For decades, energy production and use have been considered the primary culprits as observers try to assign blame for climate change. Beyond question, patterns of energy resource development and technology use, combined with growing global appetites for energy services for socioeconomic development, are important drivers of climate change. But energy systems are also vulnerable to impacts of climate change on energy activities themselves and also on other infrastructures on which energy systems depend. Energy systems are therefore victims of climate change, as well as culprits.
The process of understanding how climate change impacts can be a risk-management challenge for energy policy makers, decision makers and stakeholders is just beginning to emerge, because for so many years, impacts were not a focus of research – or even of serious discussion. A number of recent assessments, however, are beginning to sketch out a picture of vulnerabilities, risks and possible impacts, and many energy providers are seeing enough evidence of climate-related impacts on their operations that they are taking climate change impacts seriously.
This chapter will first summarise what is currently known about sensitivities of energy systems to climate change, including linkages with other systems and infrastructures. It will then summarise the exposures to climate change that are of the greatest concern for energy systems along with several issues raised by a less-than-perfect fit between the outputs of major climate change models and the needs of energy risk management. Next, it will summarise recent findings about the most serious implications of climate change for energy systems in both the near and the long term. Finally, it will consider possible strategies for reducing vulnerabilities and impacts of climate change on energy systems.
Several themes thread through the various parts of the chapter: the current focus of decision makers on extreme weather events; the fact that direct effects of climate change interact with other driving forces for energy-sector impacts; and capacities for major energy-sector institutions to reduce vulnerabilities and manage risks once they are recognised.