Coal Tattoo

This May 12, 1998 file photo shows exhaust stacks at the San Juan Generating Station northeast of Shiprock, Ariz.  (AP Photo/Gallup Independent, Guy Jacobs, File)

Here’s the first sentence of the news release issued yesterday by the International Energy Agency:

Without a bold change of policy direction, the world will lock itself into an insecure, inefficient and high-carbon energy system, the International Energy Agency warned as it launched the 2011 edition of the World Energy Outlook (WEO). The agency‟s flagship publication, released today in London, said there is still time to act, but the window of opportunity is closing.

IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said:

Growth, prosperity and rising population will inevitably push up energy needs over the coming decades. But we cannot continue to rely on insecure and environmentally unsustainable uses of energy … Governments need to introduce stronger measures to drive investment in efficient and low-carbon technologies. The Fukushima nuclear accident, the turmoil in parts of the Middle East and North Africa and a sharp rebound in energy demand in 2010 which pushed CO2 emissions to a record high, highlight the urgency and the scale of the challenge.

The IEA outlines some scary scenarios, even if governments get a move on in deployment cleaner energy systems:

In the New Policies Scenario, cumulative CO2 emissions over the next 25 years amount to threequarters of the total from the past 110 years, leading to a long-term average temperature rise of 3.5°C. China‟s per-capita emissions match the OECD average in 2035. Were the new policies not implemented, we are on an even more dangerous track, to an increase of 6°C.

“As each year passes without clear signals to drive investment in clean energy, the „lock-in‟ of highcarbon infrastructure is making it harder and more expensive to meet our energy security and climate goals,” said Fatih Birol, IEA Chief Economist.

The WEO presents a 450 Scenario, which traces an energy path consistent with meeting the globally agreed goal of limiting the temperature rise to 2°C. Four-fifths of the total energy-related CO2 emissions permitted to 2035 in the 450 Scenario are already locked-in by existing capital stock, including power stations, buildings and factories. Without further action by 2017, the energy-related infrastructure then in place would generate all the CO2 emissions allowed in the 450 Scenario up to 2035.

Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.

Regarding coal, the IEA said:

The use of coal – which met almost half of the increase in global energy demand over the last decade – rises 65% by 2035. Prospects for coal are especially sensitive to energy policies – notably in China, which today accounts for almost half of global demand. More efficient power plants and carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology could boost prospects for coal, but the latter still faces significant regulatory, policy and technical barriers that make its deployment uncertain.

Interestingly, the IEA pointed out:

Renewables increase from 13% of the mix today to 18% in 2035; the growth in renewables is underpinned by subsidies that rise from $64 billion in 2010 to $250 billion in 2035, support that in some cases cannot be taken for granted in this age of fiscal austerity. By contrast, subsidies for fossil fuels amounted to $409 billion in 2010.

Here’s a link to the Associated Press account of this report and more on the issue from Joe Romm’s Climate Progress blog.