August 20, 2009
IEA World Energy Outlook: Focus on Climate Stabilization
Today the IEA released its World Energy Outlook 2008. Here are some interesting excerpts from the Executive Summary here in PDF:
First, the IEA comes down clearly on the debate over whether stabilization at 450 ppm can be achieved with existing technologies. They say no way:
The scale of the challenge in the 450 Policy Scenario is immense: the 2030 emissions level for the world as a whole in this scenario is less than the level of projected emissions for non-OECD countries alone in the Reference Scenario. In other words, the OECD countries alone cannot put the world onto the path to 450-ppm trajectory, even if they were to reduce their emissions to zero. Even leaving aside any debate about the political feasibility of the 450 Policy Scenario, it is uncertain whether the scale of the transformation envisaged is even technically achievable, as the scenario assumes broad deployment of technologies that have not yet been proven. The technology shift, if achievable, would certainly be unprecedented in scale and speed of deployment. Increased public and private spending on research and development in the near term would be essential to develop the advanced technologies needed to make the 450 Policy Scenario a reality.
Second, to illustrate the scale of the problem the IEA projects what would happen if every power plant build starting today were to be carbon dioxide free, finding a small impact on future emissions growth:
The rate of capital-stock turnover is particularly slow in the power sector, where large up-front costs and long operating lifetimes mean that plants that have already been built -- and their associated emissions -- are effectively "locked-in". In the Reference Scenario, three-quarters of the projected output of electricity worldwide in 2020 (and more than half in 2030) comes from power stations that are already operating today. As a result, even if all power plants built from now onwards were carbon-free, CO2 emissions from the power sector would still be only 25%, or 4 Gt, lower in 2020 relative to the Reference Scenario.
The IEA could even be overly optimistic, with aggressive assumptions about the viability of carbon capture and storage, the political acceptability of a very high price on carbon dioxide ($180 per tonne in the 450 scenario), and the continuing issue of embedded assumptions of spontaneous decarbonization as we discussed in our Nature paper last spring.
You can read the executive summary for free here in PDF.