Unchecked growth in fossil fuel use will hasten climate change

International Energy Agency : Economist, engineer
Rising CO2 and other greenhouse-gas concentrations in the atmosphere, resulting largely from fossil-energy combustion, are contributing to higher global temperatures and to changes in climate.
Growing fossil-fuel use will continue to drive up global energy-related CO2 emissions over the projection period. In the Reference Scenario, emissions jump by 57% between 2005 and 2030. The United States, China, Russia and India contribute two-thirds of this increase. China is by far the biggest contributor to incremental emissions, overtaking the United States as the world’s biggest emitter in 2007. India becomes the third-largest emitter by around 2015. However, China’s per-capita emissions in 2030 are only 40% of those of the United States and about two-thirds those of the OECD as a whole in the Reference Scenario. In India, they remain far lower than those of the OECD, even though they grow faster than in almost any other region. Urgent action is needed if greenhouse-gas concentrations are to be stabilised at a level that would prevent dangerous interference with the climate system. The Alternative Policy Scenario shows that measures currently being considered by governments around the world could lead to a stabilisation of global emissions in the mid-2020s and cut their level in 2030 by 19% relative to the Reference Scenario. OECD emissions peak and begin to decline after 2015. Yet global emissions would still be 27% higher than in 2005. Assuming continued emissions reductions after 2030, the Alternative Policy Scenario projections are consistent with stabilisation of long-term CO2-equivalent concentration in the atmosphere at about 550 parts per million. According to the best estimates of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this concentration would correspond to an increase in average temperature of around 3°C above pre-industrial levels. In order to limit the average increase in global temperatures to a maximum of 2.4°C, the smallest increase in any of the IPCC scenarios, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would need to be stabilised at around 450 ppm. To achieve this, CO2 emissions would need to peak by 2015 at the latest and to fall between 50% and 85% below 2000 levels by 2050. We estimate that this would require energy-related CO2 emissions to be cut to around 23 Gt in 2030 – 19 Gt less than in the Reference Scenario and 11 Gt less than in the Alternative Policy Scenario. In a “450 Stabilisation Case”, which describes a notional pathway to achieving this outcome, global emissions peak in 2012 at around 30 Gt. Emissions savings come from improved efficiency in fossil- fuel use in industry, buildings and transport, switching to nuclear power and renewables, and the widespread deployment of CO2 capture and storage (CCS) in power generation and industry. Exceptionally quick and vigorous policy action by all countries, and unprecedented technological advances, entailing substantial costs, would be needed to make this case a reality. Government action must focus on curbing the rapid growth in CO2 emissions from coal-fired power stations – the primary cause of the surge in global emissions in the last few years. Energy efficiency and conservation will need to play a central role in curbing soaring electricity demand and reducing inputs to generation. Nuclear power and renewables can also make a major contribution to lowering emissions. Clean coal technology, notably CCS, is one of the most promising routes for mitigating emissions in the longer term – especially in China, India and the United States, where coal use is growing fastest. CCS could reconcile continued coal burning with the need to cut emissions in the longer term – if the technology can be demonstrated on a large scale and if adequate incentives to invest are put in place.

WEO 2007