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Clean Energy Progress Too Slow, Warns International Energy Agency

By Countercurrents.org

17 April, 2013

The development of low-carbon energy is progressing too slowly to limit global warming, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on April 17, 2013. A London datelined report [1] by Nina Chestney said:

With power generation still dominated by coal and governments failing to increase investment in clean energy, top climate scientists have said that the target of keeping the global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius this century is slipping out of reach.

"The drive to clean up the world's energy system has stalled," said Maria van der Hoeven, the IEA's executive director, at the launch of the agency's report on clean energy progress.
"Despite much talk by world leaders, and a boom in renewable energy over the past decade, the average unit of energy produced today is basically as dirty as it was 20 years ago."

A report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance this week said:

Global clean energy investment in the first quarter fell to its lowest level in four years, driven by cuts in tax incentives at a time of austerity,

Citing the IEA Nina’s report said:

Coal-fired generation grew by 45 percent between 2000 and 2010, far outpacing the 25 percent growth in non-fossil fuel generation over the same period.

A revolution in shale gas technology has triggered a switch from coal to cleaner natural gas in the US. Elsewhere, particularly in Europe, coal use has soared, where its share of the power generation mix increased at the expense of gas.

Carbon Capture

The IEA report said:

With the world still reliant on fossil fuels, the deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is critical, but there are no commercial plants in operation.

The IEA has envisaged that CCS, which buries and traps CO2 underground, should play a major role in cutting global emissions and had forecast 63 percent of coal power plants should be equipped with the technology by 2050.

Nina’s report added:

There are only 13 large-scale demonstration projects in operation or being built, with the capacity to store about 65 million tonnes of CO2 a year. This represents only a quarter of the storage capacity needed by 2020.

New nuclear plant construction is also well behind target and global biofuel production stalled in 2012.

The IEA said:

Government policies and the EU's emissions trading scheme need to be strengthened to enable more energy efficiency and clean technology uptake. "Unless we get (carbon emissions) prices and policies right, a cost-effective clean-energy transition just will not happen," the report said.

However, the IEA did see some positive developments. From 2011 to 2012, the more mature renewable energy technologies of solar photovoltaic and wind power grew by an impressive 42 percent and 19 percent respectively.

Climate Parliament

European Union Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard wrote [2]:

A meeting in March of the Climate Parliament, a forum in Brussels, brought together legislators from around the world who are committed to the fight against climate change. Parliamentarians, UN representatives, and the IEA agreed that ending dependency on fossil fuels is one of the most urgent steps needed to combat it effectively.

During January's World Economic Forum in Davos, Lord Nicholas Stern, author of a well-known report outlining the measures that the world should take to avoid runaway climate change, admitted that the planet is on track to warm by four degrees Celsius this century.

Looking back, Stern said, his report could have been more insistent about the need to take determined action to avoid the catastrophic risks that this level of warming implies.

Stern's sentiment was echoed by Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, who pleaded in favor of stronger climate action to prevent future generations being "roasted, toasted, fried, and grilled."

And World Bank President Jim Yong Kim announced that his institution would prioritize the fight against climate change and focus on promoting, among other measures, the elimination of subsidies doled out to the fossil-fuel industry.

With this pledge, the World Bank joined an expanding list of international bodies, including the UN, the IMF, and the OECD, that are calling for an end to such subsidies. Globally, we are on track to reach an international climate deal. But this will still take time, while the need for action will not wait.

Harnessing the existing broad consensus against fossil-fuel subsidies is possible even in the absence of a legal agreement, and could quickly have a significant positive impact. According to the IEA, fossil-fuel subsidies rose by almost 30 percent, to US$523 billion, in 2011.

Meanwhile, the UN Environment Program reports that global investment in renewable energy totaled only US$257 billion in 2011. In other words, we are doing exactly the opposite of what we should be doing. Support for energy efficiency and renewable energy sources is lagging, while governments around the world spend hundreds of billions of dollars subsidizing an incipient catastrophe. This must change.

As European Commissioner for Climate Action, I am particularly keen to see three international financial institutions - the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the World Bank join with their EU and OECD partners to take a lead role in eliminating public support for fossil fuels.

Together, these three institutions lend more than US$168 billion annually for projects in Europe and beyond, and maintain a strong advisory role in beneficiary countries. This year provides an especially important opportunity to use this potential for action.

All three institutions have announced reviews of their lending policies for the energy sector.

Multilateral lenders can lead by example by restricting conditions for public financing of coal, the kind of fossil fuel most damaging to the environment, and by pressing for greater transparency in reporting on carbon emissions. Instead of offering unsustainable and environmentally damaging subsidies for fossil fuels, public finance should encourage the development of new industries and businesses that are emerging in the course of the low-carbon transition.


[1] Reuters, April 17, 2013, “Clean energy progress too slow to limit global warming – report”,

[2] China.org.cn/Shanghai Daily, April 17, 2013 “Subsidies for fossil fuels hasten looming catastrophe”,
http://www.china.org.cn/opinion/2013-04/17/content_28568440.htm Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2013.www.project-syndicate.org. Shanghai Daily condensed the article.






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