Energy ‘transformation’ needed to save climate, says IEA

Global greenhouse gas emissions could peak by 2020 says influential agency if governments take radical steps now

The World Bank is calling for an end to fossil fuel subsidies - so why does it continue to support coal plants? (Pic: Flickr/Martin)

Coal use should peak by 2020 to limit warming to 2C, says IEA (Pic: Flickr/Martin)

By Megan Darby

39 countries have submitted climate action plans to the UN to date, while others are developing policies to offer in the coming months.

These include targets to curb greenhouse gas emissions and form the basis of a global climate pact to be struck in Paris this December. The goal is to limit warming to 2C above pre-industrial levels.

But these policies will collectively only eke out the 2C carbon budget by eight months to 2040, according to the International Energy Agency.

In a special report on climate change released Monday, analysts warned much deeper carbon cuts were needed to prevent catastrophic climate change.

“A transformation of the world’s energy system must become a uniting vision if the 2C climate goal is to be achieved,” they said.

Report: World’s carbon emission growth levelled off in 2014

The IEA’s “bridge scenario” maps out a path to peak global emissions around 2020, much earlier than currently forecast.

It does not achieve universal access to modern energy, but an extra 1.7 billion people have electricity and 1.6 billion have clean cookstoves by 2030.

This means making buildings, vehicles and industry more energy efficient; cutting methane emissions from oil and gas production and increasing investment in clean energy.

Fossil fuel subsidies and inefficient coal-fired power stations should be phased out.

Critical challenge

Energy accounts for around two thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions, making it critical to efforts to clamp down on climate damage.

Historically, economic growth has been driven by burning fossil fuels, a trend that is slowly starting to shift.

In 2014, for the first time in at least 40 years, emissions stayed flat while global GDP grew 3%. Energy intensity – the volume of energy used for each unit of economic growth – fell 2.3%.

Renewable sources accounted for nearly half of new power installations, while economies like China shifted away from dirty industry.

That allowed some “decoupling” of growth from climate pollution, despite persistent fossil fuel aid outweighing carbon prices.

The IEA reported 13% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions came with consumer subsidies averaging US$115 a tonne.

Carbon markets, meanwhile, covered 11% of emissions with an average price of just US$7/t.

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As of 14 May, countries responsible for a third of energy-related emissions had put forward pledges to steer that sector in a greener direction.

The European Union would become “one of the world’s least carbon-intensive economies,” the IEA said, with its promise to cut emissions 40% from 1990 levels by 2030.

The US “would deliver a major reduction in emissions” with its target of 26-28% from 2005 to 2025, while China’s intention to peak in 2030 is “an important change in direction”.

However, the emissions pathway still commits the world to an estimated 2.6C of warming by 2100 and 3.5C in the longer term.

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In Paris, the IEA said countries need to create the conditions to ramp up ambition.

There must be “a strong process” for monitoring national performance against climate goals, it said. “Evidence of tangible results will give the necessary confidence to all countries and energy sector stakeholders that everyone is acting in harmony.”

Targets should be revisited every five years to give an opportunity to embrace developments in low carbon technology and practice, the IEA recommended, in a “virtuous circle”.

It supported a long-term emissions goal, such as that championed by the G7 last week, to “provide greater ease and certainty in expressing future policy”.

The G7 emphasised a need to decarbonise the economy “over the course of this century”, which would effectively spell an end to fossil fuel use.

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