I'm not sure how many more times we'll need to be told this before it sinks it, but time is certainly running out: According to the International Energy Agency, if we don't radically overhaul our energy supply, quickly moving away from fossil fuels and towards low-carbon sources, "the door will be closed forever" and dangerous climate change will be inevitable. And we have just five years before that door closes, the IEA says.
The reason: The extent of existing fossil fuel-powered energy infrastructure and the rate with which new fossil fuel power plants are being built.
If we are to hold carbon in the atmosphere to 450 parts per million—the level generally politically agreed upon in international climate negotiations but which is 100ppm higher than an increasing number of scientists say is safe—then we must radically increase the amount of low carbon energy being used.
Currently about 80% of the so-called carbon budget, allowing the 450ppm target to be reached, is accounted for by existing power plants and fossil fuel usage. At current rates of fossil fuel expansion, by 2015 90% of that budget will be used. By 2017 it will entirely be used up. Meaning that all additional energy usage would have to come from renewable sources if the 450ppm target is to be reached.
Again, it's worth pointing out that the 450ppm target is higher than what many scientists now say is sufficient to avoid dangerous climate change. We are currently at roughly 390ppm, with 350ppm being a safer target—one which gives us a better chance of keeping global average temperature rise below 2°C and thereby avoiding the likely worst effects of climate change.
IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol:
As each year passes without clear signals to drive investment in clean energy, the 'lock-in' of high carbon infrastructure is making it harder and more expensive to meet our energy security and climate goals. (Reuters)