Global Effort Needed to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Says IEA

November 26, 2008

In the absence of new government policies, global energy demand will increase 45% by 2030, and energy-related carbon dioxide emissions will increase by the same amount, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). That increase, to 41 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, would place the world on track for a catastrophic global temperature increase of nearly 11°F by the end of this century. Meeting that energy demand would also require a 27% increase in oil production, while the demand for electricity would discourage utilities from retiring old, inefficient power plants. That's the current projection of the IEA's World Energy Outlook 2008, and believe it or not, it's a more rosy projection that last year's report, because the global economic slowdown has dampened energy demand, there are greater prospects for high energy prices in the future, and some new policy initiatives could help stem the global growth in energy demand. The projection calls for renewable energy to be the fastest-growing source of energy in the future, but it's still not enough to halt the growth in greenhouse gas emissions.

If instead the world commits to stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases at the equivalent of 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide—the limit needed to hold the temperature rise to 3.6°F—it will require the concerted effort of countries throughout the world. In the absence of action from developing countries, the goal could not be met, even if all industrialized countries cut their emissions to zero. But there is a pathway to achieving that goal, through a rapid expansion of low-carbon energy sources to supply 36% of the world's energy by 2030. The effort would require a global energy investment of $9.3 trillion, according to the IEA, but it will also yield energy efficiency savings of about $5.8 trillion. And the result would be a sharp decrease in global greenhouse gas emissions starting in 2020, dropping to less than 26 gigatons per year by 2030, or about 7% lower than the global emissions were in 2006. See the IEA press release and the World Energy Outlook Web site.