Current government pledges will lead to catastrophic climate change, warns IEA

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned that countries will need to be more ambitious if they want a meaningful agreement on fighting global warming at this year’s crucial climate change conference in Paris. The IEA has also issued a strong social commentary: that most fossil fuel subsidies intended to help the poorest members of society do not reach these people.

The warnings come in a special report that forms part of the IEA’s World Energy Outlook series. Although not formally part of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the IEA has produced its special report because it is alarmed that governments’ levels of ambition are too low ahead of the Paris meeting in December.

The report says current policies and pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions will see global average temperatures rise by 2.6°C by the end of the century, compared with the maximum 2°C envisaged by the UNFCCC to avoid extreme weather causing increased damage and disruption. Looking further ahead, the IEA sees a rise of 4.3°C in Europe by 2200 if the world’s governments do not become more ambitious. ‘Then we can say goodbye to the planet we have seen for centuries,’ said the IEA chief economist Fatih Birol.

The report’s main conclusions are that inefficient coal power stations must be phased out, certainly from 2030 if not now; energy efficiency needs to be improved; investment in renewable energy in the power sector needs to rise to $400 billion (€353 billion) by 2030 (from $270 billion in 2014); fossil fuel subsidies must be phased out by 2030; and methane emissions from oil and gas extraction and production must go down.

Despite air transport and shipping not being directly part of the UNFCCC agenda, the IEA makes a gentle comment on the aviation and maritime sectors, pointing out that they are major consumers of oil and are ‘expected to be among the fastest growing sectors over the next decades’. It says ‘efforts to build a broader global framework so far have not materialised’ and adds: ‘The upcoming COP21 meeting is an opportunity to take stock of progress in these key sectors in an attempt to boost collective efforts at the IMO and ICAO.’

In road transport, the IEA identifies the high upfront costs of electric vehicles and sustainability concerns affecting biofuels as obstacles to the greater use of alternative transport fuels in Europe.

The report also criticises the widespread policy of subsidising fossil fuels to make energy more accessible to the poor. It says only 8% of the money spent on such subsidies reaches the poorest 20% of the world population. At their June summit in Germany, the leaders of the G7 leading industrial nations promised to eliminate ‘inefficient fossil fuel subsidies’ but failed to reach agreement on phasing out coal subsidies.