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The mammoth gap between energy trends and climate goals

Climate protestors outside Capitol Hill
Climate protestors outside Congress. Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images

Existing and announced policies worldwide won't be nearly enough to rein in carbon emissions, despite the strong growth of climate-friendly energy sources, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency.

Why it matters: The IEA's annual World Energy Outlook reports are among the most prominent attempts to model where energy systems are headed in the decades ahead. These big and data-rich studies (this year's weighs in at 810 pages) are widely cited by policymakers, analysts and other stakeholders.

What they did: The report models the long-term effect of three core scenarios on energy demand and how it is met...

  • Existing policies
  • The combination of current and announced plans
  • A "sustainable" pathway consistent with the Paris Agreement goal of holding temperature rise well under 2°C.
Adapted from IEA's 2019 World Energy Outlook; Chart: Axios Visuals 

What they found: Check out the chart above. Even under nations' announced policies, energy demand is projected to rise by roughly 1% annually until 2040 (the end of the modeled period).

  • Under that pathway, the increase in global carbon emissions slows but does not peak, instead rising roughly 100 million tonnes annually from 2018 and 2040.
  • That's a far cry from the deep emissions cuts needed to meet the Paris goals, which are a benchmark for avoiding some of the most damaging effects of warming.

The big picture: Under the announced policies scenario, low-carbon sources — notably solar — meet more than half of demand growth through 2040.

  • Use of natural gas rises significantly too, while coal demand in 2040 is slightly below today's levels.
  • Global oil demand grows but then "flattens out" in the 2030s. In 2040, demand is roughly 106 million barrels per day.
  • Oil use in passenger cars peaks in the late 2020s, but that's offset by rising demand for oil in the petrochemical and other sectors.
  • Overall, fossil fuels would still have a 74% share of the global energy mix in 2040.

The bottom line: IEA executive director Fatih Birol urged emphasis on deploying the basket of technologies and bringing about efficiency gains consistent with their Paris-aligned scenario.

  • “The world urgently needs to put a laser-like focus on bringing down global emissions," he said in a statement. "This calls for a grand coalition encompassing governments, investors, companies and everyone else who is committed to tackling climate change."

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