June 23, 2024

Record growth in clean energy technology, including solar panels and electric vehicles, means it is still possible to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), the International Energy Agency (IEA) says.

But the world needs to invest nearly $4.5 trillion per year in the transition to cleaner energy from the start of the next decade, up from spending of $1.8 trillion expected in 2023, the global energy watchdog added on Tuesday.

Temperatures have hit record levels this year and global averages are 1.1C (2F) higher compared with the pre-industrial average.

That compares with a goal set by the 2015 UN Paris Agreement to keep global temperature rises well below 2C, while pursuing efforts to limit them to 1.5C to prevent the most severe consequences of global warming, such as drought, floods and increased wildfires.

Wealthy countries must now reach carbon neutrality about 2045, five years early, and China should speed up its timeline by a decade to 2050 to keep alive the Paris goal.

“The world has already delayed too long to avoid hard choices,” the IEA said in an update to its Net Zero Roadmap, which proposes scenarios to reach net zero emissions by the middle of the century.

The planet has already seen a crescendo of deadly and destructive extreme weather with the most vulnerable populations hit hardest.

Despite this year’s extreme weather, politicians – mindful of the cost-of-living crisis and seeking re-election – have been backsliding on climate pledges.

“Governments need to separate climate from geopolitics given the scale of the challenge at hand,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said.

Increased fossil fuel investment

An increase in solar power capacity and in electric vehicle (EV) sales since 2021 were in line with targets, as were infrastructure plans in both fields, the IEA said.

Much more effort, however, is still required because a tripling of global renewable energy capacity, a doubling of energy efficient infrastructure, an increase in heat pump sales and a further rise in EV use are needed by 2030, the agency advised.

The IEA also called for a 75 percent cut in energy sector methane emissions by 2030, which would cost an estimated $75bn, just 2 percent of the net income received by the oil and gas industry in 2022.

The IEA pathway to net zero will also require an equitable transition, taking into account national circumstances and requiring advanced economies to reach net zero sooner than developing economies, the report said.

The report comes ahead of crucial UN climate talks, COP28, in Dubai in November and December.

The energy sector is “changing faster than many people think”, the IEA said, adding that clean energy technologies are projected to deliver one-third of the emissions reductions needed by 2030.

“The pathway to 1.5C has narrowed in the past two years, but clean energy technologies are keeping it open,” Birol said.

The agency warned, however, of the negative impact of increased fossil fuel investments and “stubbornly high emissions”, which saw a post-pandemic rebound.

Fossil fuel focus

The IEA this month forecast world demand for oil, gas and coal would peak this decade thanks to the “spectacular” growth of cleaner energy technologies and electric cars.

But far from resting on that success, Birol said countries need to work together to substantially speed up climate action.

If the Earth’s current oil and gas fields and coal plants operate to the end of their lifespans, the world will significantly overshoot its carbon dioxide emissions budget needed to stay within 1.5C of warming, the IEA noted.

A recent UN progress report on the Paris goals warned that the world is not on track to limit warming to 1.5C and stressed the need to quickly phase out hydrocarbon energy use.

“The age of fossil fuels is ending,” said Laurence Tubiana, head of the European Climate Foundation. “In Dubai, the COP presidency will have to show what post-fossil fuel leadership looks like.”

The IEA threw its weight behind critics of so-called carbon removal technologies, which have been given greater prominence as the world fails to slash emissions. They include industrial and nature-based processes to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it permanently.

The IEA said a scenario of delayed climate action would force the world to rely on these “expensive and unproven at scale” carbon removal technologies.

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