IEA: Stall in Clean Energy Progress Raises Fears of Global Warming

Despite investing trillions of dollars in renewable energy, barely a dent has been made over the last two decades in reducing the amount of carbon in the world’s energy supplies, according to the International Energy Agency. So reports The Wall Street Journal.

Since 1990, carbon-dioxide emissions from each unit of energy consumed have not even been cut 1% since 1990, given that much of the world’s electricity is still generated by coal, according to the IEA. In fact since energy consumption has risen, CO2 emissions have only grown – by 44% — between 1990 to 2010, according to the Journal.

In its third annual report, the agency says carbon emissions per unit of energy must be cut by at least 60% if global warming is to be kept at bay. They estimate if emissions aren’t cut by that much, the average global temperature could rise in excess of 3.6 degrees over time. And if carbon emissions remain constant, temperatures could as much as 10.8 degrees.

Maria van der Hoeven, the agency’s executive director, said progress has essentially stalled. Low-carbon technologies need to expand immediately if the planet is to avoid what she described as “catastrophic warming,” said the Journal.

Investment in clean energy, globally, actually fell in the first quarter to its lowest level in four years, says a separate report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The report attributes that fall to fewer tax incentives into clean energy.

Coal generation actually grew by 45% between 2000 and 2010 – almost double the 25% growth in non-fossil fuel generation in the comparable time frame.

In the U.S., improvements in shale gas technology has led to a boom in demand for natural gas over coal. Not so in Europe and Asia, Reuters reports.

China and India accounted for 95% of the growth in global coal demand in 2000 to 2011, according to the IEA. Fast growing Asian economies prefer coal because it’s cheap and plentiful, and that usage is only like to grow over the next two decades, according to the Asian Development Bank. Carbon output in the region could actually double by 2035, the bank warns.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said maintaining global temperatures at acceptable levels is “nowhere in sight,” according to the Journal.

Asia is not alone. Coal use is even rising in Europe, which has aggressive emissions-cutting targets. CO2 emissions rose last year in Germany, says the IEA, because it was more cost effective than natural gas – though Germany will meet its emissions-reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol, said Jürgen Maass, a spokesman for the country’s environment ministry. So reports the Journal.

The IEA said there isn’t enough being done to reduce coal as an energy source. Plants still use inefficient technologies, and R&D into technology to capture and store carbon emissions, by burying and trapping CO2 underground, has gone nowhere, the agency said.

While the agency had hoped the technology, called Carbon Capture and Storage, or CCS, would be installed on 63% of coal power plants by 2050. But with only about a dozen large-scale demonstration projects being used or in construction, that’s only about a quarter of the storage capacity needed by 2020, Reuters reports.

Construction of new nuclear plants is also lagging, and biofuel production all but stalled last year, Reuters says.

To read the Wall Street Journal article cited in this story, click here

To read the Reuters article cited in this story, click here

To access the full report by the IEA report, click here



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