IEA calls for radical change

The IEA Executive Director: “The world risks to lock itself into an unsustainable energy future”. Photo: Dalibor Levíček/Creative Commons

An insecure, inefficient and high-carbon energy system, is what we can expect if there is no radical change in the direction of policy, warned the International Energy Agency (IEA) when it launched the annual World Energy Outlook in November.

Global carbon emissions jumped by 5.3 per cent in 2010 to a record 30.4 gigatonnes (Gt), despite the deepest economic recession for decades. In a scenario where current political ambitions are implemented, global primary energy demand will increase by one-third between 2010 and 2035 according to the agency. Energy-related carbon emissions will increase by 20 per cent, and lead to levels of carbon dioxide that correspond to a 3.5°C increase in global average temperature.

Most of this increase will take place in emerging economies like China, India, Indonesia, Brazil and the Middle East. China alone will be responsible for 30 per cent of the global increase and will consolidate its position as the world's largest energy consumer. In 2035 the energy demand in China will exceed US energy demand by 70 per cent. However the per capita demand will still be half of that of the US.

The share of fossil fuels in the global energy mix will decrease from 81 per cent to 75 per cent in 2035. Renewables will increase from 13 per cent of the mix today to 18 per cent in 2035. The demand for coal and gas is expected to grow more than the demand of oil.

The continued dominance of fossil fuels is partly explained by continued high subsidies for fossil fuels, which in 2010 amounted to $409 billion. This can be compared to subsidies for renewables, which totalled $64 billion in 2010 and are expected to rise to $250 billion in 2035 with current political development.

Subsidies for fossil fuels are often argued to benefit the poor, but according to IEA findings only eight per cent of the 2010 subsidies reached the poorest 20 per cent of the population. Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies by 2020 would on the other hand lead to a cut of nearly five per cent in global energy demand and reduce carbon emissions by 5.8 per cent.

The IEA stresses the fact that most energy-related infrastructure has a long life span. The IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said: "Without an urgent and radical change of policy direction the world risks to lock itself into an unsustainable energy future. Much of the energy use equipment and infrastructure, such as power stations, buildings and factories will be around for decades to come. Retiring it early will be horribly expensive."

According to the IEA calculations, 80 per cent of the cumulative CO2 that can be emitted between 2010 and 2035 if the world is going to have a chance of achieving the 2°C scenario is already "locked-in" existing capital stock. This limits the time for action and leaves no space for misplaced investments in fossil fuels.

For a 2°C scenario, all investments after 2017 will need to be in zero-carbon utilities, unless existing infrastructure is scrapped before the end of its economic life-span. For every dollar not spent on a sustainable energy future before 2020, an additional four dollars will have to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the higher emissions.

Kajsa Lindqvist

The World Energy Outlook 2011 can be found at

Efficiency and renewables – not nuclear

On 9 November, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released its latest World Energy Outlook report, warning world leaders that climate change will be irreversible if they don't take strong action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the next five years.

Greenpeace International's energy campaigner Sven Teske commented: "The IEA's report reflects what Greenpeace has been saying for years; the increase in average global temperature must be kept to 2 degrees Celsius. It also moves closer to Greenpeace's analysis that the world urgently needs an Energy [R]evolution, with much more of our energy demands filled by renewable energy, along with energy conservation."

"However, the IEA is once again putting politics ahead of science by suggesting that a reduction in nuclear power will lead to higher energy costs and emissions – the opposite is the case. A combination of energy efficiency and renewables would be the way forward and could lead to a complete phase-out of nuclear power by 2035, while lowering electricity costs and carbon emissions".

Greenpeace's analysis of the World Energy Outlook can be downloaded from:


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