Time for climate change fix running out, IEA warns

The world is hurtling toward irreversible climate change, the International Energy Agency warns, saying that bold action must be taken in the next five years.
China has stepped up investment in nuclear power in order to reduce reliance on coal-fired power stations, such as this one shown in Huaibei in August, which now account for 70 per cent of its energy needs. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

The world is hurtling toward irreversible climate change, the International Energy Agency warns, saying that bold action must be taken in the next five years.

The IEA, in its annual World Energy Outlook released Wednesday, said that the world will lose the chance to limit warming if it doesn't act now.

The IEA’s members include 28 consuming nations. It was formed in response to the oil crisis in the 1970s, but since then its mandate has expanded beyond energy security to include environmental awareness.

The agency prescribed what needs to be done to cap global temperature increases at two degrees above preindustrial levels and predicted the consequences if those steps aren't taken.

A two-degree increase is the threshold beyond which some scientists have said catastrophic changes could be triggered.

The warning came a day after Canada's Environment Minister Peter Kent acknowledged in a speech in Toronto that his government expects to face international pressure at upcoming climate change talks over its refusal to sign on for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

Kent said Canada has already declared that it will hold to that position "however acute the international pressure."

The talks begin in Durban, South Africa, on Nov. 28.

IEA pushes energy efficiency

The IEA report pushes for greater energy efficiency and reduced fossil fuel subsidies.

It considers increased efficiency the easiest way to reduce consumption since it has a price incentive built in.

That has become even more important since Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident sparked a rethinking of the use of atomic technology previously seen as key to cutting emissions.

"The most important contribution to reaching energy security and climate goals comes from the energy that we do not consume," the report says.

The report says that the current promises to reduce emissions, when taken together, will likely result in an increase of more than 3.5 degrees — and there isn't any guarantee those commitments will even be carried out.

Without them, the picture is bleaker: an increase of six degrees or more.

The IEA says increasing energy efficiency has become even more important since the March tsunami that crippled Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and sparked a rethinking of the use of atomic technology. ((Associated Press/Tokyo Electric Power Co.))

Despite that. the IEA’s chief economist, Fatih Birol, is not optimistic world leaders are willing to make the necessary sacrifices involved in taking its recommended steps.

"We are going in the wrong direction in terms of climate change," he said in an interview Monday, noting that although governments around the world have put increasing energy efficiency at the top of their to-do lists, efficiency has worsened for two years in a row now.

"After 2017, we will lose the chance to limit the temperature increase to two degrees Celsius," he said.

Birol said the world doesn't lack the technology to tackle the problem — just the political will.

"Even with existing technologies, you can improve substantially, but to do that, you need some price incentives and these price incentives are not there," he said.

In fact, the incentives to consume more have increased: The report said subsidies for fossil fuels have risen past $400 billion US.

Birol said those need to be cut and instead a price needs to be levied on carbon.

Only when "dirty" fuels become more expensive, he said, will governments follow through on their commitments to increase energy efficiency.

With files from The Associated Press