Power Decarbonization Cost Rises 22% to $44 Trillion, IEA Says

The cost of cutting carbon emissions from power generation enough to restrict global warming to safe levels is rising because growing coal use outweighs the progress in renewables, the International Energy Agency said.

Investments of $44 trillion through 2050 are needed to decarbonize the energy sector, the Paris-based agency said today in an e-mailed report, up 22 percent from the figure it gave two years ago. The spending would ensure the average temperature rise since the industrial revolution is limited to the 2-degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) target world leaders have endorsed.

The cost of containing global warming is growing because of the “bleak” progress made in reducing emissions, the IEA said. The agency previously estimated the decarbonization cost was $36 trillion, and today it said “the longer we wait, the more expensive it becomes to transform our energy system.”

“A radical change of course at the global level is long overdue,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in an e-mailed statement. “Growing use of coal globally is overshadowing progress in renewable energy deployment, and the emissions intensity of the electricity system has not changed in 20 years despite some progress in some regions.”

United Nations climate envoys aim to negotiate by the end of next year a new agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions and limit warming. They aim to stave off the effects of higher temperatures such as rising sea levels, melting glaciers and the decline of coral reefs.

A UN panel of scientists has published three reports since Sept. 27 saying that rapid industrialization has put the globe on a path to exceed the temperature goal and the world is ill-equipped to deal with the resulting effects.


The panel also said that renewable energy, nuclear power, and carbon capture and storage (CCS) equipment that traps CO2 from power plants and pipes it underground permanently need to more than triple by mid-century to meet the 2-degree goal.

In April, concentrations in the atmosphere of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas blamed for warming, averaged more than 400 molecules per million of air for the first time in recorded history, passing a threshold unseen for hundreds of thousands of years.

Investments in renewables, nuclear power and CCS would offer more benefits than costs, according to the agency. It said spending $44 trillion would yield more than $115 trillion in fuel savings.

Under a scenario compatible with the 2-degree target, electricity would overtake oil by 2050 to become the dominant source of energy, the IEA said.

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