It’s high time for the International Energy Agency to develop future scenarios that show a reasonable prospect of keeping average global warming to 1.5°C, while taking a precautionary approach to so-called negative emission technologies, a group of more than 40 business leaders, investors, and energy specialists asserts in a letter released this week by Oil Change International.
The group is calling on the IEA to make that Paris-compliant scenario the centrepiece of its annual World Energy Outlook, an extremely influential release whose current business-as-usual scenario points toward considerably higher emissions, writes Oil Change Energy Futures and Transitions Director Hannah McKinnon.
The change in modelling is essential and long overdue, since “remarkably, almost all energy decision-making is based on assumptions that we will fail in meeting the Paris climate goals,” McKinnon writes. “This includes the go-to source for descriptions of our energy future,” the IEA.
“Without the inclusion of a central and realistic 1.5°C scenario,” the letter states, “the World Energy Outlook would abdicate its responsibility to continue to chart the boundaries of the path of the global energy sector.” McKinnon says the signatories’ recommendations “would have an outsized impact on everything from the urgent need to ‘shift the trillions’ away from climate-incompatible fossil fuel financing, to helping governments plan for success in energy decision-making to how we collectively conceive our energy future.”
At present, despite the Paris-based agency’s mandate “to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy,” its widely-cited New Policies Scenario would put the Earth on track to a devastating 2.7 to 3.3°C average global warming.
The problem is that, “since that is the future the IEA emphasizes, energy decision-makers treat it as the default, most likely outcome, McKinnon explains. “The resulting policies and investments risk making it a self-fulfilling prophecy—past expansions of fossil fuel development in places like the Australian coal basins and Canadian tar sands have cited the IEA’s scenarios as justification for continued buildout.”
She adds that the IEA’s media releases treat its alternate Sustainable Development Scenario as “little more than a footnote”, but even that projection falls short of the Paris targets. “Both assume that fossil fuels will continue to dominate our energy mix for decades to come, an assumption that dangerously underestimates our collective ability to do what it is necessary to address this challenge.”
With a new definition of climate leadership emerging, “we are living in times of exciting and unprecedented change,” McKinnon concludes. “Commitments and actions that would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago are challenging our assumptions and our imaginations. We cannot afford to underestimate ourselves by assuming that the future will do little more than follow the trends of the past. We must base our decisions on assuming success, and embrace the bold leadership it will take to get us there.”