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Climate Change

IEA Sets Goalposts For COP21

The International Energy Agency has proposed four key pillars it believes must be achieved for the upcoming UN climate change conference to be a success.

IEA-3“We face a moment of opportunity, but also of great risk,” writes Maria van der Hoeven, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), in the forward to the organization’s latest report, World Energy Outlook Special Report 2015: Energy and Climate Change. “The world is counting on the UN climate talks in Paris later this year to achieve a global agreement that puts us on a more sustainable path.”

As such, the IEA has identified four key outcomes that it believes the 21st UN Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris in December 2015 must achieve for it to be considered a success. They are:

  1. Peak in emissions – set the conditions to achieve an early peak in global energy-related emissions.
  2. Five-year revision – review national climate targets regularly, to test the scope, to raise ambition.
  3. Lock in the vision – translate the world’s climate goal into a collective long-term emissions goal.
  4. Track the transition – establish a process for tracking achievements in the energy sector.

“As IEA analysis has repeatedly shown that the cost and difficulty of mitigating greenhouse-gas emissions increases every year, time is of the essence,” van der Hoeven said in the IEA’s press release accompanying the release of the report. “It is clear that the energy sector must play a critical role if efforts to reduce emissions are to succeed. While we see growing consensus among countries that it is time to act, we must ensure that the steps taken are adequate and that the commitments made are kept.”

The first of four “key pillars” the IEA believes is essential is an earlier “peak in emissions,” which the IEA believes “can be achieved relying solely on proven technologies and policies, without changing the economic and development prospects of any region.” The authors of the report detail this idea in the “Bridge Scenario” which depends upon five separate measures:

  • Increasing energy efficiency in the industry, buildings and transport sectors
  • Reducing the use of the least-efficient coal-fired power plants and banning their construction
  • Increasing investment in renewable energy technologies in the power sector from $270 billion in 2014 to $400 billion in 2030
  • Gradual phasing out of fossil-fuel subsidies to end-users by 2030
  • Reducing methane emissions in oil and gas production

The Bridging Scenario would see coal use peak before 2020 and then decline, while oil demand rises until 2020 before plateauing. Total energy related greenhouse gas emissions would peak around 2030, followed by both energy intensity of the global economy and carbon intensity of power generation improving by 40% by 2030.

China would need to decouple its economic expansion from emissions growth by around 2020, “mainly through improving the energy efficiency of industrial motors and the building sector.” Regions like the European Union and United States have already achieved impressive decoupling of economic expansion and emissions growth, thanks to improved energy efficiency and renewable energy deployment.

Unfortunately, the bridging scenario does not include universal access to modern energy, but the efforts to reduce energy-related emissions do go hand-in-hand with delivering access to electricity to 1.7 billion people and access to clean cookstoves to 1.6 billion people by 2030. Nevertheless, this is likely to be a sticking point for certain countries that are required to make cuts without the benefits of universal energy access.

The IEA also recommends a five-year review cycle “to test the scope for further action” in a world where necessary change will need strong guidance and implementation. As the IEA notes, “any delay in taking action can be costly, while the pace of energy sector innovation means that a five-year review would allow national targets to keep up with events and help build investor confidence.”

A long-term greenhouse gas emissions target is also vital, according to the IEA, helping to “anchor future expectations, guide investment decisions, provide an incentive to develop new technologies, drive needed market reforms, and spur the implementation of strong domestic policies.”

Finally, the IEA suggests a “strong process for tracking progress” throughout the energy sector.

“Any climate agreement reached at COP21 must have the energy sector at its core or risk being judged a failure,” said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol. “Climate pledges submitted for COP21 are an important first step to meeting our climate goal, and our report shows that they will have a material impact on future energy trends.”

“A transformation of the world’s energy system must become a unifying vision if the 2° climate goal is to be achieved,” said Maria van der Hoeven in her speech at the launch of the special report. “This challenge is daunting, but IEA analysis has shown how to responsibly decarbonise the energy sector over the long term. This potential can, ultimately, be collectively achieved.”

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