WASHINGTON, June 30, 2015 -- The International Energy Agency (IEA) argues that existing technology can halt the growth in the energy sector’s global-warming carbon emissions by 2020 and do so without harming global economic growth.
IEA Chief Economist and incoming Executive Director Fatih Birol delivered that message at a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Energy and Climate Change forum in Washington last week. He explained that the IEA calls on governments to curb emissions through five policies:
1. Establishing energy efficiency standards for industry, buildings and transportation, beginning with cars, trucks, refrigerators, air conditioners and TVs.
2. Banning construction of any more of the least-efficient coal power plants.
3. Increasing investment in renewable energy technologies from the current $270 billion per year to $400 billion by 2030.
4. Minimizing methane emissions from oil and gas operations by requiring industry to use existing technology to capture emissions, increasing industry costs only 1 percent.
5. Phasing out the $500 billion in global annual subsidies for coal, oil and natural gas by 2030 because current subsidy policy incentivizes fossil fuel use and “blocks the way for clean energy technologies.”
Birol said an emissions peak can be achieved by 2020 using existing technologies supported by common sense government regulations “rather than expecting some new technologies will come and save the world.”
The Turkish economist was commenting on the IEA’s 200 page Report on Energy and Climate Change published June 15. The report warns that as the opportunity to avoid catastrophic global warming decreases and the cost of curbing emissions increases, “the risk of failure is great: the more time passes without a deal, the more high-carbon energy infrastructure is locked in.”
The IEA insists that if the world’s governments put sensible climate policies in place quickly – starting with reaching agreement in the U.N. climate meeting in Paris in December – the reward will be achieving a global energy-related emissions peak by 2020 “at no net economic cost.” The IEA sees that as an initial step toward the goal of having the sun become “the world’s largest source of electricity by 2050, ahead of fossil fuels, wind, hydro and nuclear.”
The IEA isn’t alone in calling for new government policies to incentivize a global switch to less polluting fuels. In May, six major European-based oil companies, BG Group, BP, Eni, Shell, Statoil and Total, called for “effective pricing of carbon emissions” in order to provide “a clear roadmap for future investment.”
Pledging to work with the United Nations to address climate change, the six said that for them to increase their existing efforts to reduce carbon emissions, “we need governments across the world to provide us with clear, stable, long-term, ambitious policy frameworks” in order to “help stimulate investments in the right low-carbon technologies.” The oil majors agreed that “a price on carbon should be a key element of these frameworks.”
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., sees no need for reining in fossil fuels. Commenting on the IEA’s climate report, he tells Agri-Pulse that “IEA’s report includes unrealistic conclusions devoid of merit and substance. They would pare back the technological advancements and economic developments made throughout the last century while harming the most vulnerable members of our society by making energy more expensive and less accessible.”
Research Fellow H. Sterling Burnett at the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based conservative think tank, also rejected the IEA plan.
“Even if there was a startling breakthrough in technology today that would, for example, allow the world to store power generated by wind and solar generating units for release when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun not shining, it would be decades before this technology substantially replaced fossil fuels,” he tells Agri-Pulse. “Even with a breakthrough, he added, “disruptive technologies always come at great costs.”
Responding to the IEA’s contention that the countries and companies “that do not anticipate stronger energy and climate policies risk being at a competitive disadvantage,” Burnett warns that countries that switch from fossil fuels to “less reliable, more expensive forms of energy” will be “at greatest risk of seeing their economies falter and be placed at a competitive disadvantage.”
“Absent government support, renewable energy sources would all but disappear in the U.S.,” Burnett said. He acknowledges China and India are investing in renewables but contends that “they are developing fossil fuel sources, fossil fuel power plants, and trading relations with countries with access to fossil fuels at an even faster pace.”