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IEA: World on Pace for 11°F Warming, “Even School Children Know This Will Have Catastrophic Implications for All of Us”

By Joe Romm  

"IEA: World on Pace for 11°F Warming, “Even School Children Know This Will Have Catastrophic Implications for All of Us”"

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The International Energy Agency was once a staid and conservative organization that people ignored because it was staid and conservative.

Now people ignore the IEA because it has become a blunt truth teller on oil and climate (see World’s top energy economist warns peak oil threatens recovery, urges immediate action: “We have to leave oil before oil leaves us”).

Last November, Climate Progress blogged on the IEA’s 2011 World Energy Outlook [WEO] bombshell warning: We’re Headed Toward 11°F Global Warming and “Delaying Action Is a False Economy.”

Fatih Birol is the IEA’s chief economist, and later gave a great talk at the Carnegie endowment on the WEO’s implications.  You can watch it here (and view the transcript and download his PPT slides — I clipped the top image from the last slide).

Birol can’t really be considered a rabble-rouser — he worked for OPEC for 6 years before joining the IEA in 1995, so he was there during  extended period of time when nobody was much paying attention to the IEA.

He had some blunt remarks on climate and energy (starting around minute 56):

Another point on climate change is about the two degrees. With the current policies in place, the world is perfectly on track to six degrees Celsius increasing the temperature, which is very bad news. And everybody, even school children, know this will have catastrophic implications for all of us.

Of course he means school children in other countries where they are taught the basic science (see “An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How We Know Inaction Is the Gravest Threat Humanity Faces“).

Birol continued:

In the World Energy Outlook, we look at every year where we are, and we are perfectly on track with the six degrees – several years, we put a check next to that. And yet, world leaders have agreed in Copenhagen and we agreed in Cancun that we have to limit the temperature increase two degrees Celsius, which barely brings us to a sustainable trajectory.

So we wanted to look at in the World Energy Outlook, with the current energy infrastructure we have today, how much room, if any, is left to cope the two-degrees trajectory. Because when you build a power plant, it has a lifetime of 60 years, 50, 60 years. When you build a factory, 80 years. And throughout their lifetime, they are going to emit carbon dioxide emissions.

So we wanted to see, with the existing infrastructure, how much emissions they are going to emit, and how does it compare with the two-degrees trajectory.

Now, what we understand is, with the current power plants, current factories, current cars, current trucks, we have already 80 percent of the allowed emissions to us in a two-degrees trajectory will be eaten up with the existing power plants, existing cars and existing trucks without building anything, without building anything new. And with the current one, 80 percent.

It is like a – to make it simpler, we are coming to the lunchtime – the doctor gives you a diet, certain amount of calories you can have in one day. And this blue one is the – since we have two Turks here, you eat a very good Turkish baklava – (laughter) – and you have already 80 percent of your allotted calories are eaten up. Only 20 percent for the rest of the day or for the next 25 years.

In the context of, if you don’t do anything until 2015, 95 percent of the allowed emissions will be locked in. And if you do not do anything until the year 2017, we are going to use all the emissions which are permitted to us, we are going to consume them by the existing power plants, transmission lines, by the cars and everything. So therefore, we will lock in our future, which will be impossible to change, and the door to two degrees will be closed.

But in order in 2017 there are major, huge, new, clean-energy investment framework, you need much earlier to give strong signals to the investors to go forward that way before 2017. And for that, you need regulation such as the good news from Durban or something else or some government policies.

Here’s a related chart and some background on this from the WEO:

“On planned policies, rising fossil energy use will lead to irreversible and potentially catastrophic climate change”….

Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.”

The time to act is now (see “Study Confirms Optimal Climate Strategy: Deploy, Deploy, Deploy, Research and Develop, Deploy, Deploy, Deploy“ — and yes we need to do those  simultaneously, the repetition is meant to represent the relative spending levels).

Finally, it’s worth noting what Birol, who was born in Ankara, Turkey, says about the relative responsibilities of the rich and poor countries (he gave this talk in the lead up to Durban):

In terms of negotiations, there is one argument that emerging countries are always underlining, say that when you look at responsibilities, you don’t look at today only, you look at the historical responsibilities.

You, rich countries, yes, Europe, you have been using a lot of coal, oil, gas, and putting a lot of carbon in the atmosphere since 100 years, as you see in this picture. And now, we have very little
responsibility there, and now you are telling us that we should have the same responsibility. This is not fair, by emerging countries, led by China.

