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Renewables boost still not enough to meet climate goals, says IEA

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An International Energy Agency (IEA) report has warned that Paris Agreement goals will not be met without large-scale intervention from governments and investors, with serious concerns around energy efficiency, shale gas in the US, and coal across Asia.

In its latest update of the World Energy Outlook, the global energy watchdog highlighted “deep disparities in the global energy system”. According to its analysis, a projected increase in renewables over the next two decades will be insufficient to keep carbon emissions within the climate mitigation goals set by the Paris Agreement (keeping average global temperature rises to within 2°C  above pre-industrial levels).

“In order to be in line with the Paris targets there is a need for huge efforts in pushing energy efficiency, renewable energy and all other clean energy technologies,” said Dr Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA.

The IEA combines two scenarios: the Stated Policies Scenario (which only includes present policy targets and existing measures) and the Sustainable Development Scenario (which includes best-case policy interventions to limit warming to 1.5°C). According to the business-as-usual scenario, hundreds of millions of people will still be without access to electricity in 2040 while the rate of premature deaths due to pollution would not fall, and continued carbon emissions would make some changes to the climate unavoidable.



Birol said there was a “deep disparity” between the carbon cutting tragets and existing policies, which continue to allow a “relentless upward march” for emissions.

The report says that a sharp pick-up in energy efficiency improvements would be key piece in bringing the world in line with the Sustainable Development Scenario. However, progress in this area is slowing; the 1.2 per cent rate in efficiency improvements from 2018 was around half the average seen since 2010 and remains well below the 3 per cent rate necessary. The IEA also called on policymakers to move quickly to transform the electricity sector to keep pace with technological change and the increasing need for flexible and responsive power systems.

The IEA highlighted two aspects of the global energy landscape as especially concerning: Asia's coal power capacity and a boom in investment in shale gas in the US.

According to the report, the continent of Asia has accounted for 90 per cent of all coal-fired capacity built worldwide in the past 20 years. China's coal power capacity remains very high; a Reuters report estimated that the country had 1,020 GW of coal-fired power by the end of July 2019. Both the China National Renewable Energy Center 2C Scenario and the IEA's Sustainable Development Scenario sees China’s thermal power capacity falling around 900 GW by 2030. The IEA’s report recommended three ways to bring down emissions from the existing global coal fleet: retrofitting plants with carbon capture, utilisation, and storage or biomass co-firing equipment; repurposing them to focus on providing system adequacy and flexibility; or retiring coal power plants early. 

The IEA report stated that the US shale output was expected to remain: “higher for longer than previously projected, reshaping global markets, trade flows and security.” Its business-as-usual model predicts that - despite US gas production growth slowing - the country will still account for 85 per cent of the increase in global oil production to 2030, and for 30 per cent of the increase in gas. Without any policy interventions, US shale output in oil and gas is expected to overtakes total oil and gas production from Russia. 

US President Donald Trump highlighted the benefits of shale to the country’s economy in October, by issuing a report that explained how its shale production would “positively impact both the economy and the environment”.  In April, E&T reported on the risks of North America’s oil and gas pipeline boom.

Birol said that the shale revolution highlights that rapid change in the energy system is possible when an initial push to develop new technologies is complemented by strong market incentives and large-scale investment.

According to the IEA, the future of the global energy system will also heavily rely on oil supply from the Middle East for years to come. Top corporate emitter Saudi Aramco recently made headlines in outlining its plans to open public shares to private investors.

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