Oct 13, 2021 - Energy & Environment

A tough reality check ahead of COP26

Data: IEA; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

A major new report provides a stark warning ahead of the UN climate summit: Yes, clean-tech deployment is really surging, but energy systems are still transforming far too slowly to rein in global warming.

Driving the news: The International Energy Agency is out with its big annual World Energy Outlook, a 386-page trove of data and analysis.

Here are some big takeaways...

  • Carbon emissions are bouncing way back. 2021 is on pace to bring the second-largest increase on record as fossil fuel use recovers from 2020's restrictions and economic slowdown.
  • Current targets would make progress. Check out the chart above. If nations meet their current pledges under the Paris Agreement and announced longer-term targets, energy-related emissions would decline by 40% by 2050, IEA projects.
  • But even that's way too rosy. Pledges and on-the-ground policies don't match right now. Under existing and announced policies, IEA projects global average temperatures to vault dangerously past the Paris targets to reach 2.6°C (4.7°F) above preindustrial levels by 2100 and keep rising.
  • A lot more investment is needed. Getting on an emissions-cutting pathway consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C — the most ambitious Paris goal — would mean a tripling of annual investment in clean energy projects and infrastructure to nearly $4 trillion annually by 2030.
  • Procrastinating is not good. Consider this: IEA estimates that if nations implemented policies consistent with their existing pledges and targets, global fossil fuel demand would peak in 2025. Yet the transition to cleaner sources is still too slow to meet the Paris target of limiting temperature rise to "well below" 2°C (3.6°F) compared to preindustrial levels, and ideally to 1.5°C (2.7°F).

Threat level: "The world's hugely encouraging clean energy momentum is running up against the stubborn incumbency of fossil fuels in our energy systems," IEA executive director Fatih Birol said in a statement.

  • He said the UN summit must provide a "clear and unmistakable signal" that nations are committed to "rapidly scaling up the clean and resilient technologies of the future."

The report also delves into what IEA officials call a huge economic opportunity.

Annual market size for select clean technologies
Data: International Energy Agency; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

The big picture: It estimates the future market size for a subset of key technologies under two scenarios — nations' existing and announced policies versus an energy system consistent with holding warming to 1.5°C.

  • In that net-zero emissions pathway, the market for five clean technologies rises to well over $1 trillion annually by 2050.

What they're saying: "This is comparable in size to the current global oil market. This creates enormous prospects for companies that are well positioned along an expanding set of global supply chains," IEA said. Go deeper: Carbon emissions spiking despite clean energy surge

Go deeper: Carbon emissions spiking despite clean energy surge


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