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‘Rapid and widespread changes’ needed to stop climate change warns IEA

Emissions will not peak before 2040 without rapid change.

The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook report warns that even if governments meet their current environmental targets, emissions will continue to rise up until 2040.

The report cautions that dramatic changes will be needed to avoid the devastating effects of the climate emergency.

It predicts that energy demand will rise by 1.3% a year to 2040 in its Current Policies Scenario, which will lead to what it calls a “continued strong upward march in energy-related emissions.”

It further cautions that within this current scenario “deep disparities define today’s energy world”, a matter which will continue without change.

The World Energy Outlook details two further scenarios, including the Stated Policies Scenario (STEPS), which incorporates today’s policy intentions and targets in addition to existing measures. As well as a Sustainable Development Scenario.

STEPS: slowing emissions but not stopping them

This STEPS scenario holds a mirror up to current pledges. The report describes a world in 2040 where hundreds of millions of people will still go without access to electricity, pollution-related premature deaths will remain at today’s levels and emissions levels would guarantee severe impacts from climate change.

Within this scenario, energy demand grows by 1% a year – a figure based on the medium population growth predictions made by the UN, suggesting a global population of nine million – to 2040. Around 50% of this will be met by low carbon sources led by solar PV, and natural gas will account for around a third. Oil demand will level out over the next decade, and coal will be increasingly used less.

The US will remain a major player in both the oil and gas markets throughout this period, overtaking Russia in 2025 thanks to its shale boom. While the pace of production will slow, the US will still account for 85% of the increase in global oil production and for 30% of the increase in gas to 2030.

“The shale revolution highlights that rapid change in the energy system is possible when an initial push to develop new technologies is complemented by strong market incentives and large-scale investment,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director. “The effects have been striking, with US shale now acting as a strong counterweight to efforts to manage oil markets.”

While the World Energy Outlook shows significant shifts in countries with net-zero policies, this will not make up for increased emissions caused by expanding economies and population growth. As such while the rise in emissions is likely to slow, they will not peak before 2040.

Rapid change needed for Sustainable Development Scenario

The final scenario, the Sustainable Development Scenario, details how globally we could limit temperature increases as suggested in the Paris Climate Agreement. This would require “rapid and widespread changes”, using a multitude of fuels and technologies to the great benefit of all. This would give us a 50% chance of limiting warming to 1.65°C according to the report.

“What comes through with crystal clarity in this year’s World Energy Outlook is there is no single or simple solution to transforming global energy systems,” said Dr Birol. “Many technologies and fuels have a part to play across all sectors of the economy. For this to happen, we need strong leadership from policy makers, as governments hold the clearest responsibility to act and have the greatest scope to shape the future.”

Energy efficiency improvements are likely to provide some of the biggest changes to emissions, but currently are far below the level needed. The report suggests that a rate of 3% would be needed, but in 2018 energy efficiency improvements were only made at a rate of 1.2%.

Within this scenario, electricity is the only energy source that sees substantial growth, with consumption overtaking todays leader, oil.

“The world urgently needs to put a laser-like focus on bringing down global emissions. This calls for a grand coalition encompassing governments, investors, companies and everyone else who is committed to tackling climate change,” said Dr Birol. “Our Sustainable Development Scenario is tailor-made to help guide the members of such a coalition in their efforts to address the massive climate challenge that faces us all.”

This year's World Energy Outlook provides similar suggestions as last years, which called for there to be an “unprecedented global political and economic effort” to shift energy towards more sustainable means if climate targets are to be reached.

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