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Can the World Meet its Climate Change Goals? Unlikely, According to IEA Report

climate-change-goals“No country is an energy ‘island,’ “the International Energy Agency (IEA) states in the executive summary of its recently released World Energy Outlook (WEO).  This report addresses the most important energy question in the world today.  Can the world increase its energy efficiency to meet IEA goals for curbing climate change and still expand access to electricity to poor and developing regions?  In the 2012 WEO, the IEA suggests that it is possible, but not without all nations taking substantial measures to increase efficiency.

The 2012 WEO projects that the United States’ energy boom will make the US the leading global oil producer by 2020.  By that time, the outlook surmises, about 90% of Middle Eastern oil exports will be directed to Asia.  Growth in fossil fuel use is likely to continue the planet on its current trend of climate change.  The goal of the WEO to keep the long-term global temperature rise to below 2°C could be surpassed by 2017.  The actual rate of carbon emissions and temperature rise will be affected greatly by the energy efficiency measures taken worldwide to mitigate climate change.  In the Efficient World Scenario presented in the WOE, the IEA shows that worldwide energy efficiency efforts could cut the growth of world energy demand by as much as half and decrease demand for oil by about 13mb/d by 2035.

While coal is expected to remain the primary power source in future years, renewables such as hydro, wind, and solar power are projected to become the second largest source of power generation by 2035, accounting for about one third of total energy output.  The outlook also warns, however, that energy production will require unprecedented amounts of water in order to remain viable.  This is a factor that could constrain power production in many areas, such as Iraq’s oil fields.

So, what does this string of projected figures and dates mean?  The most important point made in this report is that the world is not even close to keeping global climate change below the 2°C (above pre-industrial times) goal agreed on by the UN Copenhagen Accord in 2009.  Over 140 countries have agreed to this pledge to fight climate change, but so far, policies have not been aggressive enough.  Even if aggressive energy efficiency measures are implemented, no more than one third of existing fossil fuel reserves can be consumed before 2050 if the world is to keep global warming to the 2°C goal.  Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology could be used to offset carbon emissions, but presently there are few of these projects in operation, and so the effects of CCS technology on a large scale are not certain.  In other words, CCS technology is not yet advanced enough to be a trustworthy source of carbon mitigation.  The WEO explains that the world is on track to “lock in” the allowable amount of carbon emissions by 2017, and could possibly extend this to 2022 with the use of energy efficiency measures.

What is concerning about the 2012 WEO isn’t necessarily the report of the world’s dismal progress toward meeting goals for carbon emissions and climate change, but that this information isn’t even new.  The EIA warned in its 2010 WEO that if countries did not act to aggressively curb carbon emissions, it would be “all but impossible to achieve the 2°C goal.”  Taking into account the policy changes countries announced at the UN Copenhagen Accord, the WEO in 2010 predicted a long-term global temperature rise of 3.5°C.

We can only speculate on what the actual effects of carbon emissions will be on the global climate.  It is clear, however, that adopting energy efficiency improvements is crucial not only to world climate, but to world economy.  The 2012 WEO projects a huge economic advantage amounting to $18 trillion by 2035 if efficiency improvements are implemented.  The US is one country slated to benefit from the boosted economy.  Perhaps if environmental incentives are not enough to urge countries to implement more aggressive carbon emission policies, the economic benefits will become the catalyst for a global shift to energy efficiency.

Jessica Kennedy
Energy Curtailment Specialists, Inc.

Jessica can be found on Twitter and Google+.

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