IEA CHIEF ECONOMIST WARNS GOVERNMENTS TO TAKE SWIFT ACTION TO REDUCE CARBON EMISSIONS

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10 june 2013

[In addition to the Guardian UK report on the new IEA warning that time is running out for an effective response to global warming, we copy below the critical response to that warning by WWF International, one of the important environmental organizations represented in the Climate Action Network. We received the WWF media release via the CAN-talk email list. After the WWF release, we add an article of June 12 on the IEA economist's presentation to the Bonn climate summit.]

Waiting on new climate deal 'will set world on a path to 5C warming'

International Energy Agency chief economist says rising emissions make limiting increase to 2C 'extremely challenging'

Fiona Harvey, environment correspondent guardian.co.uk, Monday 10 June 2013

The world cannot afford to wait for a new global climate change agreement to come into force in 2020, because doing so will mean an end to hopes of limiting global warming to moderate levels, one of the world's foremost authorities on energy has warned.

Carbon dioxide emissions from energy rose by 1.4% in 2012 to a record high of more than 31bn tonnes, according to a report from the International Energy Agency on Monday, driven in part by a striking 6% rise in emissions from Japan following its phase-out of nuclear power and continuing growth in emissions from China.

Fatih Birol, chief economist at the IEA, and one of the world's most respected energy experts, told the Guardian that greenhouse gas emissions were continuing to rise so fast that pinning hopes on a replacement for the Kyoto protocol would set the world on a path to 5C of warming, which would be catastrophic.

Birol urged governments to take urgent action on improving energy efficiency, replacing fossil fuels with low-carbon power, stopping the construction of inefficient power plants and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, as low or no-cost ways of reducing emissions quickly. "This will not harm economic growth, and they are policies that can be taken in a fragile economic context," he said.

The IEA has calculated that making clean energy investments sooner would be cheaper than leaving them until after 2020. About $1.5 trillion should be spent before 2020 to meet climate targets, it found, but if the investments are left until after 2020 it will take $5tn to achieve the same results.

Governments are negotiating under the United Nations to forge a global deal on emissions that would be signed in 2015 but not come into force until 2020. Until then, most countries have their own voluntary goals to curb carbon, but these fall well short of the cuts scientists say are needed to limit temperature rises to no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels, which is regarded as the limit of safety beyond which warming is likely to become catastrophic and irreversible.

Birol said: "I am very worried about the emissions trends. The chance of keeping to 2C is still there, technically, but it is not very great. It is becoming extremely challenging."

Officials are meeting in Bonn this week in the next round of the ongoing UN talks, and Birol urged "a change in political mood" in the run-up to the 2015 deadline. He noted that there were a few positive trends among the rising carbon levels identified by the IEA, the gold standard on energy and emissions data. Emissions from energy in the US are now at levels not seen since the mid 1990s, having dropped by 3.8% in 2012 due to the effects of the shale gas boom that has led to gas replacing coal.

But Birol warned that this could not be replicated globally: "Shale gas is not a panacea. It can only be helpful if we see these other low-carbon technologies also [coming into widespread use] if we are serious about 2C."

Birol also saw positive trends in China, the world's biggest emitter. Although China's emissions rose by more than 300m tonnes, this was one of the smallest annual increases in two decades, Birol said. "The Chinese government has made huge efforts in energy efficiency, and a major effort on renewable energy such as hydroelectricity and wind."

Lord Stern of Brentford, author of the landmark Stern review of the economics of climate change, said the IEA report showed the importance of making investments quickly in cleaner energy. He said: "Government-induced policy risk from lack of clarity on energy and climate policy is, in many parts of the world, a major deterrent to long-term investment. This is surely unacceptable at a time of idle resources, low interest rates, strong liquidity within much of the private sector, attractive medium-term prospects for low-carbon growth and a climate at great risk."

He added: "The IEA has also warned of the dangers of locking in fossil fuel infrastructure, which would need to be retired early, at great additional cost, in order to meet the 2C target. The IEA's message is crystal clear: dither and delay in making the transition to a low-carbon energy system will be risky and expensive."


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Media Release Embargoed to 10:00 GMT 10 June 2013

WWF: IEA stop-gap measures not enough to tackle climate change

Commenting on a report released today (10 June) by the International Energy Agency (IEA), Redrawing the energy-climate map, WWF said that, although the short-term measures proposed by the IEA to keep climate change within ‘safe’ levels were welcome, countries need to move further and faster to tackle the problem.

Samantha Smith, Leader of the WWF Global Climate & Energy Initiative, said: “This is a welcome intervention by the IEA, particularly the focus on energy efficiency standards for lighting, cars and appliances as well as cutting methane losses in oil and gas production.

“Unfortunately, the other policies are incomplete, not ambitious enough or regionally biased. With the world on track for catastrophic levels of global warming, as the IEA says, these stop-gap proposals simply don’t go far enough.

