International Energy Agency Projections Take Climate Change ‘Over the Cliff’
The world’s most influential source of energy information, the International Energy Agency, is leading its 30 member countries in a direction that will defeat the goals of the Paris agreement and rapidly exhaust the remaining carbon budget available in a 2.0° or 1.5°C future, according to a new report this week by Oil Change International and the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
“The IEA provides an energy roadmap that is supposed to lead us to safety, but in fact it takes us over the cliff,” Oil Change Research Director Greg Muttitt told The Guardian. “Any government or financial institution that uses these scenarios as a basis for investments in oil and gas is getting seriously bad information. It’s shocking how far off the Paris agreement they are.”
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In their analysis of the IEA’s latest World Energy Outlook, the two organizations charge that the agency’s New Policies Scenario (NPS), which Oil Change describes as “the foremost guide to decisions on energy policies and investments,” pulls governments toward “levels of fossil fuel use that would cause severe climate change” and make the Paris goals unachievable. It would exhaust the carbon for a 1.5°C limit on average global warming by 2022, for a 2.0°C future by 2034.
“Of the NPS’ recommended upstream oil and gas investment, between 78 and 96%—US$11.2 to $13.8 trillion over 2018 to 2040—is incompatible with the Paris goals,” Oil Change notes.
Those mountains of cash “should be urgently redirected into clean energy,” the organization adds. “Investment in fossil fuels beyond what is aligned with the Paris goals can lead to two possible outcomes. Either the sunk capital locks in emissions, causing the goals to be missed. Or the [Paris] goals are achieved and the capital is wasted, potentially leading to economic upheaval.”
Either way, “in calling for too much investment in fossil fuel supply, the IEA greatly increases the likelihood of one of these two outcomes occurring. Like a fallen lighthouse, the IEA has become a dangerous guide.”
In a response to The Guardian, the IEA said its more ambitious Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) envisions emissions peaking before 2020, then sharply declining, adding that the NPS “was intended only as a reference that showed current and announced policies are ‘far from enough to avoid severe impacts of climate change’ and will very quickly use up the global carbon budget.” Oil Change says the SDS still exhausts the available carbon budget for avoiding the worst effects of climate change, and offers only a 50% chance of keeping average global warming below 2.0°C. Of the oil and gas investment in that scenario, 70 to 94% would be surplus to the goals of the Paris agreement.
Oil Change warns that the IEA “remains closely wedded to the fossil fuel industry, pointing out that two of the authors of the most recent World Energy Outlook were on secondment—and receiving salaries—from Shell,” The Guardian notes. “It says the IEA also continues to put the interests of wealthy nations first because its forecast for 2040 suggests India would cut emissions by 46% while the European Union would trim by only 40%—in an apparent contradiction of the climate negotiation principle that rich nations should bear the bulk of the responsibility because they have contributed most of carbon dioxide now in the atmosphere.”