Efforts in Cancun should encourage low-carbon energy solutions and lead to lower emission path without delay as Copenhagen pledges fall short

(Cancún) — 6 December 2010

The International Energy Agency (IEA) calls on countries worldwide to increase efforts to implement clean energy solutions. “Despite the positive steps taken last year in Copenhagen, we must achieve a lower emission path”, said Nobuo Tanaka, Executive Director of the IEA. The world is currently not on track with the ambitious target to limit global temperature increases at 2 degrees Celsius (°C) above pre-industrial level which was a key objective in the Copenhagen Accord.

“The various pledges of developed and developing countries taken in Copenhagen mean that climate mitigation is no longer a taboo between developed and developing countries. The question we are addressing now is how to effectively mobilise the whole energy sector to abate emissions globally”, added Mr. Tanaka. Global energy-related CO2 emissions stood at 40% above 1990 levels in 2008, IEA data show. While 2009 witnessed a pause in the worldwide increase of CO2 emissions, vibrant economic growth in emerging economies is still driving more energy demand and with it, higher CO2 emissions.

The IEA projections from the World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2010 released last month are unequivocal about the gap between the Copenhagen Accord’s environmental goals and pledges submitted to date: emissions would rise by 21% above 2008 levels by 2035, a trend that would commit the world to a 3.5oC warming. The 450 Scenario estimates what it would take to bring the world back on track to limit the temperature increase to 2oC: an ambitious mix of energy efficiency, a rapidly rising price on CO2 emissions, sustained support to renewable energies and carbon capture and storage.

Every year passing makes reaching the goal more expensive and therefore less likely. The investment bill to decarbonise the global energy mix has risen by USD 1 trillion since last year’s IEA estimate, for an identical environmental goal. “We simply cannot afford to delay action any longer”, emphasised Mr. Tanaka. The IEA contributes actively to efforts to attain a low-carbon energy future, identifying best policy practice and guidelines that countries could follow to achieve a cost-effective and sustainable emission reduction path.

Among a range of potential actions, the removal of subsidies to fossil fuel use could make a sizeable contribution to CO2 reductions, as shown by the IEA analysis in the WEO 2010. “A progressive reduction in fossil fuel subsidies could help save 1.5 Gigatonnes of CO2 by 2020, providing 40% of the abatement needed to achieve the 450 scenario -- the equivalent of India’s current annual emissions -- compared with a business as usual scenario”, stressed Mr. Tanaka.

International coordination, the objective of the Cancun negotiation, is necessary to drive more ambitious goals, but “so are sustained domestic policy efforts to integrate climate objectives with the other energy policy priorities of economic welfare and energy security”, said Mr. Tanaka. Around the world, developed and developing countries are multiplying efforts to foster energy efficiency, the use of renewable and other low-CO2 emitting sources, and to put a price-tag on CO2 emissions. These are some of the clear signs that an energy transition is underway, even if these longer-term but pressing energy and environmental concerns have to fight their way into policy-makers’ agendas in this period of economic downturn.

“The IEA is monitoring these ‘bottom-up’ efforts to integrate climate goals in energy policy-making, to identify best practice, and provide that knowledge to countries that want to move forward”, said Mr. Tanaka. “Whether we look at energy resources or at technologies needed to combat climate change, it is safe to say that the age of cheap energy is over. We must work at all levels, in all countries and with all technologies to find the solutions we will need to transform our energy sector and bring lasting global emissions reductions”.

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