Redrawing the energy-climate map

I had the privilege of providing input to the new International Energy Agency (IEA) report, Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map.  I am grateful that the IEA produced this special report, which endeavors to keep open the option of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius by keeping the concentration of greenhouse gases below 450 parts per million (CO2-equivalent).

To many, the traditional 450 scenario published each year in IEA’s World Energy Outlook (WEO) appeared aspirational rather than practical, leaving influencers and policymakers with few realistic options. The modified 450 scenario, “4-for-2 ?C,” addresses this concern by recommending specific, actionable policies.

Especially important is IEA’s call for a substantial global push for greater energy efficiency: an effective, cost-effective and feasible near-term opportunity to address climate change while achieving substantial co-benefits. IEA is also to be commended for urging that the energy sector become more resilient, specifically with respect to the threats to energy infrastructure and energy productivity posed by extreme weather and impacts of climate change.  This is an important emerging risk that cries out for greater attention.

The report appropriately highlights the critical role of carbon capture and storage (CCS) in achieving any ambitious climate protection goals, and recommends substantial policy support for CCS demonstration and deployment.  The world sorely needs to do more to advance this technology.  I only wish IEA emphasized its CCS recommendations more, and highlighted the importance of leveraging enhanced oil recovery demand for CO2.

The IEA rightly recommends reducing methane emissions, a short-lived climate pollutant (SLCP). Reducing SLCPs is critical to preserving the possibility of limiting warming to 2 degrees C.  IEA should have also recommended efforts to mitigate other SLCPs, such as black carbon and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).  This might include the 16 measures contained in a 2011 UNEP/WMO assessment.  The recent US-China agreement to work toward a phase down of HFCs is a critical piece of progress on this front.

Now that the world has unfortunately hit a carbon dioxide concentration of 400 ppm, it is indeed late to begin the energy transition essential to climate protection.  But IEA’s analysis indicates that it is not too late, if the world starts taking action now.