WASHINGTON – Clean energy technologies such as wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicles are advancing so rapidly that global fossil fuel use is expected to peak by the mid-2020s and then begin to decline, the world’s leading energy agency said Tuesday.
But there’s a catch: the shift away from coal, oil and natural gas is still not fast enough to avoid dangerous levels of global warming, the agency said, at least until governments take much more drastic action to cut carbon emissions. causing the planet to warm. dioxide emissions in the next few years.
The International Energy Agency’s 386-page World Energy Outlook, which predicts global energy trends to 2050, comes out just weeks before world leaders gather at a major United Nations climate summit in Glasgow to discuss how to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels and prevent the planet from overheating.
“Over the past decade, the world has made significant progress in the area of clean energy,” said Fatih Birol, the agency’s executive director, in an interview. “But there is still a lot to be done.”
The new report concludes that the world has made significant strides in tackling climate change. Wind and solar power is currently the cheapest source of new electricity in most markets and is growing rapidly. Sales of electric vehicles worldwide hit records last year. Around the world, the number of permits to build new coal-fired power plants, the main source of emissions, has dropped dramatically in recent years as governments and banks increasingly refuse to finance them.
Governments are also stepping up their emission reduction policies. The European Union is increasing the price it charges major pollutants for carbon dioxide emissions. India has raised efficiency standards for new air conditioners. China has said it will stop funding new coal-fired power plants overseas.
As a result, the International Energy Agency predicts that human carbon dioxide emissions will peak by the mid-2020s and then slowly decline over the coming decades. Global coal use is expected to decline between now and 2050, despite this year’s growth driven by increased industrial activity in China, while global oil demand is expected to start steadily declining by the 2030s. as people switch to electricity to fuel their cars.
That alone would be a wonderful shift. Since World War II, global carbon dioxide emissions have been on a seemingly unrelenting upward trajectory, with only temporary declines during recessions as the world relied on increasing amounts of fossil fuels to power homes, cars and factories. The report says that now is a turning point.
Even so, the agency has warned that the shift is far from averting some of the most dangerous impacts of climate change.
The report says current energy policies will continue to cause the world to warm by about 2.6 degrees Celsius (4.7 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, up from pre-industrial levels. The United Nations warned last month that such an outcome would be “catastrophic,” noting that countries are already at a much higher risk of deadly heatwaves, droughts, floods and wildfires after just 1.1 degrees Celsius of global warming to date.
Many world leaders are hoping to limit average global warming to around 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid some of the most dire and irreversible risks associated with climate change, such as widespread crop failures or ecosystem collapse.
The International Energy Agency has said that to achieve this goal, it will not be enough for global emissions to simply peak and then decline gently over the coming decades, as they do now. Instead, countries around the world will have to act much faster to nearly halve their emissions this decade and completely stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by about 2050.
Earlier this year, the agency laid out a detailed roadmap of what such an effort might look like. By 2030, for example, electric vehicles should account for more than half of new car sales worldwide, up from 5 percent today. By 2035, rich countries will have to shut down virtually all fossil fuel power plants in favor of cleaner technologies such as wind, solar or nuclear power. By 2040, all of the world’s remaining coal-fired power plants must be decommissioned or equipped with technologies to capture and store carbon emissions.
Countries will need to triple their investments in clean energy over the next decade, to about $ 4 trillion a year, the agency said. Much of this increased spending should go to developing countries, which have accounted for the bulk of emissions growth in recent years, but which have often struggled to access finance.
“So far, only about 20 percent of investments in clean energy go to developing countries,” said Mr Birol. “This needs to be changed. This is a race in which no one wins unless everyone finishes. “
The report notes that many countries are considering taking more decisive action, at least on paper. More than 50 countries, including China and the United States, as well as the European Union, have announced their goal of achieving “clean zero,” that is, reaching the point where they no longer add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere – over the next few decades.
The report says that if every country delivers on that promise, the world could potentially limit overall global warming to around 2.1 degrees Celsius by 2100. But even that outcome is far from guaranteed, as most countries pledging to achieve zero have not yet adopted policies to achieve those goals.
The new report also warns that the transition to a cleaner energy economy could be bumpy without careful planning. Over the past six years, global investment in the development of new oil and gas fields has fallen, especially after the pandemic. But if the world does not invest large enough in clean energy alternatives to replace these sources, many countries could face the energy crisis that Europe is currently experiencing.
“This has to happen quickly,” the report says. “Otherwise, global energy markets will face a turbulent and volatile period ahead.”