Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Global warming will be irreversible by 2017, warns energy agency

Dangerous levels of global warming will be irreversible by 2017, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned Wednesday. Only immediate restructuring of the world’s energy use will prevent climate change becoming permanent, the agency said.

by Jessica Phelan November 9, 2011

Based on current rates of carbon dioxide emissions and fossil fuel use, the Earth’s temperature is set to increase in the long term by more than 6º Celsius, the IEA warned in its World Energy Outlook 2011.

The maximum “safe” increase, according to most scientists, is 2º Celsius. Above this point, climate change becomes “catastrophic and irreversible,” according to the Guardian. If the world is to limit global warming to 2º, it would have to begin permanently decreasing its consumption of fossil fuels from 2016 onwards, the IEA said. Meanwhile energy from alternative sources such as wind, wave, solar and nuclear would have to increase dramatically, as would energy efficiency.

IEA chief economist Fatih Birol told the Wall Street Journal: “The door to reach 2º is about to close. In 2017 it will be closed forever.” Even if countries deliver on all the pledges so far made to reduce emissions, the report said, the global temperature will still rise by 3.5 degrees Celsius, an increase that would trigger sea level rises, drought, floods and heat waves.

Nothing in the IEA’s analysis indicates that the kind of fundamental changes it is calling for will be delivered. According to its figures, CO2 emissions rose by an “almost unprecedented” 5.3% in 2010. The biggest source of emissions growth was the use of coal, particularly in China and India.

Halting emissions increases would mean investing an extra $15.2 trillion in clean energy by 2035, the IEA estimates. Given the current financial situation, that commitment would come as “a very big surprise,” said Birol.

The IEA’s warning (read full report next) comes shortly before the United Nations is due to start its next climate change conference in Durban, South Africa, at the end of November.  Recommended reading from GlobalPost: 7 Deadly Stories: The cost of global climate change.

IEA warns that Unsustainable Energy Future would have Far-reaching Consequences

The world is locking itself into an unsustainable energy future which would have far-reaching consequences, IEA warns in its latest World Energy Outlook 09 November 2011 London – Without a bold change of policy direction, the world will lock itself into an insecure, inefficient and high-carbon energy system, the International Energy Agency warned as it launched the 2011 edition of the World Energy Outlook (WEO). The agency’s flagship publication, released today in London, said there is still time to act, but the window of opportunity is closing.

“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.”

In the WEO’s central New Policies Scenario, which assumes that recent government commitments are implemented in a cautious manner, primary energy demand increases by one-third between 2010 and 2035, with 90% of the growth in non-OECD economies. China is the world’s largest energy consumer – nearly 70% more energy than the US by 2035, even though, by then, per capita demand in China is still less than half the level in the US. The share of fossil fuels in global primary energy consumption falls from around 81% today to 75% in 2035. Renewables 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, support that in some cases cannot be taken for granted in this age of fiscal austerity. By contrast, subsidies for fossil fuels amounted to $409 billion in 2010.

Oil demand rises from 87 million barrels per day (mb/d) in 2010 to 99 mb/d in 2035, with all the net growth coming from the transport sector in emerging economies. The passenger vehicle fleet doubles to almost 1.7 billion in 2035. Alternative technologies, such as hybrid and electric vehicles that use oil more efficiently or not at all, continue to advance but they take time to penetrate markets.

The use of coal – which met almost half of the increase in global energy demand over the last decade – rises 65% by 2035. Prospects for coal are especially sensitive to energy policies – notably in China, which today accounts for almost half of global demand. More efficient power plants and carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology could boost prospects for coal, but the latter still faces significant regulatory, policy and technical barriers that make its deployment uncertain.

Fukushima Daiichi has raised questions about the future role of nuclear power. In the New Policies Scenario, nuclear output rises by over 70% by 2035, only slightly less than projected last year, as most countries with nuclear programs have reaffirmed their commitment to them. But given the increased uncertainty, that could change. A special Low Nuclear Case examines what would happen if the anticipated contribution of nuclear to future energy supply were to be halved. While providing a boost to renewables, such a slowdown would increase import bills, heighten energy security concerns and make it harder and more expensive to combat climate change.

In the New Policies Scenario, 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 match the OECD average in 2035. Were the new policies not implemented, we are on an even more dangerous track, to an increase of 6°C.

“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. The WEO presents a 450 Scenario, which traces an energy path consistent with meeting the globally agreed goal of limiting the temperature rise to 2°C. Four-fifths of the total energy-related CO2 emissions permitted to 2035 in the 450 Scenario are already locked-in by existing capital stock, including power stations, buildings and factories. Without further action by 2017, the energy-related infrastructure then in place would generate all the CO2 emissions allowed in the 450 Scenario up to 2035. 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: e-mail

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