IEA: 5 years for world to change direction on energy

The International Energy Agency has released it’s annual World Energy Outlook this week. According to the news coverage, it warns that unless a decisive move to clean energy investment is made in the next 5 years, we will lock in a disastrous six degrees of warming, a catastrophic outcome for life and human civilisation.

The Guardian reports:

The world is likely to build so many fossil-fuelled power stations, energy-guzzling factories and inefficient buildings in the next five years that it will become impossible to hold global warming to safe levels, and the last chance of combating dangerous climate change will be “lost for ever”, according to the most thorough analysis yet of world energy infrastructure.

Anything built from now on that produces carbon will do so for decades, and this “lock-in” effect will be the single factor most likely to produce irreversible climate change, the world’s foremost authority on energy economics has found. If this is not rapidly changed within the next five years, the results are likely to be disastrous.

“The door is closing,” Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, said. “I am very worried – if we don’t change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever.”

The report apparently reccommends a target of 450ppm atmospheric CO2 to keep temperature rise below 2°C. Many climate activists and scientists would put the figure below 350ppm (and we are currently over 390ppm). But the report is a welcome argument for stronger investment in renewable energy and curtailing new fossil fuel investment.

As the Climate Spectator puts it:

The World Energy Outlook is an annual publication keenly watched by the energy industries that it serves. Under its “new policies” scenario, coal, gas and oil have a rosy future. But the IEA says this is not good enough. “We cannot continue to rely on insecure and environmentally unsustainable uses of energy,” it says. “Governments need to introduce stronger measures to drive investment in efficient and low-carbon technologies. If fossil fuel infrastructure is not rapidly changed, the world will lose forever the chance to avoid dangerous climate change.”

So the IEA also paints its 450 scenario – which it says gives the world an even bet at limiting global warming to 2°C – and it requires a dramatic and immediate change in policies and investment, effectively a halt to new coal fired power plants, increased deployment of gas (but only as a transitional fuel), massive investment in renewables, and a significant deployment in nuclear, particularly in developing economies (to replace their coal-fired plans). It also turns the assumptions made by Australian Treasury, and possibly the business plans of the oil, coal and gas industries, on their head.

The critical leap made by the IEA – often described as a bland, conservative organisation over its 40-year existence – is that it has now firmly embraced the concept that the world has a finite carbon budget. And it gives the energy industry, particularly those who seek to prevent early policy action, a clarion call about the implications.

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