IEA says global climate pledges fall short on required decarbonization efforts

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The International Energy Agency (IEA) yesterday published a special briefing ahead of the UN climate talks in Paris (COP21) in which it stresses that more must be done in tackling climate change in order to limit average global temperature increases to below 2c degrees before the end of the century.

The World Energy Outlook heaped praise on the scale, ambition and coverage of climate change pledges made by the 150 countries that account for 90% of global activity, but stressed that these Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) will only deliver piecemeal progress on tackling climate change. The report states that "the path set by the INDCs" would be consistent with a global temperature increase of 2.7c by 2100 – progress, but not progress enough to keep temperature increases below the 2c rise experts agree is critical in safeguarding the planet’s climate.

"The INDCs must therefore be viewed as an important base upon which to build ambition," the report cautions.

In analyzing the 125 INDCs submitted (covering 150 countries), the IEA report calls the coverage of pledges made "impressive", denoting that most parts of the world have been proactive in outlining how they will tackle climate change. These methods range from pursing absolute greenhouse gases reduction targets to deviation from "business-as-usual" emission trajectories and the phasing-out of polluting energy sources.

According to the IEA, 40% of the INDCs target an increase in renewable deployment, and further analysis shows that the pledges will "break the link between power generation and power emissions". If the INDCs are met, just 3.7 gigatonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent will to the atmosphere between 2014 and 2030 – a mere one-third of the increase observed between 2000 and 2014. Over this timeframe, coal and oil declines drastically, but natural gas increases.

Low carbon technologies, meanwhile, will shuffle to the front of the energy pack, buoyed by a global $13.5 trillion investment push – 40% of global power investment between now and 2030 – of which 60% will be steered towards renewable energy, and a third of that figure towards solar PV.

Tweaking pledges towards decarbonization

A further IEA report – Energy and Climate Change Special Report – has outlined how just five energy sector measures could speed up the impact of the INDC pledges and accelerate the rate at which emissions fall. These measures include improving energy efficiency in the industry, buildings and transport sectors; phasing out the world’s least-efficient coal-fired power plants; further boosting investment in renewable power generation technologies to $400 billion in 2030; gradually phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, and reducing methane emissions from oil and gas production.

A great number of these measures are already included in the submitted INDCs, says the IEA, but an additional 20% of cumulative investment – an extra $3 trillion – could deliver the impact required to keep temperature increases below 2%. Some 70% of this additional investment would have to be plowed into supporting the stronger deployment of renewables, the IEA says.

Further, the report adds that a “clarity of vision” and “certainty of action” will have enormous benefits too, and are likely to deliver permanent rather than temporary or fluctuating reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

"The fact that more than 150 countries – representing 90% of global economic activity and nearly 90% of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions – have submitted pledges to reduce emissions is, in itself, remarkable," said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director. "These pledges, together with the increasing engagement of the energy industry, are helping to build the necessary political momentum around the globe to seal a successful climate agreement in Paris."

Birol added that the energy industry needs a "strong and clear signal" from the climate summit, stressing that any failure to reach a cohesive and progressive plan of action will push energy investments in the wrong direction, serving to lock-in "unsustainable energy infrastructure for decades."

EU on track

The European Union is poised to overachieve on its 2020 greenhouse gas reduction target by as much as 20%, the European Environment Agency (EEA) has revealed in its latest report. Emissions in Europe have decreased by 23% between 1990 and 2014, reaching their lowest levels on record, and current measures in place will take that reduction down to 24% by 2020. The initiation of further planned measures will bring that figure down to 25%, putting the bloc on course to reach its 40% target for 2030.

"These results speak for themselves: Europe succeeded in cutting emissions by 23% between 1990 and 2014 while the European economy grew by 46% over the same period,” said EU Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete. “We have shown consistently that climate protection and economic growth go hand in hand. This is a strong signal ahead of the Paris climate conference that Europe stands by its commitments and that our climate and energy policies work. And we have already taken the first steps towards implementing our Paris pledge with new proposals presented earlier this year."

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