Countries aren’t taking the threat from extreme weather to energy security seriously enough, the World Meteorological Organization warns
11 October 2022
Climate change could cause global energy crises equivalent to the impacts of Russia’s war with Ukraine, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
In a year that has seen hurricanes, heatwaves and flooding cause electricity blackouts around the world, the WMO has issued an urgent call for countries to better prepare their power grids for the impacts of extreme weather.
“Changes in climate pose significant risks to the energy sector, directly affecting fuel supply, energy production, physical resilience of current and future energy infrastructure, and energy demand,” it says in its latest State of Climate Services report released on 11 October.
The threat to the stability of energy systems is on the “same level” as Russian manipulation of gas markets, says Roberta Boscolo at the WMO.
Russia has been squeezing gas supplies to Europe in what experts believe is an effort to drive up prices, destabilise energy systems and force the West to weaken its opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Its tactics have sparked fears of blackouts this winter across Europe. Last week, Britain’s grid operator warned that the country may suffer rolling blackouts this winter if gas supplies to the country are disrupted.
But extreme weather has also driven energy instability this year. In the past month, millions of people across the US, Canada and Cuba have been hit by severe and widespread blackouts in the wake of hurricanes Ian and Fiona. In January, 7000 residents of Buenos Aires, Argentina, had their electricity supplies cut amid a record-breaking heatwave, and London narrowly avoided a blackout in July after power demand surged during a 40°C (104°F) heatwave.
As climate change advances, increasingly extreme weather events will erode energy security around the world, the WMO warns in its report. Yet only 40 per cent of climate plans submitted to the UN under the Paris climate treaty prioritise adapting the national energy sector to climate impacts, it points out.
Analysis published last month by Climate Central, a non-profit research group, suggests that reported power outages across the US from extreme weather have jumped by 64 per cent in the past decade.
Robert Gross at Imperial College London says climate change poses a threat to energy systems “no less serious than war”, particularly for low-lying countries vulnerable to flooding and sea level rise.
For the UK, the most pressing climate threat to electricity supplies is likely to be storm damage to power infrastructure, he says. Nearly 1 million homes lost power during Storm Arwen in November 2021, with nearly 4000 without power for more than a week.
“The most common cause of power failure [in the UK] is when transmission or distribution networks are knocked out by severe weather,” says Gross. “With severe weather events predicted to be more frequent and more damaging, this is the principal threat.”
This week, the WMO also called for a rapid acceleration in the rollout of low-carbon energy, warning that countries aren’t moving fast enough to meet global net-zero goals.
The supply of electricity from clean energy sources must double within the next eight years, while investments in renewable energy must triple by 2050, it said, citing analysis from the International Energy Agency.
“Time is not on our side, and our climate is changing before our eyes. We need a complete transformation of the global energy system,” said Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the WMO, in a statement.
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