The International Energy Agency (IEA) released a report on Tuesday suggesting that the rapid growth of clean energy technologies, such as electric cars and solar energy, could help limit global warming to the international target of 1.5-degrees Celsius. The report also projects that demand for coal, oil, and natural gas will peak this decade, even without any new climate policies.
Despite the promising outlook, the report notes that global carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector reached a new record high, one per cent above their pre-pandemic level. Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, acknowledged the alarming speed of global climate change but expressed optimism about the emerging clean energy economy.
The report found that solar power capacity increased nearly 50 per cent in the last two years and electric car sales increased by 240 per cent. “We see that there are legitimate reasons to be hopeful. Mainly, we are seeing that a new clean energy economy is emerging around the world,” Birol said.
Record high emissions
Fatih Birol, stated that while much more work remains, the rapid adoption of solar power and electric vehicles offers encouragement. “I feel more optimistic than I did two years ago despite the scale of the challenges,” he mentioned in an interview. “Solar photovoltaic installations and electric vehicle sales align perfectly with our projections to achieve net zero by 2050 and maintain a 1.5°C limit. Clean energy investments have increased dramatically by 40% in the last two years.”
Birol also observed that greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector persist at high levels. He pointed out that this year’s extreme weather events worldwide have demonstrated that the climate is changing at an alarming pace.
Birol refrained from singling out specific nations but emphasized that the wealthiest countries must accelerate efforts in renewable energy, energy efficiency, fossil fuel reduction, and advancing their net-zero goals.
Birol stated, “Advanced economies bear unique responsibilities in combatting climate change. I expect these economies to heighten their ambition rather than diminish it. Transitioning to clean energy can generate numerous job opportunities and bolster competitive industries for the future.”
Tessa Khan, the executive director of Uplift, an advocacy organization, commented, “The IEA report further underscores the consensus among global energy experts that new oil and gas projects are incompatible with a safe climate. A substantial increase in renewable energy is pivotal for achieving this goal.”
Khan also highlighted that the UK, despite its climate leadership claims, is part of a small group of affluent nations expanding oil and gas production. Specifically, the US, Canada, Australia, Norway, and the UK are collectively responsible for more than half of all planned oil and gas field developments through 2050.
Canada’s role in clean energy Transition
Janetta McKenzie, senior analyst of oil and gas at the Calgary-based Pembina Institute, stressed the need for Canada to implement its promised policies on clean electricity and an oil and gas emissions cap. She also criticized the policies in Alberta, which have put a pause on renewable energy projects, as “out of step” with global climate goals.
The report further added, that failure to reduce emissions would make achieving the 1.5-degrees Celsius goal dependent on a massive deployment of carbon removal technologies, which are expensive and unproven at scale. In 2022, carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector reached a new record of 37 gigatons.
To achieve the Paris Agreement goal, the report suggests that renewable power needs to triple by 2030, the sale of EVs needs to rise much more sharply, and methane emissions from the energy sector need to fall by 75 per cent. Investments in climate action also need to rise, from $1.8 trillion in 2023 to $4.5 trillion annually by the early 2030s.
Environmental Defence, a Canadian advocacy organization, called for federal and provincial governments to stop approving new fossil fuel projects and to close some oil and gas fields early. “We can’t afford any more fossil fuel expansion, nor can we afford to rely on speculative technologies, like carbon capture, that have a long history of failure,” the group said in a statement.
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