IEA Details Post-Lima Energy Decarbonization Routes

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With a new report on energy decarbonization, the International Energy Agency has just made a major contribution toward implementing the greenhouse gas reduction agreements outlined at the recent UN climate negotiations in Lima (COP20). The agency, an autonomous organization, was founded after the 1970s oil crisis—a fossil fuel disaster many of us may not remember—to ensure reliable, affordable, and clean energy.

IEA's 2014 Energy, Climate Change, and Environment report (IEA) IEA’s new publication, Energy, Climate Change and Environment: 2014 Insights, sorts out current energy decarbonization policy that could help mitigate climate  impacts. These include ways to accelerate decarbonization of coal-fired plants—very important in nations that are coal-rich and/or heavily invested in coal infrastructure; how to implement effective emissions trading systems; and how clean air policies can help mitigate climate change. It also updates key energy and emissions statistics at a global level and for ten world regions.

In this report, IEA ferrets out the links between air pollution policy and greenhouse gas emissions. By way of example, it shows how differently the world’s two largest emitters, China and the United States, are approaching the issue of energy decarbonization. While efforts by the Chinese to improve the poor air quality characteristic of its major cities may also help reduce GHG emissions, the nation must deliberately structure its policies to address both objectives. On the US government side, the Obama administration has at last applied longstanding air pollution regulations to target GHGs. Each country faces different challenges in fulfilling the commitments it announced in the November joint US-China climate deal and subsequently at Lima.

An earlier IEA study (World Energy Outlook Special Report: Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map) showed that global energy decarbonization requires not only greater investment in clean energy, but also new policies on existing “locked-in” high-emissions infrastructure, such as coal plants, which may pose the acutest need. The new report specifies some of these policies as implemented or under consideration in Europe, Australia, China, Canada, and the United States. These include early facility retirement, retrofitting, and conversions (see chart).

Recommended actions for coal plants (IEA)

It also lays out possibilities for what more could be done. IEA has devoted considerable research to emissions trading systems as a means of decarbonizing. The report presents key ETS design choices, ways to integrate carbon trading with complementary energy and climate policies, and how to manage electricity pricing effects. It includes thoughts about implementing an ETS in a highly regulated energy system like China’s, and it looks ahead to how the rise of such markets may affect international climate agreements.

Current status of emissions trading  worldwide (IEA)

The report delves into tracking energy decarbonization across nations and offers various metrics. As well as GHG-focused measures, it identifies metrics related to energy efficiency, new investment in power generation, and even advances in research, development, and deployment. This enables users to identify opportunities for taking actions with long-term as well as short-term impacts.

Looking ahead to the 2015 UNFCCC climate talks in Paris (COP21), IEA assesses whether and how each of these metrics might monitor and advance the differentially proposed mitigation goals likely to emerge in a new global climate agreement.

Access the executive summary here. The report is available in English, Japanese, and Chinese.

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