World faces dirty energy future – IEA

Global energy use will grow by 53% by 2030 taking the world into a "dirty, insecure and expensive" energy future unless policies change, the International Energy Agency has said.

Fossil fuels will account for 83% of the increase, with carbon emissions growing by 55% in line with energy consumption, the IEA’s influential World Energy Outlook 2006 predicts.

Developing countries, led by China and India, are expected to account for over 70% of the growth over the next 24 years, and China will overtake the US as the biggest carbon emitter before 2010.

The report contrasts “business-as-usual” predictions with an alternative scenario under which new policies push energy efficiency and non-fossil fuel power worldwide.

But world leaders still have time to act, and implementing policies now being considered across the globe could substantially improve world’s energy prospects, the IEA said.

“WEO-2006 reveals that the energy future we are facing today, based on projections of current trends, is dirty, insecure and expensive. But it also shows how new government policies can create an alternative energy future which is clean, clever and competitive – the challenge posed to the IEA by the G8 leaders and IEA ministers”, said Claude Mandil, executive director of the IEA.

The IEA proposes policies that promote energy efficiency, lauded as the most cost-efficient option, renewables, and, more controversially, nuclear power.

If countries follow the “alternative scenario” and implement policies and measures they are now considering, by 2030 the world would see energy use fall by 10% and carbon emissions by 16% thanks to energy efficiency improvements and low-carbon technologies, the agency predicts.

The Outlook points to nuclear power as a major part of the solution to both energy security and climate change. “Nuclear power remains a potentially attractive option for enghancing the security of electricity supply and mitigating carbon-dioxide emissions – but financing the upfront investment cost may remain a challenge,” Claude Mandil said.

The WEO’s promotion of nuclear met with condemnation from environmentalists, who said renewables can provide much more power for longer than nuclear ever could, at a fraction of the price.

Neil Crumpton of Friends of the Earth said: “Nuclear power cannot make a major contribution to curbing carbon dioxide emissions. Globally nuclear power currently supplies around three per cent of global energy – at a high economic and environmental cost. Renewable energy sources can supply considerably more than even the Agency’s highest future global energy forecasts,” he said.

Coal would play an increasingly important role in the world’s power supply in the absence of a policy focus, the IEA predicts. Already cheaper than oil or gas for electricity generation, coal has fed the energy use surge over the last years and is growing in importance as a fuel especially in China and India.

Biofuel use would grow to 7% of road transport fuel consumption by 2030 if ‘cleaner’ energy policies are implemented, or to 4% under the business-as-usual scenario.

Land limitations could put a break on the growth of biofuels, however, as a land area the size of France and Spain combined would be required to supply 7% of demand by 2030 and as biofuel-crops compete with food production.

But the IEA points to the development of ‘second generation’ biofuels that use plant matter more efficiently- notably a fuel called ‘lingo-cellulosic ethanol’ – as a way of getting around the land use dilemma.

Goska Romanowicz

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