“Addressing the phase out of fossil fuel subsidies is also a critical part of the jigsaw. The IEA should back the full phasing out of all fossil fuel subsidies by 2020 globally, including in OECD countries, with the money being channelled into support schemes for renewables, energy efficiency and clean energy access for the poor in developing countries.”

Smith said that WWF’s Seize Your Power campaign [1], launched on 5 June, addresses these shortcomings with a clear focus on clean renewable energy instead of oil, coal or gas for further energy infrastructure investments by public and private financial institutions. The group is calling for new and additional commitments of at least $US40 billion in renewables by June 2014.

WWF Director for Global Energy Policy Dr Stephan Singer said: “Renewable energy must become the single largest recipient of new energy supply financing within the next decade in order to avoid disastrous climate change.”

Subsidies

Singer said the IEA report does not go far enough on subsidy reform and is biased, as the IEA only looks at fossil fuel consumption subsidies in developing countries, the Middle East and Russia and ignores the huge subsidies in OECD states. He said International Monetary Fund (IMF) research [2] suggested that global fossil fuel subsidies are about four times higher than those assessed by the IEA and that many OECD nations are among the top wasters of money for dirty fuels.

Renewables

Singer said the IEA was missing the most important policy measure to close not only the short term 2020 climate gap but also to address climate change for the decades ahead. The group said that the IEA should back the enhanced expansion of clean renewables as an additional key policy. He said the world had a slight dip in investments in renewables in 2012 while fossil fuel investments keep on growing and are now more than three times higher. WWF strongly backed an IEA assessment from last year that in order to keep climate change below 2°C, more than two-thirds of all global fossil fuel reserves should be left in the ground [3]. Singer said the only alternative to fill the void for the world’s continued energy supplies are clean renewables and energy efficiency.

Coal

On coal, Singer said although it was important to phase-out all inefficient coal plants, mainly in developing countries, it would be better to cut the overall coal CO2 emissions of all existing power plants by about 20% by 2020. This would be a fairer measure and include also the ‘efficient’ coal plants in many OECD nations, as coal is the single largest climate polluter and its non-CO2 emissions have huge health implications for people.

ENDS

Notes to editors:

1. WWF calls for major investment in clean and renewable energy with launch of new global campaign (05 June 2013): http://wwf.panda.org/?208925/WWF-calls-for-major-investment-in-clean-and-renewable-energy-with-launch-of-new-global-campaign

2. IMF: Energy Subsidy Reform: Lessons and Implications (28 January 2013): http://www.imf.org/external/np/pp/eng/2013/012813.pdf

3. IEA: World Energy Outlook 2012 http://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/English.pdf

For more information:

George Smeeton, Media Relations Manager WWF-UK
Tel: 01483 412 388, Mob: 07917 052 948, email: GSmeeton@wwf.org.uk

Mandy Jean Woods, Head: Communications & Campaigns,
WWF Global Climate & Energy Initiative
Mob: +27 82 553 4211, email: mwoods@wwf.org.za

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Two-thirds of energy sector will have to be left undeveloped, Bonn conference told

If world is to limit global warming we cannot burn all our fossil fuels, says International Energy Agency economist Fatih Birol

by Frank McDonald, Irish Times, Wed, Jun 12, 2013

About two-thirds of all proven reserves of oil, gas and coal will have to be left undeveloped if the world is to achieve the goal of limiting global warming at two degrees Celsius, according to the chief economist at the International Energy Agency.

Addressing participants in the latest round of UN climate talks in Bonn, Fatih Birol said this should be an “eye-opener” for pension funds with significant investments in the energy sector – particularly in coal – as well as for ratings agencies.

He predicted coal would be hardest hit in the “unburnable carbon” scenario, followed by oil and gas. “We cannot afford to burn all the fossil fuels we have. If we did that, it [average global surface temperature] would go higher than four degrees.

‘Devastating effect’

“Globally, the direction we are on is not the right one. If it continues, the increase would be as high as 5.3 degrees – and that would have devastating effects on all of us.”

Instead of ignoring it, energy companies had a “crucial” role in confronting the challenge of climate change. “We think the energy sector cannot afford to be isolated – not just for moral reasons, but also for the business perspective.”

Dr Birol delivered his address a day after the energy agency published its latest special report, Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map, which called on governments to take action between now and 2020 to ensure the two-degree target could be achieved.

Looking at positive developments, he cited China’s closure of 70 of its worst-performing coal-fired power stations and said other countries should follow suit – an open invitation to the Government to switch Moneypoint in Co Clare to gas.

Dr Birol said US greenhouse gas emissions had fallen back to the mid-1990s level, largely due to cheaper gas replacing coal for electricity generation.

“This is huge . . . revolutionary,” he said, attributing the change to widespread fracking of shale gas.

Dr Birol was speaking as one of the key strands of the UN talks fell apart due to Russian obstruction.


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