And to be honest with you, when you look at this picture, they have a point, definitely they have a point. But it is changing. When we look at the next few years, we see that the Chinese historical emissions are overtaking Europe very soon, around 2015, and coming very close to the United States. And I can tell you that our China numbers may well be on the conservative side here.

So therefore, from a cumulative-emissions-perspective point of view, the argument coming from China and others may not be as strong as today and the next years to come.

India, according to our analysis in the World Energy Outlook, became this year the third-largest emitter, following China and the United States, overtaking Japan and Russia.

On a per-capita basis, another argument, China is overtaking Europe in the next four years, even on a per-capita basis. This is the other argument coming from the developing countries. Don’t look at volumes, but look at the per-capita basis, because we are 1 billion people, which is, again, a valid point.

But in our per-capita basis, China is overtaking European Union very soon and OECD.

So what I want to say here is that this is true that the U.S. and Europe has historical responsibilities, but the picture is changing very rapidly that even the historical responsibilities will be redefined again and discussed.

The U.S. has the greatest moral obligation to reduce emissions sharply ASAP.  Europe also has a strong obligation — but then Europe is acting and we aren’t.  China now, too, has a responsibility to slow the growth of emissions and then reverse the trend entirely by no later than the early 2020s.

If we don’t change direction soon, we may end up where we are headed.  And that would be catastrophic, as school children around the world know.

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13 Responses to IEA: World on Pace for 11°F Warming, “Even School Children Know This Will Have Catastrophic Implications for All of Us”

  1. Peter Mizla says:

    Be it 3 or 5 years- 95% or 100% to lock in 450ppm- is there really a difference?

    This spring we will reach 397ppm- but of course that is 20 years? in the pipeline for us to actually ‘feel’ climatically.

    in 2031 while we debate- and haggle over emissions we will begin to see the amount of C02 in the pipeline today. Will that be enough to bring real change? By then however there will be enough infrastructure for what? 500-550 ppm?

    Seems depressing anyway you look at it. I saw some friends over the holidays- all with Graduate degrees- and their gut feeling; We can’t do anything about it.

    On a side note; On local News tonight Hartford CT- Insurance companies in the state will be raising homeowners rates- why? ‘Too Many ‘Natural Disasters’ hitting their bottom line.

    The CEO’s of this companies are smart enough to believe the climate scientists- and not the goofy wing nuts in the GOP.

  2. Mark Shapiro says:

    Yep, I still prefer clean energy over an accelerating disaster . . .

    The critical statistic in this article (that we CP readers have seen several times now) is that $1 invested in clean energy today buys $4.30 worth of “cleanliness” invested in 2020. That’s a huge rate of return. And while skeptics say that it might be less, it might also be more.

    Plus, what’s wrong with clean air and water, anyway??!??

  3. Solar Jim says:

    On ship’s intercom:

    Iceberg dead ahead, Captain!
    Captain? Hello, Captain?
    Is there anybody on the bridge?

    Um, hello. This is the galley mate passing by. The captain and crew are partying with the owners in the “estate cabin” and are not to be disturbed. They are celebrating their stock, and the coal boilers, doing so well.

  4. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Do we even have that much coal? It is looking like climate will begin to bite, oil gets real expensive and coal just won’t be obtained at a reasonable price. All will happen at roughly the same time.

    Just when we need our airconditioning most, brownouts and blackouts. But then it very quickly gets worse: see all that coal and oil we are burning has created global dimming, and the skies will clear within months and then we add another watt per square meter.

    So we build our wind and solar now, or we go without power later. Because later the cost resources to build replacements will be prohibitive.

    We have over 100 years of coal? Start looking at the detail. Thats 100 years at yesterday’s consumption rates, and some of those reserves are poor quality coal under hundreds of feet of overburden. Exponential growth bites again.

  5. Paul Magnus says:

    More mega floods for thailand… People are now starting to realize what GW of 2c will mean.

    We have not reached 1c and I do not think that modern societies can even cope with the current level of climate change, much less 1.5c!

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-2082112/Thailand-floods-FCO-issues-new-travel-warning-deluge-continues.html

  6. Pangolin says:

    Methane is already bubbling out of the Arctic ocean in vast quantities. We could quit burning fossil fuels tomorrow and we’d be lucky to keep climate change under 6 degrees in 100 years.

