Published on April 17th, 2013 | by Zachary Shahan


IEA Tries To Deliver Climate Wakeup Call

April 17th, 2013 by  

Below is the Foreword to IEA’s just released “Tracking Clean Energy Progress 2013” report. The full report can be viewed at that link. For now, though, read and share this excellent Foreword. (I will add a bit more commentary on the bottom about a matter I don’t fully agree on.)

ieaBy Maria van der Hoeven, IEA Executive Director

We built our civilisation by harnessing energy, which is at the core of economic growth and prosperity. But in 2012, in a weak world economy, oil prices soared and carbon dioxide emissions from energy reached record highs. The ways we supply and use energy threaten our security, health, economic prosperity and environment. They are clearly unsustainable. We must change course before it is too late.

This is the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) third comprehensive tracking of progress in clean energy technology. It is a reality check for policy makers: it reflects what is happening here and now. Stark messages emerge from our analysis: progress is not fast enough; glaring market failures are preventing adoption of clean energy solutions; considerable energy efficiency potential remains untapped; policies must better address the energy system as a whole; and energy-related research, development and demonstration all need to accelerate.

In this year’s report we launch the Energy Sector Carbon Intensity Index (ESCII), which shows the carbon emitted for each unit of energy we use and provides a cumulative overview of progress in the energy sector. The picture is as clear as it is disturbing: the carbon intensity of the global energy supply has barely changed in 20 years, despite successful efforts in deploying renewable energy.

I am particularly worried about the lack of progress in developing policies to drive carbon capture and storage (CCS) deployment. Without CCS, the world will have to abandon its reliance on fossil fuels much sooner – and that will come at a cost.

There is a danger, however, in focusing on individual technologies without considering the larger picture. We must invest heavily in infrastructure that improves the system as a whole. Smart grids, for example, make it easier and cheaper to replace fossil-fired power with renewables without jeopardising the reliability of the energy system.

Alongside these grim messages there are also positive developments. In 2012, sales of hybrid-electric vehicles passed the one million mark. Solar photovoltaic systems continued to be installed at a record pace, contrary to many expectations. Emerging economies are stepping up their efforts to promote and develop clean energy. The costs of most clean energy technologies fell more rapidly than anticipated. Many countries, including emerging economies, introduced or strengthened energy efficiency regulations. Given that the world’s energy demand is set to grow by 25% in the next decade, it is hard to overstate the importance of energy efficiency. The world must slow the growth of energy demand while making the energy supply cleaner.

Each time the IEA assesses the role that technology and innovation can play in transforming the energy system, we are astonished by the possibilities. The 2012 edition of Energy Technology Perspectives showed how the world can slash emissions and save money while doing so. In this report, besides the high-level findings and conclusions in the introduction, each chapter offers specific recommendations by technology and sector.

It is time the governments of the world took the actions needed to unleash the potential of technology. Together with industry and consumers, we can put the energy system on track to a sustainable and secure energy future. We owe it to our economies, our citizens and our children.

ZS: While I do think much more progress needs to be made on CCS, I don’t think so for the same reason as Ms. van der Hoeven. From the studies I have read, and the intellectual integration of knowledge reading and writing about these matters for years, I think it’s fairly clear that (for society as a whole) it would be cheaper for the world to “abandon its reliance on fossil fuels much sooner.” The health and environmental costs of coal and oil are staggering — even beyond their CO2 emissions. Furthermore, there are other costs associated with dependence on these dirty fuels.

Nonetheless, I do think a lot more coal and oil will be burnt in the coming decades (due to general societal ignorance and inertia), and that this could mean a future of global warming chaos and destruction that I wouldn’t wish on the world. It would be nice if more cost-competitive and effective CCS technology could be developed to prevent that. Unfortunately, I’m not very hopeful that it will, and that is one reason I am doing everything I can to promote, stimulate, and enable a quicker clean energy and EV revolution.

Some posts related to all this that I recommend include:

  1. 100% Renewable Energy?
  2. Solar Power
  3. 7 Ways To Go Solar
  4. Electric Cars Are Greener
  5. 10 Bicycling Benefits
  6. Climate Action Is Cheaper Than Climate Inaction
  7. Clean Energy Needed Now!

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.

  • arne-nl

    Actually this is better news than it seems at first sight.

    Historically, there have been two sources of low carbon electricity:
    hydro and nuclear. From 1990 to 2010 world electricity consumption has
    almost doubled, however hydro and especially nuclear did not keep up, so
    in a bau scenario all the increased consumption would have to be
    covered by an increased used of fossil fuels. The expectation therefore
    would be that carbon emissions per kWh should have INCREASED. Instead
    they remained flat.

    A second observation: before 2000 renewable energy did not play any
    measurable role (except hydro). The technology was too much in its
    infancy. Now they are mature and can be rolled out on a sufficient scale
    to make a significant contribution.

    This article clearly shows the love that politicians and public
    servants have for numbers, but staring at a spreadsheet doesn’t reveal
    the complete picture. Sometimes you have to look out your window to see
    what is happening in the real world. New technologies have frustratingly
    long lead times before anything really useful comes out.

    (reposted my reaction to the same article from

  • I think that the world is moving much faster than we think when it comes to renewables than we think. China’s government recently set its own goal to peak coal in 2015 with only a fraction of where it is today. The world is rising up with mass movements in several areas. Look at how many times it has been delayed to drill in the Arctic, how much tar sands are being left in the ground thanks to movements in the US and Canada, and how many coal power plants that are planned and will likely never be built. Let’s keep a little optimism!

    • Bob_Wallace

      I’m slightly optimistic. Mainly because of the current and near future prices of wind and solar. If there is little or no cost to move away from fossil fuels for our electricity then it is a lot more likely to happen.

      I’m also somewhat optimistic that we’ll have a EV battery with ‘adequate’ capacity fairly soon. When that happens I expect to see a rapid move from petroleum based personal transportation to electricity. The math of driving with electricity makes EVs a massive winner.

    • thanks, we do tend to stay optimistic here on CT.

      i’m in the middle in reality, but promote enthusiasm and inspiration most of the time. and have to say that it’s nice to see IEA as serious about this as it now is.

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