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IEA warns: five years to slash emissions or face dangerous climate change

Not known for alarmism and sometimes criticized for being too optimistic, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned that without bold action in the next five years the world will lock itself into high-emissions energy sources that will push climate change beyond the 2 degrees Celsius considered relatively ‘safe’ by many scientists and officials.

“As each year passes without clear signals to drive investment in clean energy, the ‘lock-in’ of high-carbon infrastructure is making it harder and more expensive to
meet our energy security and climate goals,” says Fatih Birol, IEA Chief Economist.

The IEA has warned that if business-as-usual continues, already existing infrastructure and its dependence on inefficient and dirty energy will provide society with no wiggle-room to stem climate change. Currently, infrastructure already in place or being built already ‘locks in’ 80 percent of future emissions. This of course presupposes that governments will refuse to shut-down high-emissions energy sources even after climate change impacts worsen.

The IEA predicts that carbon-intensive coal could jump 65 percent by 2035, and that oil prices are likely to hit $150 a barrel. On the other side, the agency predicts that by 2035, renewable subsidies will jump by four times hitting $250 billion annually, though this is still well below current fossil fuel subsidies at $409 billion. The organization further warns that moving away from nuclear energy, following the Fukushima disaster, may make it more difficult and expensive to combat climate change.

“Growth, prosperity and rising population will inevitably push up energy needs over the coming decades. But we cannot continue to rely on insecure and environmentally unsustainable uses of energy,” says IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven. “Governments need to introduce stronger measures to drive investment in efficient and low-carbon technologies. The Fukushima nuclear accident, the turmoil in parts of the Middle East and North Africa and a sharp rebound in energy demand in 2010 which pushed CO2 emissions to a record high, highlight the urgency and the scale of the challenge.”

The IEA’s report is in line with recent research. A study in Nature last month found that emissions must peak in less than a decade and than fall quickly thereafter if the world is to have a likely (i.e. 66 percent) chance of avoiding a rise over 2 degrees Celsius.

Despite repeated warnings of this nature, nations have been slow and ambivalent about seriously tackling climate change.

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