Must Act Now to Avoid Catastrophic Climate Change, Says International Energy Agency


It never fails—just before every U.N. Climate Change Conference of the Parties convenes there is a rush of new and alarming studies arguing that this is our last chance when it comes preventing catastrophic man-made global warming. Yesterday, the International Energy Agency issued its annual World Energy Outlook report which claimed [PDF]:

We cannot afford to delay further action to tackle climate change if the long-term target of limiting the global average temperature increase to 2°C, as analysed in the 450 Scenario, is to be achieved at reasonable cost. In the New Policies Scenario, the world is on a trajectory that results in a level of emissions consistent with a long-term average temperature increase of more than 3.5°C. Without these new policies, we are on an even more dangerous track, for a temperature increase of 6°C or more.

Four-fifths of the total energy-related CO2 emissions permissible by 2035 in the 450 Scenario are already "locked-in" by our existing capital stock (power plants, buildings, factories, etc.). If stringent new action is not forthcoming by 2017, the energy-related infrastructure then in place will generate all the CO2 emissions allowed in the 450 Scenario up to 2035, leaving no room for additional power plants, factories and other infrastructure unless they are zero-carbon, which would be extremely costly. Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment avoided in the power sector before 2020 an additional $4.3 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.

Of course, the IEA's econometric calculations are based in part on a relatively high climate sensitivity.

Note: I will be reporting from the U.N. Climate Conference in Durban, South Africa in December.