IEA stresses need to combat climate change

14 February 2020

International Energy Agency (IEA) Executive Director Fatih Birol on 12 February told the Agency’s Big Ideas speaker series that a "grand coalition" of all stakeholders is needed to address the challenge of climate change, including the energy sector, which it accounts for most of the world's carbon dioxide emissions.

The event was attended by ambassadors and officials from some 50 countries as well as representatives of industry, financial bodies and international organisations.

The previous day, the IEA had published data showing that, contrary to expectations, global energy-related CO2 emissions had stopped increasing in 2019. The data shows that emissions remained largely stable between 2013 and 2016 and then experienced two years of consecutive growth in 2017 and 2018.

However, in 2019, global emissions were unchanged at 33 gigatonnes  although the world economy had grown by 2.9%. The IEA, attributed this primarily to declining emissions from power generation in advanced economies, resulting from the expanding role of renewables, fuel switching from coal to natural gas, and higher nuclear generation.

The IEA classifies as 'advanced economies': Australia, Canada, Chile, European Union, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Norway, New Zealand, Switzerland, Turkey, and the USA.

However,  IEA said emissions outside advanced economies grew by about 400m tonnes in 2019, with almost 80% of the increase originating in Asia, where coal accounted for 50% of energy use.

China’s emissions still rose but were balanced by slower economic growth and higher output from low-carbon sources of electricity, including nuclear power.

Overall, the world’s CO2 emissions from coal use declined by almost 200 Mt, or 1.3%, compared with 2018 levels, offsetting increases in emissions from oil and natural gas.

"The debate around climate change is sometimes too heated and there is too much tension between the energy community and the climate change community," said Birol.

"We think this debate needs to be taken in a cool-headed manner. This calls for a grand coalition that brings together all the stakeholders that have a genuine commitment to reducing emissions - governments, industry, financial institutions, international organisations and civil society.

Without this grand coalition, it will be very difficult to address this challenge."

He added: "Without solving the challenge of the energy sector, we have no chance of solving our climate challenge. We want 2019 to be remembered as the year of peaking global emissions and the 2020s as the decade of the decline in emissions."

The IEA is focusing on both energy security and global clean energy transitions.

"The immediate aim will be to focus on concrete actions to reverse the growth in carbon emissions this decade, focusing on all the fuels and existing technologies that can help achieve this goal rapidly," the IEA said.

The IEA plans to host a Clean Energy Transitions Summit in July. This will bring together government ministers, CEOs, investors and major stakeholders from around the world. The agency will publish two major studies ahead of the summit.

A World Energy Outlook Special Report will map out how to cut global energy-related carbon emissions by one-third by 2030. The latest Energy Technology Perspectives report will focus on an energy sector pathway for reaching net-zero emissions, looking in detail at all technology opportunities that could help to reduce emissions in hard-to-abate sectors.

Photo: IEA delegates met in Paris to discuss a 'grand coalition' (Credit: IEA)

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