International Energy Agency: “On planned policies, rising fossil energy use will lead to irreversible and potentially catastrophic climate change.”
“… we are on an even more dangerous track to an increase of 6°C [11°F]…. 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 International Energy Agency has issued yet another clarion call for urgent action on climate. Their 2011 World Energy Outlook [WEO] release should end once and for all any notion that delay is the rational course for the nation and the world.
The UK Guardian‘s headline captures the urgency:
World headed for irreversible climate change in five years, IEA warns
If fossil fuel infrastructure is not rapidly changed, the world will ‘lose for ever’ the chance to avoid dangerous climate change
We must start aggressively deploying clean energy now through myriad policies, including a price on carbon. That has been the conclusion of most authoritative studies, of course, including the recent one by California’s independent state science and technology advisory panel (see “Study Confirms Optimal Climate Strategy: Deploy, Deploy, Deploy, Research and Develop, Deploy, Deploy, Deploy“).
The IEA report deserves the label “bombshell,” though, because for most of the past two decades, the IEA was the source of bland, conservative, business-as-usual analysis. When I was Acting Assistant Secretary of Energy for energy efficiency and renewable energy in 1997, no one at DOE paid much attention to IEA reports. And that perspective continued through most of the 2000s.
But in just the last few years they have woken up to the risks posed to peak oil — see IEA top economist warns (8/09): “We have to leave oil before oil leaves us” — and especially climate change. In releasing its 2009 WEO, the IEA warned, “The world will have to spend an extra $500 billion to cut carbon emissions for each year it delays implementing a major assault on global warming.”
Now the IEA has done the calculation a different way, concluding, “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.” Those who counsel waiting for breakthrough technologies are urging us on a path that is unsustainable, irreversible, potentially catastrophic, and economically indefensible, according to the IEA.
The IEA is one of the few organizations in the world with a sophisticated enough global energy model to do credible (i.e non-hand-waving) projections of the cost of different emissions pathways and the costs of delaying efforts to achieve them. Their 2008 analysis of the 2°C warming pathway demonstrated that the total shift in investment needed to stabilize at 450 ppm is only about 1.1% of GDP per year — and that is not a “cost” or hit to GDP, because much of that investment goes towards saving expensive fuel (see “IEA report: Climate Progress has the 450-ppm solution about right“).
The new analysis shows that because of soaring emissions, we are running out of time for the “450 Scenario.” We are at risk of irreversibly “locking in” dangerous warming — a point I agree with mostly, but not entirely: