IEA: Energy emissions can peak 10 years early, if fossil fuels targeted

Peak energy emissions could be reached early, the IEA has said. [raymondclarkeimages/Flickr]

Global energy emissions could peak as early as 2020 but only if governments worldwide phase out fossil fuels subsidies and ban the building of new coal power stations, a report published today (15 June) by the International Energy Agency (IEA) has said.

The peak – ten years ahead of schedule – would be a major climate milestone. It was possible without changing the economic and development prospects of any region and would come at no net economic cost, the IEA said in its Energy and Climate Change paper.

It would send a strong message to stay beneath the two degree global warming limit that leaders hope to agree at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris in November.

But research on the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), made or hinted at by governments before the COP21, shows energy emissions slowing but not peaking by 2030. Countries accounting for two thirds of emissions have either formally submitted their promises to cut emissions, or signalled their likely content.

The IEA assessment of the INDCs found that the pledges would help, but fall short of the “major course correction” needed to meet the two degree goal.

But if governments took five policy measures, they could hit the peak early, slow polluting coal and oil growth over the next five years, and boost renewables.

The measures are:

  • Progressively reduce the use of the least-efficient coal-fired power plants and banning new builds.
  • Phase out fossil fuel subsidies to end users by 2030.
  • Reduce methane, a more intense global warmer than carbon dioxide, emissions in oil and gas production.
  • Increase energy efficiency in industry, buildings and transport.
  • Increase investment in renewable technologies from $270 billion in 2014 to $400 billion in 2030.

Under the IEA scenario, coal peaks before 2020 and declines. Oil demand rises until 2020, and plateaus. Total energy related greenhouse gas emissions peak about 2020.

The energy intensity of the global economy and the carbon intensity of power generation improve by 40% by 2030.The link between economic growth and emissions growth in China is broken by about 2020, but the IEA expects this decoupling to take place almost 30% faster in the EU.

But the faster rate of decoupling would be down to improved energy efficiency measures, the IEA report said.

The European Union has promised to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% relative to 1990 levels by 2030. That would cause a decline in energy–related Co2 emissions at almost double the rate since 2000, making it one of the world’s least carbon-intensive energy economies, the IEA said.

But without the five measures the link between global economic growth and emissions is not broken by 2030, although it does weaken significantly. The economy grows by 88% from 2013 to 2030 and CO2 emission by 8%.

Renewables are the leading source of electricity by 2030, but inefficient coal-fired power generation capacity declines only slightly.

“As IEA analysis has repeatedly shown that the cost and difficulty of mitigating greenhouse-gas emissions increases every year, time is of the essence,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven.

The IEA also recommended four steps to ensure the Paris conference is a long term success:

  • Set the conditions to achieve an early peak in global energy-related emissions.
  • Review national climate targets every five years, to test the scope to raise ambition.
  • Translate the world’s climate goal into a collective long-term emissions goal.
  • Establish a process for tracking achievements in the energy sector.

NGOs call on Commission to boost renewables

Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, Greenpeace and WWF today called on the European Commission to propose a strong set of policies to delivering and surpassing the EU’s 2030 renewable energy target.

Setting non-binding national targets with financial rewards for countries surpassing them would incentivises governments to go further on renewables, the NGOs said in policy recommendations based on research by Ecofys.

They would prefer binding targets but that is unlikely to be accepted by national governments.

WWF senior policy officer for renewable energy Imke Lübbeke said: “Europe’s success on renewables has been driven by binding national renewable energy targets. In their possible absence, it will be crucial that an enforceable framework will continue to boost the growth of renewable energy in the EU.”

The European Commission is currently considering how best to meet its 2030 renewable energy target as part of the EU’s new energy governance framework.

EU leaders agreed to scrap binding national renewable energy targets and replace them with a governance framework as part of the deal on 2030 climate and energy targets in October last year. The deal included agreement on a target for renewable energy to deliver at least 27% of Europe’s energy in 2030.

Samantha Smith, leader of WWF’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative, said, “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. Current plans and pledges to do more later on are not yet enough to do the job on climate.”

WWF Director of Global Energy Policy Dr Stephan Singer said while WWF doesn’t agree with all the details and the level of ambition proposed by the IEA’s policies, “we do agree that actions in these five energy policy sectors will help to keep a global peak in emissions by 2020 within reach. This is what scientists tell us is necessary to fight climate change”.

The IEA is an autonomous organisation which works to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for its 29 member countries and beyond.

Global leaders will meet in Paris in November to try and reach a global legally-bindling limit on global warming of two degrees.

  • November/December: Paris UN Climate Change Conference

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