Governments are falling badly behind on low-carbon energy, putting carbon reduction targets out of reach and pushing the world to the brink of catastrophic climate change, the world’s leading independent energy authority will warn on Wednesday.
The stark judgment is being given at a key meeting of energy ministers from the world’s biggest economies and emitters taking place in London on Wednesday – a meeting already overshadowed by David Cameron’s last-minute withdrawal from a keynote speech planned for Thursday.
“The world’s energy system is being pushed to breaking point,” Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of the International Energy Agency, writes in today’s Guardian. “Our addiction to fossil fuels grows stronger each year. Many clean energy technologies are available but they are not being deployed quickly enough to avert potentially disastrous consequences.”
On current form, she warns, the world is on track for warming of 6C by the end of the century – a level that would create catastrophe, wiping out agriculture in many areas and rendering swathes of the globe uninhabitable, as well as raising sea levels and causing mass migration, according to scientists.
Van der Hoeven, whose deputy will present the IEA’s findings to the Third Clean Energy Ministerial, put the blame squarely on policymakers, and challenged ministers to step up.
She said: “The current state of affairs is unacceptable precisely because we have a responsibility and a golden opportunity to act. Energy-related CO2 emissions are at historic highs, and under current policies, we estimate that energy use and CO2 emissions would increase by a third by 2020, and almost double by 2050. This would be likely to send global temperatures at least 6C higher within this century.”
The prime minister has caused controversy because a planned “keynote” speech for Thursday at the meeting – which would have been his first on green issues since being elected – has been scaled back to only a few introductory remarks at a round table meeting.
“The speech was a planned and much-anticipated major intervention, so his decision not to deliver it is a massive failure of leadership,” said David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK, the group that took Cameron on his famous “husky-hugging” trip to the Arctic in 2006. “Now, with his government’s approach to climate and energy policy in disarray, people are asking where the prime minister stands on these key issues.”
Energy experts speculated he was unwilling to make a long public appearance in front of the press during a what has been a torrid few weeks.
In its report, Tracking Clean Energy Progress, the IEA, widely regarded as the gold standard for energy research, ranked progress on 11 key low-carbon indicators, including renewables, nuclear energy and carbon capture and storage. It found the world was on track to meet just one of these targets.
Some technologies that governments have been relying on to reduce emissions – such as carbon capture and storage – were not even off the ground yet, despite years of development.
To meet the carbon cuts that scientists calculate are needed by 2020, the IEA says, the world needs to generate 28% of its electricity from renewable sources and 47% by 2035. Yet renewables now make up just 16% of global electricity supply.
On carbon capture and storage, the picture is even worse: the world needs nearly 40 power stations to be fitted with the technology within eight years, and so far none at all have been built.
Plans for new nuclear plants have been affected by last year’s nuclear accident at Fukushima, Japan, and expectations for atomic energy capacity in 2025 have been scaled back by 15%.
That shortfall will have to be made up elsewhere, such as by further increases in renewables, if the world is to avoid temperature increases of more than 2C above pre-industrial levels – the limit of safety, scientists say, beyond which climate change becomes catastrophic.
There were some bright spots on the low-carbon energy scene, the IEA said – “mature” renewable technologies, such as onshore wind, hydro-electricity and solar panels, were broadly on track.
However, the capacity for some of these technologies is limited – most of the best locations for hydroelectricity in many countries are already in use, for example. The world urgently needed to bring forward other technologies, such as offshore wind, if the targets were to be met, one of the report’s authors said.
Energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way to cut emissions and increase energy security, but businesses and governments were failing to invest in it, the report found. Progress was also slow on electric vehicles and more efficient cars, while of the coal-fired power stations being built, about half continued to use old inefficient technology instead of more modern designs.
The ministers meeting on Wednesday are expected to discuss international co-operation on low-carbon energy, and ways of encouraging businesses to invest in the infrastructure needed.
Van der Hoeven said: “The ministers meeting this week in London have an incredible opportunity before them. It is my hope that they heed our warning of slow progress, and act to seize the security, economic and environmental benefits that the clean energy transition can bring.”
Nasa scientist Jim Hansen: climate change is a moral issue on a par with slavery
Date added: April 10, 2012
Prof Jim Hansen, who is leading climate scientist at NASA, says that the way in which our society now is storing up expensive and destructive consequences for society in future – by altering their climate – is an “injustice of one generation to others”. Current generations have an over-riding moral duty to their children and grandchildren to take immediate action. He is also calling for a worldwide, flat rate tax on all carbon emissions to force immediate cuts in fossil fuel use, and this tax would rise each year. It would promote a dramatic increase in the investment and development of low-carbon energy sources and technologies. He says the latest climate models had shown the planet was on the brink of an emergency, with repeated natural disasters from extreme weather events which would affect large areas of the planet.
Arctic warms to highest level yet as researchers fear tipping points
Date added: February 15, 2012
Last year the Arctic, which is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth due to global climate change, experienced its warmest twelve months yet. According to NASA average Arctic temperatures in 2011 were 2.28 degrees C above those recorded from 1951-1980. As the Arctic warms, imperiling its biodiversity and indigenous people, researchers are increasingly concerned that the region will hit climatic tipping points that could severely impact the rest of the world. In 2011 the Arctic also experienced the lowest sea ice volume yet recorded, and the 2nd-lowest extent behind 2007. The older, thicker ice is declining faster than the rest, making for a more vulnerable perennial ice cover.The world’s sea levels could rise twice as high this century as UN climate scientists have previously predicted, according to a study in the journal, Nature Geoscience. The IPPC proposes a maximum sea level rise of 81cm (32in) this century. Researchers say the true maximum could be about twice that: 163cm (64 inches). (BBC)
NOAA data show globally 2011 was the 11th warmest year since 1880
Date added: January 23, 2012
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data for all of 2011 show that global combined land and ocean surface temperature was 0.51°C above the 20th century average of 13.9°C. This was the 11th warmest since 1880. This marks the 35th consecutive year, since 1976, that the yearly global temperature was above average. Global land surface temperature was the 8th warmest on record, and global ocean surface temperature the 11th warmest ever. When compared to previous La Niña years, the 2011 global surface temperature was the warmest observed during such a year. Including 2011, all 11 years in the 21st century so far (2001–2011) rank among the 13 warmest in the 132-year period of record.
Father of climate change, James Hansen, says 2C limit is not strict enough
Date added: December 8, 2011
James Hansen, Direct or of NASA’s Goddard Institute says there is a widespread misconception among international climate negotiators meeting in Durban that the 2C “safe” target would stop extreme changes. This is is not true. He believes global atmospheric CO2 should not exceed 350ppm. It is now at about 389 ppm. Some scientists believe 450ppm is a reasonable target. Massive global effects would be inevitable.