Thursday, November 10, 2011

IEA: Bold change of direction needed globally to meet climate commitments

Safe Climate - Get on with it - Close Hazelwood

A Bold change of direction is needed to limit global average temperature rise to a 2 degree limit as per the commitment made in Copenhagen in 2009 and re-affirmed in Cancun in 2010, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) World Energy Outlook for 2011.

Related: Record increase in Greenhouse gas emissions for 2010 | Carbon Emissions need to peak this decade to meet 2 °C temperature goal warns new study | 4 Degrees or More? Climate Change: The Critical Decade - a speech by Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber

The IEA released it's World Energy outlook on November 9, 2011. According to the report if voluntary comitments made in the Copenhagen accord are met, then cumulative CO2 emissions over the next 25 years amount to three-quarters of the total from the past 110 years, leading to a long-term average temperature rise of 3.5°C. China's per-capita emissions are forecast to match the OECD average in 2035. If these voluntary commitments are not implemented, we are on an even more dangerous track, to an increase of 6°C by 2100.

"As each year passes without clear signals to drive investment in clean energy, the "lock-in" of high-carbon infrastructure is making it harder and more expensive to meet our energy security and climate goals," said Fatih Birol, IEA Chief Economist.

"Growth, prosperity and rising population will inevitably push up energy needs over the coming decades. But we cannot continue to rely on insecure and environmentally unsustainable uses of energy," said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven. "Governments need to introduce stronger measures to drive investment in efficient and low-carbon technologies. The Fukushima nuclear accident, the turmoil in parts of the Middle East and North Africa and a sharp rebound in energy demand in 2010 which pushed CO2 emissions to a record high, highlight the urgency and the scale of the challenge."

The announcement comes in the same week as the Australian Senate passed carbon pricing and clean energy legislation that will impose a $23 per tonne on carbon emissions from the top 500 corporate polluters. The Fixed price is indexed, and will transform into a carbon trading scheme in 2015. The legislation includes substantial support for development of renewable technologies, as well as a comprehensive compensation package for the great majority of citizens for the expected rise in electricity prices. The measures aim to reduce Australian carbon emissions by 5 percent by 2020 from 2000 levels. The Australian Carbon pricing policy is a small start to tackling climate change. (read 4 Degrees or more? - Science into Policy: Securing a Clean Energy Future for Australia - speech by Greg Combet

During 2010 global subsidies for fossil fuels amounted to $409 billion. Renewables are predicted to increase from 13% of the mix today to 18% in 2035; the growth in renewables is underpinned by subsidies that rise from $64 billion in 2010 to $250 billion in 2035, although the IEA points out that support cannot be taken for granted due to fiscal austerity measures and the continuing economic crisis.

The IEA says there is considerable momentum to cut fossil-fuel subsidies. Although the intent of subsidies is to make energy use accessible to the poor, "the reality is that only a small proportion of fossil-fuel subsidies go to poor households." IEA recommends that "subsidy reform programmes need to be carefully designed as low-income households are likely to be disproportionately affected by their removal."

Biofuels are expected to increase from about 1 mb/d today to 4.4 mb/d in 2035. But there are major problems with sourcing biofuels from plantations that result from the destruction of tropical rainforests and peat swamps which result in substantial carbon emissions. Indeed, a new study from the University of Leicester on greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm plantations suggests European biofuels are as carbon intensive as petrol.

The World Energy Outlook presents a 450 Scenario - limiting CO2 in the atmosphere to 450 parts per million (PPM) - which traces an energy path consistent with meeting the globally agreed goal of limiting the temperature rise to 2°C. Existing and proposed power stations already lock in 80 per cent of the total energy-related CO2 emissions permitted to 2035 in the 450 Scenario. Without further action in the next five years, the energy-related infrastructure then in place would generate all the CO2 emissions allowed in the 450 Scenario up to 2035.

The report warns that delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.

From the Factsheet - What will tackling climate change mean for the energy sector?:

"The 2°C goal can only be achieved with vigorous implementation of current commitments in the period to 2020 and much stronger action thereafter. According to climate experts, in order to have a reasonable chance of achieving the goal, the concentration of GHGs would need to be stabilised at a level no higher than 450 ppm CO2‑equivalent. Accordingly, the 450 Scenario describes how the energy sector could evolve in order to achieve this objective. It assumes implementation of the measures to realise the more ambitious end of target ranges announced under the Accord as well as more rapid implementation of the removal of fossil‑fuel subsidies agreed by the G‑20 than assumed in the New Policies Scenario. Emissions reach a peak of 32 Gt just before 2020 and then slide to 22 Gt by 2035 in the 450 Scenario."

The cost of getting on track to meet the climate goal for 2030 has risen by about $1 trillion compared with the estimated cost in last year’s Outlook. This is because much stronger efforts, costing considerably more, will be needed after 2020. In the 450 Scenario in this year’s Outlook, the additional spending on low‑carbon energy technologies (business investment and consumer spending) amounts to nearly $18 trillion (in year- 2009 dollars) more than in the Current Policies Scenario, in which no new policies are assumed, in the period 2010‑2035. It is around $13.5 trillion more than in the New Policies Scenario.

The timidity of current commitments has undoubtedly made it less likely that the 2°C goal will be achieved. Reaching that goal would require a phenomenal policy push by governments worldwide: carbon intensity — the amount of CO2 emitted per dollar of GDP - would have to fall at twice the rate of 1990‑2008 in 2008-2020 and four times faster in 2020-2035. The technology exists today to enable such a change, but such a rate of technological transformation would be unprecedented. These commitments must be interpreted in the strongest way possible with much stronger commitments adopted and acted upon after 2020, if not before.