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IEA: global stated policies fall far short of sustainability goals

‘The world urgently needs to put a laser-like focus on bringing down global emissions,’ IEA chief Fatih Birol says

Energy transition policies planned globally are not enough to stop a rise in world-wide greenhouse gas emissions before 2040 despite an expected jump in renewable energy deployment led by solar PV, the International Energy Agency said in its World Energy Outlook 2019.

Energy demand under the outlook’s ‘stated policy scenario (previously called ‘new policies scenario’) that incorporates policy intentions and targets already known today would still rise 1% per year to 2040.

Low-carbon sources, led by solar PV, will supply more than half of this growth, and natural gas, boosted by rising trade in liquefied natural gas (LNG), accounts for another third, the IEA estimates, adding that oil demand likely will flattens out in the 2030s, and coal use edge lower.

But the momentum behind clean energy technologies will not be enough to offset the effects of an expanding global economy and growing population. The rise in emissions is seen slowing but - with no peak before 2040 - the world falls far short of shared sustainability goals, the report says.

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“The world urgently needs to put a laser-like focus on bringing down global emissions. This calls for a grand coalition encompassing governments, investors, companies and everyone else who is committed to tackling climate change,” said IEA executive director Fatih Birol.

“Our ‘sustainable development scenario’ is tailor-made to help guide the members of such a coalition in their efforts to address the massive climate challenge that faces us all.”

Only the ‘sustainable development scenario is aligned with the Paris climate agreement and meets objectives related to universal energy access and cleaner air, the IEA said, but at the same time points to a reality in which energy use is already rising because of the climate crisis.

“We estimate that almost one-fifth of the growth in global energy use in 2018 was due to hotter summers pushing up demand for cooling and cold snaps leading to higher heating needs,” the report states, adding that besides all energy transition pledges, the world still relies heavily on oil supply from the Middle East.

While cost reduction in renewables coupled with digital technologies are opening huge opportunities for energy transitions, the expected much higher share of wind and PV in power systems by 2040 also means that policy makers and regulators need to move fast to keep up with the pace of technological change and the rising need for flexible operation of power systems, the IEA stressed.

Issues such as the market design for storage, the interface between electric vehicles and the grid, and data privacy all have the potential to expose consumers to new risks, the report adds.

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“What comes through with crystal clarity in this year’s World Energy Outlook is there is no single or simple solution to transforming global energy systems,” Birol said.

“Many technologies and fuels have a part to play across all sectors of the economy. For this to happen, we need strong leadership from policy makers, as governments hold the clearest responsibility to act and have the greatest scope to shape the future.”

But the report also cautions that the gap between expectations of fast, renewables-driven energy transitions and the reality of today’s energy systems in which reliance on fossil fuels remains stubbornly high.

The next to the stated policies scenario and the sustainable development scenario also provides a ‘current policies scenario’ (business as usual), under which energy demand would actually rise by 1.3% each year to 2040.

While that is less than the 2.3% rise likely seen in 2019, it would still result in a relentless upward march in energy-related emissions, as well as growing strains on almost all aspects of energy security, the IEA warns.

The IEA earlier this year had already published sub-reports on Africa and on offshore wind.

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