Governments must send ‘unmistakable’ signal on clean energy at Cop26 – IEA

Consumption of coal is growing strongly this year, pushing up carbon emissions that drive climate change, the International Energy Agency has warned.

Solar, wind and electric vehicles are driving a shift towards a new clean energy world, but far too slowly to put emissions into sustained decline towards the “net zero” levels of pollution needed to curb dangerous global warming.

As it publishes its annual World Energy Outlook report, the IEA is calling on governments to send an “unmistakable” signal they are committed to rapidly scaling up clean energy at the UN Cop26 climate talks in Glasgow.

Annual investment in clean energy and infrastructure needs to surge to nearly four trillion US dollars (£2.9 trillion) by 2030 to get the world on track to limit temperature rises to 1.5C, beyond which the worst impacts of climate change will be felt.

The report warned that after the Covid-19 induced recession and despite growth in renewables and electric cars, 2021 is seeing a large rebound in coal and oil use – and the second largest annual increase in carbon emissions on record.

The IEA said new commitments put on the table by countries in the run-up to Cop26 will start to bend the emissions curve down if implemented fully and on time, with renewables pushing down coal and electric vehicles leading to a peak in oil use in 2025 – but more needs to be done to implement them.

And the scenarios mapped out in the report show the announced pledges fall far short of the emissions reductions needed to gets the world to net zero emissions  by mid-century – which it must do to avoid warming above 1.5C.

The report highlights four key measures to close the gap between the pledges and the pathway to 1.5C in the next decade, and underpin further emissions reductions post-2030.

They are: a massive additional push for clean electricity, with a doubling of solar and wind power and a rapid phase-out of coal; a “relentless focus” on energy efficiency; a drive to cut methane emissions from fossil fuel operations; and a big boost to clean energy innovation.

The report warns of more turbulence ahead for energy markets, with the world not investing enough to meet future energy needs, and said governments must deal with the impact on jobs and electricity security in phasing out coal.

But it said the energy transition could provide a cushion for consumers against oil and gas price shocks, if they are given help to manage upfront costs of new technology.

And there was a prize worth more than one trillion US dollars a year by 2050 for manufacturers of wind turbines, solar panels, batteries and other clean technology – comparable in size to the current global oil market, it said.

Fatih Birol, IEA executive director, said: “The world’s hugely encouraging clean energy momentum is running up against the stubborn incumbency of fossil fuels in our energy systems.

“Governments need to resolve this at Cop26 by giving a clear and unmistakable signal that they are committed to rapidly scaling up the clean and resilient technologies of the future.

“The social and economic benefits of accelerating clean energy transitions are huge, and the costs of inaction are immense.”

He added: “Today’s climate pledges would result in only 20% of the emissions reduction by 2030 that are necessary to put the world on a path towards net zero by 2050.

“Reaching that path requires investment in clean energy projects and infrastructure to more than triple over the next decade.”

The report is published before Cop26 takes place at the end of this month, where world leaders are under pressure to increase their ambition and action on tackling climate change.

Christian Aid’s climate policy lead, Dr Kat Kramer, said the report gave the world a failing “F” for the energy transition, as countries and communities were already suffering “deadly impacts” of climate change.

“Governments and industries around the world need to rapidly end the use of all fossil fuels in a way that ensures a just transition for workers and communities, and that ensures that the 1.1 billion people globally that still do not have access to modern energy can leapfrog dirty development pathways,” she urged.