Wind turbines are shown in front of a coal-fired power plant operated by energy giant RWE near Niederaussem, Germany on October 5, 2022.

Wind turbines are shown in front of a coal-fired power plant operated by energy giant RWE near Niederaussem, Germany on October 5, 2022.

(Photo: Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images)

IEA Report Makes Clear the Urgent Need to 'Rapidly Replace and Phase Out All Fossil Fuels'

The International Energy Agency warned that while renewable energy use is surging, fossil fuel production worldwide remains "far too high" to prevent catastrophic warming.

The International Energy Agency warned Tuesday that governments aren't moving with nearly enough urgency to phase out fossil fuels, leaving the world on a perilous track toward 2.4°C of warming above preindustrial levels by the end of the century.

While the IEA's latest World Energy Outlook (WEO) report celebrates "the phenomenal rise of clean energy technologies such as solar, wind, electric cars, and heat pumps," it makes clear that the continued burning of oil, gas, and coal is undermining global renewable energy progress.

"As things stand, demand for fossil fuels is set to remain far too high to keep within reach the Paris Agreement goal of limiting the rise in average global temperatures to 1.5°C," the IEA said. "The costs of inaction could be enormous: despite the impressive clean energy growth based on today's policy settings, global emissions would remain high enough to push up global average temperatures by around 2.4°C this century, well above the key threshold set out in the Paris Agreement."

The IEA released its annual report just over a month before the COP28 summit in the United Arab Emirates, one of the world's top oil producers.

Kelly Trout, research director at Oil Change International, said in a statement Tuesday that the IEA's analysis provides a "roadmap for the upcoming United Nations Climate Change COP28 negotiations: limiting warming to 1.5°C requires a clear decision on a fast, fair, and fully funded end of fossil fuels as well as a rapid deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency, with wealthy countries in the lead and paying their fair share for a just energy transition."

"We can't solve the climate crisis by adding renewable energy on top of new fossil fuels—we need to rapidly replace and phase out all fossil fuels, including gas," said Trout. "There is a massive and deadly gap between current policies, which still lead to higher oil and gas use in 2030 than today, and the rapid declines in fossil fuels required to stave off runaway climate disaster. Every investment in new oil and gas infrastructure is an investment in more methane leaks, more warming, and more of the extreme heat, floods, fires, and drought destroying communities and ecosystems."

"We need a fast and fair plan to phase out polluting fossil fuels that are killing us."

The IEA report comes on the heels of the hottest summer on record as well as the warmest September on record—unprecedented heat that scientists say was made possible by the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.

The energy agency said the rapid emergence and deployment of renewable energy—including wind and solar power and electric vehicles—are keeping alive hopes of preventing catastrophic warming.

"The transition to clean energy is happening worldwide and it's unstoppable," Fatih Birol, the IEA's executive director, said Tuesday. "It's not a question of 'if,' it's just a matter of 'how soon'—and the sooner the better for all of us."

But the agency cautioned that even major increases in clean energy use won't be enough to limit planetary warming if fossil fuel use doesn't sharply decline. A recent NASA-led study found that keeping warming below 2°C by century's end is "critical to limiting dangerous and cascading impacts" of climate change.

The IEA's report notes that the world is currently set for "an unprecedented surge" in new liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects, which are heavily polluting. The agency observed that "more than half of the new projects are in the United States and Qatar."

Kaisa Kosonen, policy coordinator at Greenpeace International, said in response to the new report that "every new fossil fuel project is in stark violation of the Paris Agreement's 1.5°C warming limit—leaders simply cannot claim to be in support of global action on climate change while supporting fossil fuel expansion."

"We need a fast and fair plan to phase out polluting fossil fuels that are killing us," said Kosonen. "Those who've polluted and profited the most must be made accountable and financially support the most vulnerable people, communities, and countries in their transition to clean, renewable energy."

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