OECD says emissions set to surge 50% by 2050


Global greenhouse gas emissions could rise 50% by 2050 without more ambitious climate policies, as fossil fuels continue to dominate the energy mix, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says in a new report.

“Unless the global energy mix changes, fossil fuels will supply about 85% of energy demand in 2050, implying a 50% increase in greenhouse gas emissions and worsening urban air pollution,” the OECD said in its environment outlook to 2050, released yesterday (15 March).

The global economy in 2050 will be four times larger than today and the world will use around 80% more energy.

But the global energy mix is not predicted to be very different from that of today, the report said.

Fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas will make up 85% of energy sources while renewables, including biofuels, are forecast to make up 10% and nuclear the rest.

Due to such dependence on fossils, carbon dioxide emissions from energy use are expected to grow by 70%, the OECD said, which will help drive up the global average temperature by 3 to 6 degrees Celsius by 2100 – exceeding the internationally agreed warming target of within 2 degrees.

All-time CO2 high

Global carbon dioxide emissions from energy reached an all-time high of 30.6 gigatonnes in 2010, despite the economic downturn which reduced industrial production.

The financial cost of taking no further climate action could result in up to a 14% loss in world per capita consumption by 2050, according to some estimates.

Human costs would also be high as premature deaths from pollution exposure could double to 3.6 million a year, the OECD said.

Demand for water could rise by 55%, increasing competition for supplies and resulting in 40% of the global population living in water-stressed areas, while plant and animal species could decline by a further 10%.

To prevent the worst effects of global warming, international climate action should start in 2013, a global carbon market should be set up, the energy sector should be transformed to low carbon, and all low-cost advanced technologies should be explored such as biomass energy and carbon capture.

Carbon markets

However, a new international climate deal might not come into force until 2020 and carbon markets may not be linked until then, making it harder to achieve the 2 degree limit and requiring very rapid rates of emissions cuts after 2020 to catch up.

Current international emissions cut pledges fall short of what is required to limit temperature rises to safe levels so decisive action at the national level is needed, the OECD said.

The report contended that putting a clear and long-term price on carbon emissions through market-based mechanisms such as emissions trading schemes or carbon taxes would drive low-carbon investments.

The cheapest policy response to climate change would be to set a global carbon price, which would require linking various national and regional emissions trading schemes.

Scrapping inefficient fossil fuel subsidies would also encourage energy efficiency and renewables growth – increasing global real income by 0.3% in 2050, the report said.

The EU has set itself a legally binding goal for 2020 of reducing its CO2 emissions by 20% and increasing the share of renewable energy by the same amount, both measured against 1990 levels.

A target of a 20% increase in energy efficiency has also been set but it is not legally enforceable. The low-carbon roadmap in March 2011 stated that if it were met, emissions cuts would automatically rise to 25%, five percentage points above the target.

In October 2009, EU leaders endorsed a long-term target of reducing collective developed country emissions by 80-95% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. This is in line with the recommendations of the UN's scientific arm - the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - for preventing catastrophic changes to the Earth's climate.


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