World has no capacity to absorb new fossil fuel plants, warns IEA

The world has so many existing fossil fuel projects that it cannot afford to build any more polluting infrastructure without busting international climate change goals, the global energy watchdog has warned.

The International Energy Agency said almost all of the world’s carbon budget up to 2040 – the amount that can be emitted without causing dangerous warming – would be eaten up by today’s power stations, vehicles and industrial facilities.

Fatih Birol, the executive director of the Paris-based group, told the Guardian: “We have no room to build anything that emits CO2 emissions.”

The economist said to limit temperature rises to 2C, let alone the 1.5C as scientists recommend, either all new energy projects would have to be low carbon, which was unlikely, or existing infrastructure would need to be cleaned up.

That could include incentives for dirty power plants to be retired early or installing carbon capture and storage technologies, Birol said.

“We are eating up 95% of the [carbon] budget, even if we don’t do anything else. Which of course is impossible, not building any more trucks or power plants,” Birol said.

In total, the IEA calculated that existing infrastructure would “lock in” 550 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide over the next 22 years. That leaves only 40 gigatonnes, or around a year’s worth of emissions, of wriggle room if temperatures are not to overshoot the 2C threshold.

The group’s annual World Energy Outlook, published on Tuesday, revised future CO2 emissions upwards on last year’s report.

Global emissions from energy flatlined in 2014-16 after decades of increases but in 2017 and 2018 so far they have resumed their upward march. The IEA expects CO2 emissions to rise from 32.53 gigatonnes in 2017 to 36 gigatonnes by 2040.

Birol said that unfortunately, the data suggested 2014-16 was a blip, rather than 2017-18. “There is a growing disconnect between the new international [climate] research and what is happening in the energy market,” he said.

The report said that the world is “still a long way” from meeting its goals on climate change and air pollution.

However, the IEA is upbeat about how much greener the power market will become. Windfarms are expected to grow from 4% to 12% of global electricity generation by 2040, overtaking nuclear.

Solar is forecast to expand from 2% of generation today to nearly 10% by 2040 and is expected to outcompete new coal plants on cost “almost everywhere”.

Hydropower will remain the biggest source of low carbon electricity generation, at 15% in 2040. Battery storage costs are also expected to decline rapidly.

But the report expects that beyond electricity generation, fossil fuels will continue to dominate energy use. Planes, ships and industry are not yet “electric-ready” with today’s technology, the IEA said.

Overall, the world’s appetite for energy is expected to grow by a quarter by 2040 because of an extra 1.7 billion people, growing affluence and a shift in demand from the west to Asia.

Birol said he was disappointed that recent high oil prices had resulted in some countries, such as India, Indonesia and Thailand, taking backward steps on cutting the trillions of pounds of fossil fuel subsidies awarded each year by governments. “This is definitely not a good move. It is putting a lot of pressure on government budgets,” he said.

The World Energy Outlook noted that by mid-2018, when oil prices were hovering just below $80 a barrel, there had been “signs of a slowdown in reform efforts”.

The IEA said it was concerned about the prospect of a crunch in oil supply in the next decade. “The oil markets I believe are entering a renewed period of uncertainty and volatility. One of the things that worries me is the links between energy and geopolitics are getting tighter and more complex,” Birol said.

Adam Vaughan 

This article first appeared on the Guardian

edie is part of the Guardian Environment Network 

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