agency, Régie Immobilière de la Ville de Paris (RIVP). The project proved complex but exemplary, not just in its implementation and execution, but also in terms of managing relationships.

Wind turbines on the Eiffel Tower ©SETE- Photopointcom

Already a showcase when it was opened for the 1889 World’s Fair, the Eiffel Tower continues to light the way forward today, with sustainability being a feature on the monument’s new first floor unveiled in 2014.

Click to enlarge. Source: V.Smil

Transition to new energy sources is unavoidable, but here are five sobering first principles to remember along the way.

Global electricity demand declined in 2009 for the first time since the end of World War II according to OECD estimates. Electricity demand experienced a constant climb over the second half of the 20th century through the oil crises of the 1970s, the Black Monday crash of 1987, and on through the dot-com bubble bursting at the turn of the millennium as development countered all downward forces. The credit crunch of 2008 though, has resulted in a drop of as much as 1.6% based on OECD figures derived from the IMF’s latest GDP growth forecast for 2009.

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We live in an age of gadgets and gigabytes. Our mobile phones have morphed into multi-tasking life-support systems, with inbuilt cameras, calendars and messaging services. Computers are ever faster child’s play, and Internet allows us 24-hour access to the rest of the world. However, all of this comes at a price: our increasing reliance upon electricity.
The United States is dependent on fossil fuels for almost all its energy supply. Coal dominates electricity generation, accounting for half of its power production, with nuclear and natural gas around one-fifth each.

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Environmental policies can change people’s daily habits, as a new OECD survey shows.

Click to read our seasonal cartoon. By Stik, especially for the OECD Observer

The OECD Observer team would like to wish all our readers a very happy festive season, and a safe and prosperous New Year.

©Arnd Wegmann/Reuters

The International Energy Agency (IEA) is 35 years old in 2009. A sister organisation of the OECD, it offers a timely reminder that a co-ordinated public response to a crisis can succeed.

Predicting the future is all very well, but how much will it cost to keep the world’s engines running? This publication is the first-ever attempt to comprehensively examine future investment needs, worldwide, in all parts of the energy-supply chain.

On 2 November, Morocco launched a US$9 billion solar energy programme. With five power plants, the programme aims for a total installed capacity of 2,000 MW by 2020-equivalent to almost 40% of the country's electricity production.

The efficiency of power grids may be in the spotlight now, but the availability of energy resources is also a burning and divisive question. Renewables Information 2003, from the International Energy Agency, shows that in the past decade, renewable energy sources, such as solar power, hydro, wind and combustible biomass resources have been gaining ground.

California is famous for blue skies and leading-edge technology parks. Combine the two and, no surprise, you will find that the state may be taking a lead in solar energy too. Then consider the fact that housing developers are simply replacing traditional roof materials with solar panels as part of new buildings and below the cost of a normal mortgage, and this all begins to sound like a movie script from… California.

Nuclear energy could help in the battle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but for many the production of nuclear waste outweighs this advantage. One important challenge is to convince an often reluctant public that with new waste disposal techniques, nuclear energy is worth a second look in the interests of sustainable development.

Click to enlarge. Source: IEA

Fighting global warming means reducing dependency on oil. But though supply is insecure, it remains plentiful. Keeping oil in the energy mix makes sense.

Energy production and consumption patterns are shifting. So are the challenges for investment and global energy policy.

Click to enlarge. Source: OECD/NEA

OECD countries share the same goals of sustainable development, but differ in their views on the role of nuclear energy in achieving those goals. Indeed, few energy sources have been scrutinised in the public spotlight over the years quite as much. The question is simple: is nuclear really a sustainable energy?

Today, energy security is an indispensable subject even in general discussions about foreign policy. Securing needed energy resources is one of the prerequisites for ensuring sustainable economic growth. Dealing with the current rapid growth in demand for energy in Asia is a high priority on many agendas. As for Japan’s perspective on energy security co-operation, I would like to touch upon the following three points: security of supply, energy and the environment, and the importance in energy response of the International Energy Agency (IEA), a sister organisation of the OECD.
With energy demand set to rise and pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, what is the potential of nuclear energy to expand? That depends, says the new Nuclear Energy Outlook from the NEA. The authors suggests two scenarios to 2050: a low expansion scenario whereby currently declared intentions are not fully realised, leading to limited expansion, with most new plants simply as replacement; and a high growth scenario, based on current plans and government statements.

The Johannesburg summit is a golden opportunity to move forward on some tough sustainable development issues. But the agenda has grown and become unwieldy. Progress will depend on getting back to some global basics. 

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Can biofuels truly compete with petrol? Recent projections suggest that ethanol could represent up to 5% of the world’s transport fuel by 2010. That figure may seem modest at first glance, but it is significant, considering no other alternative fuel has had an equivalent impact on the gasoline market in over 100 years.

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  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .

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