Clean Energy Growth Is Too Slow, Says IEA

Global carbon dioxide emissions are forecast to grow by almost 5% this year, the largest increase in a decade.

A magnificent solar power station on the top of the misty mountain
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Clean energy is not growing fast enough to cut greenhouse gas emissions to the level needed to avert catastrophic climate change, according to a bleak report by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

“Public spending on sustainable energy in economic recovery packages has only mobilized around one-third of the investment required to jolt the energy system onto a new set of rails, with the largest shortfall in developing economies,” says the World Energy Outlook 2021.

The report was released before world leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, meet for COP26, a United Nations (U.N.) climate change conference that will take place in Glasgow, Scotland, between Oct. 31 and Nov. 12.

The IEA analysis celebrates the rapid growth of renewable energy and electric vehicles in 2020 but notes that fossil fuels are experiencing a rebound this year amid strong economic growth. The world’s four largest carbon dioxide emitters, China, the U.S., the European Union, and India are increasingly burning more coal and natural gas to produce electricity due to the ongoing energy crunch.

The IEA predicts global carbon dioxide emissions will grow by almost 5% this year, the largest increase in a decade.

The chances of preventing the global average surface temperature from rising more than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above pre-industrial levels, a point in which many climate change effects will become irreversible, appear increasingly slim because we have passed the 1.98 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) mark and carbon emissions are forecast to continue increasing until at least 2025.

“Despite increased climate ambitions and net-zero commitments, governments still plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than what would be consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5°C,” the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said this week.

Approximately 50 countries, in addition to all EU members, have announced zero-emission targets ahead of COP26. If they meet those goals—and that’s a big “if”—emissions from the energy sector will fall by just 40% by 2050, the report estimates, and that will be too little too late because we need to see a 45% cut in emissions by 2030.

“If governments fully deliver on the climate pledges they have announced so far, it would limit global warming to 2.1 C. Not enough to solve the climate crisis, but enough to change energy markets, including oil – which would peak by 2025 – and solar & wind, whose output soars,” tweeted IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol.

Part of the problem is that governments and the private sector are not investing enough in solar and wind energy but also that demand for energy is growing rapidly, especially in rapidly growing countries that rely heavily on fossil fuels for power generation, like China and India.

In 2009, rich countries agreed to provide low-income nations with $100 billion a year in funding for clean energy and climate change adaptation but they have failed to do so.

Cost-effective reductions by technology measure from the Announced Pledges Scenario to the Net Zero Scenario in 2030


Proposed Solutions

Ahead of COP26, the report puts forward a roadmap with four key measures that the IEA says will help world leaders come up with policies to decarbonize their countries.

  • Massive investments in clean energy, especially wind and solar, but also hydropower and nuclear.

By 2030, the world should be investing $4 trillion a year in clean energy and much of that money should be channeled to developing countries, where energy demand is increasing rapidly. Over that timeframe, the world will need to see a rapid phase-out of coal and the electrification of the transportation sector.

  • Energy efficiency needs to improve to reduce the amount of energy we consume.

Birol urged policymakers to provide funds to help households with “the upfront costs of energy efficiency improvements, like retrofitting homes, and electric solutions, like EVs & heat pumps.”

  • Drastic reductions in methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, which the report describes as “a key tool to limit near-term global warming.”
  • A “big boost to clean energy innovation” to reduce emissions from hard-to-decarbonize sectors such as iron and steel, cement, as well as long-distance transport.

Whether world leaders will agree to implement these policies when they meet in Glasgow is unclear.

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry recently told The BBC that although some countries have issued ambitious carbon reduction pledges, others are “pursuing policies that border on being very dangerous for everybody.”

"I think Glasgow has to be the moment that the world acts. We've got some commitments but we need to go further."

View Article Sources
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  2. "Annual U.S. Coal-fired Electricity Generation Will Increase for the First Time Since 2014." Energy Information Administration, 2021.

  3. "CO2 Emissions." International Energy Agency, 2021.

  4. "Governments’ Fossil Fuel Production Plans Dangerously Out of Sync with Paris Limits." United Nations Environment Programme, 2021.