Climate change is with us. A decade ago, it was conjecture. But now, the future is unfolding before us.
Growing concerns over climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions has contributed to growth in wind and other clean energy sources. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Forth Assessment Report, experts note that eleven of the last twelve years (1995 – 2006) rank among the warmest since 1850. As glaciers, ice caps and polar sheets have melted and oceans have thermally expanded, the global average sea level has risen at an average rate of 1.8 milimeters per year since 1961 and at 3.1 milimeters per year since 19993. The IPCC concludes that ‘Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global sea level’. Additionally, the IPCC notes: “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthrogpogenic greenhouse gas concentrations’. The international community has recognised the importance of reducing greenhouse gases, and has demonstrated this by signing and ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, which requires reductions in greenhouse gases by the 192 signatory nations. The US has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, but initiatives have been implemented at the state level to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the IPCC, the primary source of the increased carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere results from the use of fossil fuels, and the conventional energy sector is one of the biggest culprits. Globally, the energy sector emits 26 billion tonnes of CO2 each year and electricity production alone accounts for 41% of these emissions. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that CO2 emissions will have increased to 40 billion tonnes by 2030, with the contribution from electricity rising to 44% over the same period. To meet greenhouse gas reduction targets established by the Kyoto Protocol , countries will increasingly have to develop clean sources of energy.