IEA plan could stop emissions growth by 2020 at no net economic cost

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has urged governments to adopt four policies that it claims will stop growth in energy-related emissions by 2020 at no net economic cost.

A new IEA report, Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map, presents the results of a ‘4-for-2°C scenario’, in which four energy policies that are capable of driving emissions reductions by 2020 and rely only on existing technologies. The policies have also been adopted successfully in several countries, says the IEA.

IEA chief economist Fatih Birol, the report’s lead author, said: “We identify a set of proven measures that could stop the growth in global energy-related emissions by the end of this decade at no net economic cost”.

“Rapid and widespread adoption could act as a bridge to further action, buying precious time while international climate negotiations continue.”

The four policies look at energy efficiency measures in buildings, industry and transport, limiting the construction and use of the least-efficient coal-fired power plants, measures to halve expected methane from the oil and gas industry and implementing a partial phase-out of fossil fuel consumption subsidies.

New estimates for global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2012 reveal a 1.4% increase, reaching a record high of 31.6 gigatonnes (Gt), but also mask significant regional differences.

In the US, a switch from coal to gas in power generation helped reduce emissions by 200 million tonnes (Mt), bringing them back to the level of the mid 1990s.

China experienced the largest growth in CO2 emissions (300 Mt), but the increase was one of the lowest it has seen in a decade, driven by the deployment of renewables and improvements in energy intensity.

However, despite increased coal use in some member states, emissions in Europe declined by 50 Mt, while emissions in Japan increased by 70 Mt.

IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven said: “Despite efforts to mitigate climate change, we recently passed a grim milestone with the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere topping 400 parts per million at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. This is uncharted territory in the history of humans.

“While it does not represent a tipping point per se, that milestone is symbolic of our failure to respond adequately, and to fulfil our own national and international pledges to limit average global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius over the long term”.

Hoeven explained that if we continue “business as usual”, the increase could reach 5.3 degrees Celsius, with potentially disastrous implications in terms of extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and the huge economic and social costs.

“In short, we are drifting off-track, and global negotiations are not expected to yield agreement before 2015, and to be enforced after 2020,” she added.

According to the IEA, in the ‘4-for-2°C Scenario’, global energy-related greenhouse-gas emissions are 8% (3.1 Gt CO2 equivalent) lower in 2020 than the level otherwise expected.

Leigh Stringer

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie