IEA and IRENA: ‘radical and immediate action’ on clean energy needed at COP27

A landmark new report tracking the global energy transition has concluded that there is still an “international collaboration gap” which risks widening amid the current socio-economic challenges – but that COP27 presents an opportunity to bridge the gap.

IEA and IRENA: ‘radical and immediate action’ on clean energy needed at COP27

National and international policies agreed at and before COP26 will not limit the global temperature increase in line with the Paris Agreement

The Breakthrough Agenda report 2022 has been jointly authored by the UNFCCC’s High-Level Champions, the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). It was requested by dozens of world leaders after COP26 in Glasgow last November, to provide an update on decarbonisation progress in sectors such as power generation, road transport, steel and agriculture. Sectors covered by the report collectively account for 60% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions.

The name of the report is taken from the ‘Breakthrough Agenda’ initiative launched in Glasgow. This initiative, convening 45 countries, intends to make low-carbon technologies the most accessible and attractive option in high-carbon sectors by the end of the decade. For example, electric cars instead of diesel or petrol models, or electrolytic hydrogen production rather than fossil-fuel-based methods.

While the conclusion is that the world is certainly not on track to decarbonise these sectors at the scale and pace needed to achieve the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C temperature pathway, strong progress has been made in some areas, the report notes. For example, 6.6 million electric vehicles (EVs) were sold in 2021, more than double the number sold in 2020. Renewable energy generation capacity is expected to be 8% higher by the end of 2022 than it was at the end of 2021. These achievements alone, however, are not sufficient.

The overall call to action is for governments to couple responses to the energy price crisis, food insecurity challenges and the climate crisis – rather than taking a short-term approach and prioritising the former over the latter, despite potential increases in emissions. Failure to do so will lock-in high-emitting technologies and infrastructure in key sectors that would render ‘keeping 1.5C alive’ impossible.

IRENA’s director-general Francesco La Camera said: “The energy and climate crisis has exposed the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of a system heavily reliant on fuels of the 20th century. Anything short of radical and immediate action will ultimately eliminate the chance of staying on the 1.5°C path. The Breakthrough Agenda and our joint report send a strong signal ahead of COP27 that greater international collaboration can amplify ambition and accelerate progress.”

Calls to action

The report emphasises the need for increased international collaboration at CO27 and beyond, in general. There are also a number of sector-specific recommendations regarding technologies, investments and enabling policies.

Issues covered in the report include:

  • Ensuring that energy systems are flexible and therefore able to facilitate an increased share of renewable energy
  • International electricity trading
  • International collaboration on finance and knowledge transfers to countries currently reliant on coal power
  • Ending the sale of petrol and diesel road vehicles (by 2035 at the latest for cars and vans, and by 2040 at the latest for heavier vehicles)
  • Scaling up EV charging infrastructure
  • Scaling up battery recycling and e-waste recycling capacity
  • Ending the procurement of high-carbon steel for public infrastructure projects
  • Expanding alternative protein production

The report also outlines the need for blended finance to scale up emerging technologies such as green hydrogen, coupled with enabling policies and standards updates to ease and promote international trade.

Additionally, for the agriculture sector, the report notes the need for collaboration on creating and procuring climate-resilient crops; adopting lower-emission and more efficient feed and fertilizers and scaling regenerative practices.

It also urges new international standards for monitoring soil health and pollinator health. Without healthy soils and pollinator populations, food insecurity risks are heightened. Nations are urged to also report on soil carbon content, so that the role of the land-use sector in the net-zero transition is properly played.

Emphasised in the report is the fact that the measures proposed would not only advance climate action, but also drive progress towards national and international ambitions on citizen livelihoods, social equality and economic growth. It states that a coordinated energy transition aligned with limiting global temperature increase to 1.5°C could create close to 85 million additional jobs by 2030 compared to 2019, more than offsetting losses of 12 million jobs.

IRENA’s La Camera added: “Advancing the transition to renewables is a strategic choice to bring affordable energy, jobs, economic growth and a cleaner environment to the people on the ground.”

COP27 is set to begin in Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt on 6 November. With less than 50 days to go, investors, businesses, industry groups and activists have all begun urging delegates to work collaboratively to keep 1.5C alive, as was the stated ambition of the Presidency last year.

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