For the past few years, climatologists have been telling people three things: yes, the world is warming. Yes, human-contributed carbon dioxide is contributing to this warming. And the best-case scenario is an average increase of 2 degrees Celsius, which might not sound like a lot, but has the potential to wreak havoc on some ecosystems.
But now, the International Energy Agency is warning that a 2 degree increase is too optimistic, and the world’s current path is more likely to result in an increase of 3.6 and 5.3 degrees Celsius. The agency is recommending governments adopt four new policies to try to slow the warming, and hold it to 2 degrees Celsius. They’re calling this the “4-for-2°C scenario,” and say it would lower emissions with proven technologies without harming economic growth.
We identify a set of proven measures that could stop the growth in global energy-related emissions by the end of this decade at no net economic cost,” said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol, the report’s lead author. “Rapid and widespread adoption could act as a bridge to further action, buying precious time while international climate negotiations continue.”
In the 4-for-2°C scenario, global energy-related greenhouse-gas emissions are 8% (3.1 Gt CO2-equivalent) lower in 2020 than the level otherwise expected.
- Targeted energy efficiency measures in buildings, industry and transport account for nearly half the emissions reduction in 2020, with the additional investment required being more than offset by reduced spending on fuel bills.
- Limiting the construction and use of the least-efficient coal-fired power plants delivers more than 20% of the emissions reduction and helps curb local air pollution. The share of power generation from renewables increases (from around 20% today to 27% in 2020), as does that from natural gas.
- Actions to halve expected methane (a potent greenhouse gas) releases into the atmosphere from the upstream oil and gas industry in 2020 provide 18% of the savings.
- Implementing a partial phase-out of fossil fuel consumption subsidies accounts for 12% of the reduction in emissions and supports efficiency efforts.
The good news for the United States is that carbon dioxide emissions are declining here, partly due to regulatory and market factors that have favored natural gas power plants over coal-fired ones. Carbon dioxide levels are still rising in China—though the IEA says the increase is the lowest the country has experienced in a decade—and in Japan.
The Diane Rehm show discussed the IEA’s recommendations today. It was a lively conversation, and is worth a listen.