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By Rick Mitchell
May 5 — Three-quarters of the energy-related greenhouse gas emissions cuts needed by mid-century to avoid a worst-case-scenario spike in global temperatures must come from the world's emerging economies, the International Energy Agency reports.
But advanced countries must help developing nations create and deploy energy technologies as part of a “concerted global push” to cut those carbon dioxide emissions, said Didier Houssin, the IEA's director of sustainable energy policy and technology, speaking May 4 in presenting the agency's 2015 annual outlook on energy technology development and deployment.
IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said the United Nations climate summit later this year in Paris could prove “historic” if it produces agreements that allow rich and poor countries to make sustainable energy a global reality.
But the IEA warned that in part because of recently lower prices for fossil fuels, the world is falling well short of advances in clean-energy innovation and deployment needed to fight global warming.
Van der Hoeven called for a tripling of annual worldwide investment into energy research, to $51 billion, and a long-term strategy that “requires governments and the private sector to work closely together and shift their focus to low-carbon technologies.”
The 418-page report—“Energy Technology Perspectives 2015”—analyzes long-term energy sector trends and focuses on the technologies and deployment levels needed to achieve carbon dioxide reductions under a so-called 2 degree warming scenario. Scientists say catastrophic climate change becomes far more likely beyond a 2 degree Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) warming of the Earth's atmosphere this century compared with pre-industrial levels.
The Paris-based IEA warned that without any changes, the world is on track now to push average temperatures to 6-degrees Celsius (10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial averages by the end of the century. That scenario would see annual energy- and process-related carbon dioxide emissions surging 60 percent by 2050, to 56 gigatons a year, with fast-growing emerging economies accounting for most of that increase.
That would be more than triple the 14 gigatons of carbon dioxide that would be emitted annually under the 2 degree scenario, said van der Hoeven.
But it also assumes the countries of the world continue current energy practices. By contrast, some major economies, including the European Union and the United States, already have committed to significant cuts in emissions by 2025 or 2030 in preparation for the Paris talks, and other nations are expected to do so.
To get on track to keep warming to 2 degrees Celsius or lower would require the adoption of policies that foster deployment of existing technologies, as well as development of new ground-breaking technologies, the IEA said.
The report's executive summary cites recent “success stories,” including a rapid growth of solar photovoltaics and the 2014 launch of the world's first large-scale power station equipped with carbon capture and sequestration technology in Canada.
But Van der Hoeven said other important existing technologies, such as for energy efficiency, have yet to be fully implemented.
Houssin said all world regions have a role to play in keeping energy-related emissions under control, and said innovative solutions will depend on local conditions, national circumstances and resources, and different starting points.
“It is important to see that nearly 75 percent of annual carbon dioxide emission reductions by 2050 in the scenario will have to come from non-OECD countries”—those not in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, whose 34 members include the world's advanced economies, he said.
Some countries can become “early movers” by developing technologies that give them a competitive advantage for implementing their own decarbonization strategies, he added. “At the same time, growing demand for energy and infrastructure needed to provide it creates a unique opportunity for emerging economies to reduce CO2 emissions by deploying innovative technologies.”
OECD countries should create strategies for helping developing nations create needed technologies, Houssin said. “Industrial and emerging economies need to work together to ensure solutions can be deployed at [a] global level, in particular through technology transfers,” he said.
The report said fostering innovation of low-carbon products and processes in industry is essential to meeting global decarbonization goals. In a scenario that would keep temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius, almost 30 percent of direct industrial carbon dioxide emissions cuts by 2050 hinge on processes in development or demonstration.
Houssin said in industry, deploying best available technologies will be among the most cost-effective emission-reduction options, which could allow more work on cutting-edge technologies.
“Deployment and innovation can reinforce each other in a virtuous circle,” he said, adding that experience has shown the value of stable, long-term policies to promote innovation in low-carbon industrial technologies.
Long-term support can attract private investment more effectively than one-off instruments like tax rebates, he noted.
The IEA advises 29 of the 34 OECD member countries, which include some of the world's largest market economies but not Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Russia or South Africa.
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An executive summary of the IEA's “Energy Technology Perspectives 2015: Mobilizing Innovation to Accelerate Climate Action” report is available at http://www.iea.org/Textbase/npsum/ETP2015SUM.pdf.
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