Energy as Dirty as 20 Years Ago on Slow Climate Effort, IEA Says

The level of carbon emitted in global energy supplies has barely changed in 20 years amid stalled efforts to curb pollution and increased coal use, the International Energy Agency said.

A boom in renewable technologies such as wind and solar and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol accord aimed at limiting greenhouse-gas emissions in industrial nations hasn’t halted the trend, the Paris-based IEA said today in a report.

The findings lend urgency to government attempts to cut emissions and limit temperature gains to 2 degrees Celsius compared with industrial revolution levels. Efforts appeared to be faltering as clean energy investment fell to its lowest in four years after nations pared subsidies and the European Parliament yesterday rejected a proposal designed to bolster the price of emitting carbon.

“The drive to clean up the world’s energy system has stalled,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in a statement. “Despite much talk by world leaders, and despite a boom in renewable energy over the last decade, the average unit of energy produced today is basically as dirty as it was 20 years ago,” she said.

The IEA reiterated that $5 trillion of investment is needed worldwide by 2020 to switch to a clean energy system. It presented its report at the fourth meeting of the so-called Clean Energy Ministerial group in New Dehli. Ministers from 23 economies accounting for 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and 90 percent of clean energy investment are attending to help devise policies that cut emissions.

Coal Thirst

The increasing use of coal buoyed by demand from emerging economies such as China and India kept the amount of CO2 output in energy almost static, the IEA said. In 1990, carbon intensity, or the level of CO2 emitted for each energy unit supplied, was 2.39 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of oil equivalent, compared with 2.37 in 2010.

The data is a “wake-up call” if nations are to avoid potentially catastrophic warming, van der Hoeven said. “We cannot afford another 20 years of listlessness,” she said.

While renewable energy is on target to deliver its share of carbon savings required to halve energy-related CO2 emissions in 2050 compared with 2009 to keep the 2-degree limit, other industries fell behind.

Progress was “alarmingly slow” using biofuels, efficiency measures in buildings, controlling pollution at inefficient coal plants and carbon capture and storage technology to remove power generation emissions, it said. Far more significant building of nuclear plants than the seven started last year is needed to meet targets, the IEA said.

Bright Spots

Among the “lights in the dark” were hybrid-electric vehicle sales, which rose 43 percent last year to 1.2 million led by the U.S. and Japan, the IEA said. Solar photovoltaic systems were installed at a record pace with capacity growing 42 percent in 2012 as the cost of the technology fell.

Japan and China strengthened renewable targets and policy support while South Africa, Europe and Australia stepped up industry emissions reduction policies, according to the IEA.

The group recommended that fossil-fuel subsidies are phased out and governments spur measures to encourage a coal-to-gas switch with carbon pricing tools.

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