Out of Time?

The International Energy Agency put out their World Energy Outlook (WEO) this week. I don’t seem to remember the WEO getting a huge amount of press usually, but this time it comes with a warning that guarantees headlines. “The world is locking itself into an unsustainable energy future which would have far-reaching consequences…” reads the tag line for the press release accompanying this years WEO.

The basis of the statement is that by commissioning new fossil fueled generation capacity and infrastructure now, we lock ourselves into using that technology for the foreseeable future and into emitting the associated greenhouse gases.

“The WEO presents a 450 Scenario, which traces an energy path consistent with meeting the globally agreed goal of limiting the temperature rise to 2°C. Four-fifths of the total energy-related CO2 emissions permitted to 2035 in the 450 Scenario are already locked-in by existing capital stock, including power stations, buildings and factories. Without further action by 2017, the energy-related infrastructure then in place would generate all the CO2 emissions allowed in the 450 Scenario up to 2035.”

The kicker is the IEA estimate that for every $1 not spent now on clean energy, it will take $4.30 in 2020 to have the same effect as that $1 spent today would.  The problem is that CO2 is a long lived gas in the atmosphere. About half of what we emit today hangs around in the atmosphere for centuries. Therefore delaying action to reduce CO2 emissions now places a heavy burden on our future.

This is basically the same message as a Real Climate post of last year. They show that it is not credible to delay action on reducing CO2 emissions in favour of easier short term fixes, because in the long run we will be worse off. At issue is that regardless of how many rounds of talks, how many CoPs or summits we go through, no one is able to agree on a course of action.

The perception seems to be that it is a problem we can address in the future, the reality seems to be that it is a problem we should have already addressed by now.

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