IEA executive director Fatih Birol: “We have no room to build anything that emits CO2 emissions”

With global CO2 emissions projected to keep rising until 2040, IEA executive director Fatih Birol tells the Guardian that: “We have no room to build anything that emits CO2 emissions”.  

“We are eating up 95% of the [carbon] budget, even if we don’t do anything else. Which of course is impossible, not building any more trucks or power plants,” Birol said.

Current trends are “way too carbon-heavy to keep the eventual temperatures rise less than 2C above pre-industrial levels”, reports Axios. The IEA expects oil use in cars to peak within seven years, reports the Financial Times. Despite global car numbers continuing to grow, electric vehicles and more fuel-efficient engines will cut oil demand, notes Reuters. In other coverage of the report, the Guardian looks at Australia’s renewables potential amid mixed signals for coal, the Wall Street Journal notes that the US is expected to produce half of global oil and gas output by 2025, and Bloomberg says that the report warns there is a risk of the world becoming too reliant on the rapid growth of US shale oil. Carbon Brief has in-depth coverage of the report’s highlights.

From Brad Plumer in

Over the past five years, the average cost of solar power has declined 65 percent and the cost of onshore wind has fallen 15 percent. The energy agency predicts those prices will keep tumbling as technology improves and governments scale back subsidies. Solar plants are becoming well-placed to outcompete new coal plants almost everywhere.

The agency sees renewable power supplying 40 percent of the world’s electricity by 2040, up from 25 percent today. Even that forecast could prove conservative: In the past, the agency has underestimated the speed at which wind and solar power proliferate.

“Our solar expectations are about 20 percent higher than they were last year, both because of new policies in China and India and because the costs are coming down so fast,” said Fatih Birol, the agency’s executive director.

The average coal plant in Asia is less than 15 years old (compared to about 41 years in the United States). Those plants will keep polluting for decades.

Governments will play a key role: The report notes that the world invests $2 trillion annually in energy infrastructure, and 70 percent of that is directed by state-owned companies or regulators. “That tells me that our energy destiny will rely heavily on government decisions in the next two decades,” Mr. Birol said.

By Adam Vaughan in The Guardian 13 Nov 2018

The world has so many existing fossil fuel projects that it cannot afford to build any more polluting infrastructure without busting international climate change goals, the global energy watchdog has warned.

The International Energy Agency said almost all of the world’s carbon budget up to 2040 – the amount that can be emitted without causing dangerous warming – would be eaten up by today’s power stations, vehicles and industrial facilities.

Fatih Birol, the executive director of the Paris-based group, told the Guardian: “We have no room to build anything that emits CO2 emissions.”

The economist said to limit temperature rises to 2C, let alone the 1.5C as scientists recommend, either all new energy projects would have to be low carbon, which was unlikely, or existing infrastructure would need to be cleaned up.

That could include incentives for dirty power plants to be retired early or installing carbon capture and storage technologies, Birol said.

“We are eating up 95% of the [carbon] budget, even if we don’t do anything else. Which of course is impossible, not building any more trucks or power plants,” Birol said.

In total, the IEA calculated that existing infrastructure would “lock in” 550 gigatonnes of of carbon dioxide over the next 22 years. That leaves only 40 gigatonnes, or around a year’s worth of emissions, of wriggle room if temperatures are not to overshoot the 2C threshold.

The group’s annual World Energy Outlook, published on Tuesday, revised future CO2 emissions upwards on last year’s report.

Global emissions from energy flatlined in 2014-16 after decades of increases but in 2017 and 2018 so far they have resumed their upward march. The IEA expects CO2 emissions to rise from 32.53 gigatonnes in 2017 to 36 gigatonnes by 2040.

Birol said that unfortunately the data suggested 2014-16 was a blip, rather than 2017-18. “There is a growing disconnect between the new international [climate] research and what is happening in the energy market,” he said.

The report said that the world is “still a long way” from meeting its goals on climate change and air pollution.

However, the IEA is upbeat about how much greener the power market will become. Windfarms are expected to grow from 4% to 12% of global electricity generation by 2040, overtaking nuclear.

Solar is forecast to expand from 2% of generation today to nearly 10% by 2040 and is expected to outcompete new coal plants on cost “almost everywhere”.

Hydro power will remain the biggest source of low carbon electricity generation, at 15% in 2040. Battery storage costs are also expected to decline rapidly.

But the report expects that beyond electricity generation, fossil fuels will continue to dominate energy use. Planes, ships and industry are not yet “electric-ready” with today’s technology, the IEA said.

Overall, the world’s appetite for energy is expected to grow by a quarter by 2040 because of an extra 1.7 billion people, growing affluence and a shift in demand from the west to Asia.

Birol said he was disappointed that recent high oil prices had resulted in some countries, such as India, Indonesia and Thailand, taking backward steps on cutting the trillions of pounds of fossil fuel subsidies awarded each year by governments. “This is definitely not a good move. It is putting a lot of pressure on government budgets,” he said.

The World Energy Outlook noted that by mid-2018, when oil prices were hovering just below $80 a barrel, there had been “signs of a slowdown in reform efforts”.

The IEA said it was concerned about the prospect of a crunch in oil supply in the next decade. “The oil markets I believe are entering a renewed period of uncertainty and volatility. One of the things that worries me is the links between energy and geopolitics are getting tighter and more complex,” Birol said.

David Roberts,, Nov 12, 2018

For once, Democrats should start not with the question of what can pass, but at the other end: What does the problem demand? What does a real solution look like?

As I said, the energy on the young left today is around a Green New Deal, a large-scale program of national investments in clean energy projects and jobs, perhaps coupled with gradual drawdown of fossil fuel production. The details remain fairly nebulous (I’ll be looking into it more soon), but the idea behind it is simply that climate change is a true national emergency and requires an emergency response, a mobilization of national resources that is, in Jimmy Carter’s words, the moral equivalent of war.

On the other side, centrists still prefer the pursuit of bipartisanship, which typically means a policy approach centered on carbon pricing. There’s going to be a battle in coming years over who gets to define ambition and “realism” in climate policy.

But it’s important that the left not devolve into factions again (as in 2009), each clutching its own favored policy, each unwilling to critically examine its own premises, each convinced of the other’s irrational maleficence. There’s no time for that.

With federal legislation off the table for the time being, the next few years mark a crucial opportunity for the left to step back, shake off the cobwebs of old ideas and the shackles of old failures, and do some blue-sky thinking about what climate policy ought to look like in the 21st century. It’s important to develop a courageous, inspiring vision of a sustainable future, even as everyone slogs through the current muck.

As the midterms show, the partisan divide is only getting wider, on climate like everything else. But that, like all things, will end some day, and when the rare opportunity for bold action finally rolls around, it would be good for climate hawks to have a shared vision in place, ready to be adopted.

Until then, climate progress in the US will be a matter of Democrats grinding out victories, mostly on their own, where and when they can. It’s not ideal, and it will never be enough, but for now, it’s all there is.