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Companies, Scientists Press IEA for More Ambitious Carbon Reduction Scenarios

Wind power turbine

A list of 65 pension fund, insurance, science, and large corporate representatives are adding their voices to the chorus of criticism calling on the International Energy Agency (IEA) to shift the way it projects future fossil fuel demand to account for the climate crisis.

Last week, with the release of its latest World Energy Outlook, analysts within the climate community accused the IEA of undercutting its own, essential role in confronting the climate crisis by downplaying renewable energy options and driving future investment to more expensive, higher-carbon fossil fuels. The new appeal urges the Paris-based agency to overhaul its modelling of future energy demand and “do more to support the implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement to avert catastrophic global warming,” Reuters reports.

“The year 2020 marks a turning point for the world—the year when we either grasp the challenges and opportunities before us, or continue delaying and obstructing the low-carbon transformation,” the executives write, in a letter to IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol seen by Reuters staff. Signatories included insurance giants Allianz and Zurich Insurance Group, PensionDanmark, Unilever, IKEA, Nordea Life & Pension, Danish wind manufacturer Ørsted, former UN climate secretary Christiana Figueres, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, and climate scientists based in the United States and Europe.

The news agency notes that “various networks of institutional investors, asset owners, scientists, and climate advocacy groups” have been issuing similar appeals since the beginning of the year. “These critics argue that a revised approach could unlock faster investment in renewables and better identify possible risks to the value of oil, gas, and coal companies posed by the prospect of rapid action to cut greenhouse gas emissions.”

Earlier this week, Birol said the IEA welcomes the feedback. But he and his senior management team have maintained the criticisms reflect a misunderstanding of the WEO—which the agency intends as a series of possible future scenarios, but businesses and governments routinely interpret as a firm prediction on which to base future infrastructure investments.

“When I use Google Maps, it gives me several options, but I usually take the one it highlights without thinking too much about it,” Bloomberg columnist Liam Denning wrote earlier this year. The WEO is “a map used by the people, companies, and institutions planning and building the roads. If its scenarios point a certain way, then investments will be made accordingly in such things as power plants, pipelines, and oil and gas fields, facts on the ground with multi-decade lifespans.”

The letter to Birol this week acknowledges “minor improvements” in this year’s WEO that shouldn’t be confused with the “urgently needed substantive changes” the independent analysts have been calling for.

“Signatories are not satisfied, in particular, with the IEA’s work to map out a pathway for achieving the most ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement and urged the organization to produce a ‘fully transparent’ scenario for doing so,” Reuters writes, with a pathway to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 forming “the centrepiece of the next Outlook”.