The world needs a “low-carbon revolution” to decarbonise the power sector and reduce industry emissions if it wants to meet the goal of cutting CO2 emissions in half by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
The IEA this week released two reports — “Energy technology transitions for industry: Strategies for the next industrial revolution” and “Sectoral approaches in electricity: Building bridges to a safe climate” — that outline the need for dramatic changes among energy companies and industries.
“In the global fight against climate change, the industry and power sectors both play a key role,” said Nobuo Tanaka, executive director of the IEA. “Industry is one of the largest users of electricity, and together, both sectors account for almost two-thirds of global energy-related CO2 emissions.”
Tanaka added, “Decarbonising the power sector and reducing the CO2 intensity of key sectors such as iron and steel, cement, paper, chemicals and petrochemicals, as well as aluminium will be critical to achieve the ambitious targets for halving global CO2 emissions by 2050. The task is huge and requires nothing short of a low-carbon industrial revolution. Solutions exist but cannot be achieved overnight. Urgent action is needed, and our two new publications plot the course.”
The reports include some cause for optimism. Simply by using the best technology available today, for example, the industry sector could reduce its energy consumption by 20 to 30 per cent, the IEA finds.
However, that strategy alone wouldn’t be enough to curb emissions to the degree required, as global energy demand is expected to more than double by 2050. According to the IEA, to realise significant emissions reductions in the long term, a wide range of new technologies — including carbon capture and storage (CCS) in industry — will need to be developed and widely deployed. Engaging developing countries and their industries in such a transition will need to be a top priority, as most future growth in CO2 emissions will be in those regions.
“I welcome the fact that a number of regional and international industrial associations have started to examine options available to them to reduce their CO2 intensity,” Tanaka said. “Nevertheless, additional international co-operative efforts involving both governments and industry are needed. We reaffirm our commitment to work closer with key stakeholders to identify a more sustainable path forward.”
For instance, the IEA soon expects to release a technology roadmap for the cement sector that was developed in collaboration with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
To help industry sufficiently reduce CO2 emissions, it will be critical to decarbonise the power sector, according to the IEA. Changing how electricity is generated is a top priority, as most of it today still comes from fossil fuels, causing 41 per cent of the world’s energy-related carbon emissions.
With growth in power demand especially high in the developing world, there’s an increased risk of practically irreversible investment in CO2-intensive electricity generation capacity — also known as the “carbon lock-in.” If the power sector in the developing world grows without any regard for climate change, that could alone threaten the world’s capacity to stabilise climate, the IEA warns.
“Power generation CO2 emissions outside OECD have grown by 90 per cent since 1990, and are on a path to double from today’s level by 2030,” Tanaka said. “This is highly unsustainable from a climate perspective and collective action is needed now.”
The IEA’s new report on electricity connects this threat to the decisions that international climate negotiators will need to make when they meet in Copenhagen this December.
“We need a two-tiered sectoral approach to this problem in the medium term: a strong signal to investors in power generation to promote less carbon-intensive technology, and ambitious new policies to push for a more efficient use of electricity,” Tanaka said. “The climate negotiators must therefore see the electricity sector as a priority, and set up mechanisms to support effective efforts in developing countries. These mechanisms could rely on a broader access to the ‘carbon market,’ to introduce a price on CO2 emissions and create incentives for most efficient and low-CO2 generation technologies. This includes carbon capture and storage or nuclear. These technologies are currently not allowed to contribute to carbon market projects in developing countries.”