  7. Joan Savage says:

    Dot-connection: Climate change has been biting big time.

    The front teeth of its serious consequences haven’t sunk into the jugulars of elites with warning systems, mobility, air conditioning, and fungible assets. Many commentators on climate progress have these resources, and the resources have buffered us from feeling the bites more deeply.

    We who comment here are at risk of being a variant of denier, someone who talks and acts as if climate change were still a forthcoming event over which we elites still have adequate control to avoid difficulty for ourselves.

    Let’s trim the language to acknowledge that severe changes have arrived, whether named or unnamed as climate change.

  8. Lou Grinzo says:

    I’m very pleased that Birol is talking so directly about the lock-in problem. This is a critically important aspect of our situation that has been overlooked for far too long. And I include two main classes of lock-in, in that statement: Infrastructure, like all those cars and power plants Birol mentions, and the CO2 that’s already in the atmosphere and will hang around for a very long time, regardless of how much we get our act together and reduce emissions in the near future. (One could add a third main category, our mental lock-in to life on a business as usual path as many of is struggle mightily to resist being awakened to the mess we’ve created.)

    On China and India vs The West, I think it’s undeniably true that The West loaded the gun and pointed it at humanity’s head, and China and India are doing everything they can — largely in the form of building massive numbers of non-CCS coal plants — to be first to pull the trigger. You can argue until the sun burns out about which group is “really” at fault for the looming horrors of climate impacts, but the bottom line is that the atmosphere is infinitely indifferent to our petty squabbles. It reacts to the CO2 and makes no distinction between emissions caused by one group or another, or those traced to manufacturing some junk item in China and sold to an American, vs. emissions from the tailpipe of an ambulance taking an injured humanitarian, a truly Great Person, to the hospital.

  9. Gudrun Scott says:

    Next Wednesday January 11 is the deadline for the NY state environmental impact statement critique on fracking for shale gas under NY State– I will send this article and tell them to change course!!! Create sustainable jobs with my tax money to build passive houses and mass transportation, wineries, dairies, hunting tourism, and also sewage systems and stop the fracking before it starts in this state- we could send a message to Goveror Andrew Cuomo who wants to run for President in 2016 and say we are watching you.
    you can comment at http://www.dec.nt.gov or you can send a postal mail to:
    DEC attention sGEIS
    625 Broadway, Albany NY 12233

  10. SecularAnimist says:

    Paul Magnus wrote: “We have not reached 1c and I do not think that modern societies can even cope with the current level of climate change, much less 1.5c!”

    That cannot be repeated often enough. We are only beginning to experience the effects of the anthropogenic warming that has already occurred, and those effects are already testing the capacity of even the world’s wealthiest and most advanced societies to deal with them.

    And we KNOW that (1) the warming that has already occurred WILL produce even more destructive and disruptive effects than we have yet seen, and (2) the GHGs that we have already emitted WILL produce even more warming than we have yet seen.

  11. CW says:

    Thanks very much for finding and posting this video. I’d never heard Birol talk – he’s not bad.

    Although it was interesting that a guy who knows all about the massive and long perpetuated fossil fuel subsidies initially talked about how (paraphrasing) ‘in financially hard times governments are considering lowering or eliminating subsidies to RENEWABLES currently totaling $66B’ without mentioning the fossil fuel subsidies of $409B. He only mentioned the fossil fuel subsidies after a question brought them up. He of course then replied by noting the public commitment of governments to scrap fossil fuel subsidies, but then did not mention the “décollage” (disconnect) between rhetoric and action on this front despite having talked about a few similar disconnects throughout his talk. Sigh.

    We all know at least a few of the reasons why in an era where governments have huge debts they think of stopping renewable and not the larger fossil fuel subsidies but it is maddening to watch them exhibit such backward, maladaptive and self-destructive decision-making.

  12. Aubrey Enoch says:

    Somehow when I see the deniers of global warming I start thinking “suicide bomber”.
    What part of melting ice happens without heat.
    There’s no debate here.
    Chronic disease is rampant in western society and gets $billions worth of attention, but heat stroke kills you that one hot day. Hope isn’t going to get it. We need action or we’re cooked

  13. Dave Rasmus says:

    The current Canadian government, the one that was bought and paid for by the Tar Sands lobby, is now calling all Canadians “radicals” who don’t welcome their plans for Keynesian Thermageddon. LMAO!