Calls to change climate policies and fossil fuel production to avoid catastrophe

The world’s existing climate policies will not be enough to end the upward trend of energy emissions rising beyond 2040 without a “grand coalition” of governments and investors, according to the global energy watchdog, the International Energy Agency (IEA).

In its World Energy Outlook, the IEA said that carbon emissions from the global energy industry reached a new record in 2018 despite progress in renewable energy in recent years.

It anticipates renewables’ growth to accelerate further in coming years, but warned it would not be enough to cap the energy sector’s emissions before 2040.

Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, said there was a “deep disparity” between the aim to tackle the climate crisis by curbing carbon emissions and the existing policies which had allowed a “relentless upward march” for emissions.

Latest figures from the watchdog indicate that carbon emissions are on track to keep rising by 100m tonnes a year for at least another 20 years under existing policy plans.

This rate would be two-thirds slower than previous emissions increases but would still fall very far short of what is needed to achieve the goals of the Paris agreement.

“We will need to see great political will around the world,” Birol said. “This is why I believe that the world needs to build a grand coalition encompassing governments, investors, companies and everyone else who is genuinely committed to tackling climate change.

“We think that governments’ current plans could bring us to catastrophic implications for the climate of this planet. In order to be in line with the Paris targets there is a need for huge efforts in pushing energy efficiency, renewable energy and all other clean energy technologies.”

Birol said the “disappointing” efforts towards better energy efficiency and a surge in Chinese coal use had hampered the momentum of clean-energy technologies.

Under the IEA’s sustainable development model, global carbon emissions from the energy sector should peak immediately and fall to 10 gigatonnes (or 10bn tonnes) by 2050. This would require emissions in advanced economies to fall at an average of 5.6% every year until 2050, and by 3.2% in developing economies.

In a separate report, from PwC, it has been suggested that the UK will have to deliver annual carbon intensity reductions of 10% to meet its net-zero legislation for 2050, up from less than 4% currently.

PwC’s latest Low Carbon Economy Index (LCEI) notes that the UK is still the leading nation in the G20 in terms of decarbonisation rates, having recorded a 3.7% annual reduction, but indicates that reduction levels of 9.7% will be required to meet the net-zero goal.

PwC’s global climate change leader Dr Celine Herweijer said: “Achieving net-zero will require companies across all sectors to transform, drive innovation and grow whilst managing transition risks. This needs to happen at scale and speed over the coming two to three business cycles. It’s one thing for leading companies to set ambitious targets, but the ability to meet these will need strong government action to stimulate new market solutions.

“Regulatory intervention will be key to helping many technologies and business models reach critical lift-off point. From R&D and clean infrastructure investment, to carbon pricing, tax incentives, and redirecting of subsidies; policy ambition in the UK needs to go hand in hand with business ambition.”

According to PwC, most of the UK’s recent emissions reductions have been achieved through the planned coal phase-out but once that is complete, further reductions from other areas will need to be identified and increased.

As such, PwC has called on the UK Government to boosts sectors such as transport and heating by scaling up renewables and investment into clean energy sources, storage solutions and smart grids.

Global emissions actually increased by 2% in 2018, due to a 2.9% increase in energy demand from extreme heat and cold weather patterns. A total of 69% of the increase in energy demand was met by fossil fuel production.

Meanwhile, another international study has shown that countries are on track to produce more than twice as much coal, oil and gas as can be burned in 2030 while restricting the rise in the global temperature to 1.5C.

Fossil fuel production in 2030 is heading for 50% more than is consistent with 2C, and 120% more than that for 1.5C, the Paris Agreement goal, according to a study by the UN Environment Programme and researchers.

“We’re in a deep hole – and we need to stop digging,” said Måns Nilsson, executive director of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), which took part in the research. “Despite more than two decades of climate policymaking, fossil fuel production levels are higher than ever.”

“Ensuring a liveable planet for future generations means getting serious about phasing out coal, oil and gas,” said Christiana Figueres, at Mission 2020 – the person who delivered the Paris agreement in 2015 as the UN’s top climate official. “Countries such as Costa Rica, Spain and New Zealand are already showing the way forward, with policies to constrain exploration and extraction – others must now follow their lead. There is no time to waste.”

Prof Nicholas Stern, at the London School of Economics, said: “This important report shows planned levels of coal, oil and gas production are dangerously out of step with the goals of the Paris agreement.”

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