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IEA Warns Current Energy System Doomed To Failure

Rising demand for energy over the next 25 years is set to be driven by developing countries, particularly China, that require fossil fuels to power their economic expansion and growing populations.
by Adam Plowright
Paris (AFP) Nov 7, 2006
World demand for energy is set to grow by more than 50 percent in the next 25 years on current trends, meaning that effective action on climate change is likely to require a technological breakthrough, the International Energy Agency warned on Tuesday. In a stark report assessing global energy needs to 2030, the IEA highlighted seemingly irreconciliable forces that are set to push carbon dioxide emissions higher at a time when urgent action is needed to tackle global warming.

"The key word is urgency," IEA director Claude Mandil told a press conference in London following release of the study.

"Urgency for immediate policies and measures to promote energy efficiency and facilitate technology developement ...

"On current trends, we are on course for an expensive and dirty energy system that will go from crisis to crisis. It can mean more supply disruptions, meteorological disasters or both. This energy future is not only unsustainable, but it is doomed to failure.

"Governments can either accept such a future, or they can decide to come together to change course."

The report, entitled World Energy Outlook 2006, warned that "global primary energy demand (at current trends) is projected to increase by just over half between now and 2030, an average annual rate of 1.6 percent."

The IEA research was a response to G8 leaders who had asked the energy watchdog at a summit in Gleneagles, Scotland last year to advise them on "alternative energy scenarios and strategies aimed at clean, clever and competitive energy future".

Delivering its verdict, the IEA said that current policy proposals could succeed in slowing growth in carbon emissons and energy demand. But it added that "formidable hurdles" existed for policymakers and the world would probably still need a technological solution.

"Even if governments actually implement all the policies they are considering to curb energy imports and emissions, both would still rise through to 2030," the IEA said.

"Keeping global carbon dioxide emissions at current levels would require much stronger policies.

"In practice, technological breakthroughs that change profoundly the way we produce and consume energy will almost certainly be required as well."

Current policy proposals range from promoting greater efficiency in industry, increased nuclear power generation, making greater use of renewables and biofuels to increasing the fuel efficiency of cars and trucks.

If all of these proposals were implemented, global energy demand would be 37 percent higher in 2030 instead of more than 50 percent forecast on current trends.

Energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide are set to rise by 55 percent by 2030 compared with 2004 levels on current trends. But if all the new energy policy proposals were adopted, carbon dioxide emissions would be 16 percent lower than this level.

All changes to energy policy were "bound to encounter resistance from some industry and consumer interests", the energy watchdog said before urging policymakers to take bold action to sway public opinion.

Rising demand for energy over the next 25 years is set to be driven by developing countries, particularly China, that require fossil fuels to power their economic expansion and growing populations.

The share of developing countries in world emissions is forecast to increase from 39 percent in 2004 to more than half by 2030, the IEA said, partly because of the intensive use of coal in China.

The report from the IEA is bound to add to momentum for action on climate change, but the admission that a technological breakthrough might be required adds an element of uncertainty and places a burden on scientists and engineers to provide a solution.

The research in addition reinforces arguments that action on climate change and carbon dioxide emissions must include developing countries, which were excluded from the Kyoto agreement on emissions reductions.

The tripling of crude oil prices since 2002 has also laid bare the dependence of rich countries on their energy suppliers and led US President George Bush to warn of America's "addiction to oil" in his State of the Union address in February.

"Safeguarding energy supplies is once again at the top of the international agenda," said the IEA, which is an energy policy advisor to the governments of its 26 member countries, which are all rich, democratic countries.

"Yet the current pattern of energy supply carries the threat of severe and irreversible environmental damage, including changes in global climate."

In addition to the threat of climate change, rich countries face becoming even more beholden to politically volatile countries such as Middle Eastern states and Russia.

"The threat to the world's energy security is real and growing," the IEA concluded.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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