In Fight Against Global Warming, the World is Way Off Target

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In Fight Against Global Warming, the World is Way Off Target

"A transformation of the world's energy system must become a uniting vision if the 2°C climate goal is to be achieved," says International Energy Agency

Current national commitments to cut greenhouse gases are still insufficient to keep the world below two degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels, says International Energy Agency. (Photo: Ryan/flickr/cc)

In what is being called the most definitive assessment yet of national emissions pledges aimed at meeting global climate goals, the International Energy Agency on Monday released a major report showing that without "learning to live within its means," the world is set to miss a critical target.

In its World Energy Outlook Special Report 2015: Energy and Climate Change (pdf), the Paris-based agency states that current national commitments to cut greenhouse gases are still insufficient to keep the world below two degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels. That generally accepted target, beyond which climate change is likely to become catastrophic and irreversible, was reaffirmed by G7 leaders in Bonn last week.

"The world must quickly learn to live within its means if this generation is to pass it on to the next with a clear conscience."
—International Energy Agency

However, the IEA's assessment of "known and signaled national climate pledges for COP21"—the detailed plans submitted ahead of this December's meeting where it is hoped that 196 countries will agree upon new global emissions reductions—found that without stronger action, emissions will continue to rise until at least 2030, putting the 2°C target out of reach.

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It doesn't have to be this way. To meet the target, the agency says, will in fact require a global peak in energy emissions by 2020, and a process to check where nations are on their goals every five years. The IEA is confident that by adopting a five-pillared "Bridge Scenario" that employs existing policies and technologies, that early peak can be reached.

"A transformation of the world’s energy system must become a uniting vision if the 2°C climate goal is to be achieved," reads the report. "The challenge is stern, but a credible vision of the long-term decarbonisation of the sector is available to underpin shorter term commitments and the means to realise it can, ultimately, be collectively adopted. The world must quickly learn to live within its means if this generation is to pass it on to the next with a clear conscience."

The five measures that could "keep the door to the 2°C goal open," as outlined by the IEA, are:

  1. Increasing energy efficiency in the industry, buildings and transport sectors.
  2. Progressively reducing the use of the least-efficient coal-fired power plants and banning their construction.
  3. Increasing investment in renewable energy technologies in the power sector from $270 billion in 2014 to $400 billion in 2030.
  4. Gradual phasing out of fossil-fuel subsidies to end-users by 2030.
  5. Reducing methane emissions in oil and gas production.

The IEA's findings, as well as its focus on renewable energy, are in line with what environmental and climate justice groups have been warning for years, said Samantha Smith, leader of the World Wildlife Foundations's Global Climate and Energy Initiative.

"The IEA’s analysis confirms what scientists and civil society have said for a while: Countries need to cut emissions more, and they need to cut them more immediately so that we do not face really dangerous climate change," said Smith. "Current plans and pledges to do more later on are not yet enough to do the job on climate."

WWF's director of global energy policy, Stephan Singer added: "We are particularly happy that the IEA’s key recommendations focus on what works—energy efficiency and renewables—rather than on vague ‘low carbon technologies.’ The latter often means problematic climate ‘solutions’ like nuclear, carbon capture and storage at scale, and gas." 

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