Renewables growing but world still on course to smash 2°C – EIA

Energy Information Administration report illustrates how ‘business as usual’ policies equal dangerous warming levels

By Ed King

New US Government data reveals investment in renewables and nuclear is rising faster than ever before, but projected carbon emissions leave the world on course for dangerous levels of warming.

Based on current scenarios, the Federal Energy Information Agency’s (EIA) 2013 Energy Outlook report predicts the global clean energy sector will grow 2.5% a year between now and 2040.

But with global energy consumption set to rise 56% by the middle of the century, it expects countries to rely heavily on fossil fuels – in particular coal and natural gas – to meet demand.

The EIA says this demand will see energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rise from 31.2 billion metric tonnes per year in 2010 to 36.4 billion metric tonnes in 2020 and 45.5 billion metric tonnes in 2040 – which would likely leave the world facing 4°C of warming by the end of the century.

Global oil consumption is also expected to soar by 32%, although prices could hit US$163 per barrel by 2040.

“Rising prosperity in China and India is a major factor in the outlook for global energy demand.  These two countries combined account for half the world’s total increase in energy use through 2040,” EIA administrator Adam Sieminski said in a statement.

Research from the Carbon Tracker Initiative indicates that 500 gigatonnes (billion metric tons) of carbon dioxide can be safely released.

Levels above that could cause warming above 2°C and breach a series of ‘tipping points’ such as the melting of the Greenland Ice cap.

While these latest figures offer a sombre assessment of the state of efforts to avoid dangerous levels of warming, the EIA adds that they do not incorporate prospective legislation or policies that might affect energy markets.

Countries are currently working on a global emissions reduction deal set to be agreed at the UN in 2015, which is likely to penalise pollution and further incentivise clean energy.

“You have to know where we are headed, and in the end this would be the consequences of our current course of action,” said Daniel Klingenfeld from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). “Only if you know this you have the levers to change course.”

“It’s a plausible scenario abut a very uncomfortable scenario. But this reference scenario by EIA is completely at odds with any carbon budget that would be compatible with climate stabilisation at 2°C.

“In order to do that we would need a global emissions peak by or before 2020, in order to have a realistic pathway for driving down emissions.”

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