Wednesday, November 16, 2016

2489. Paris Climate Agreement Is Too Weak to Meet Stated Goals, Report Finds

By John Schwartz, The New York Times, November 16, 2016
Himallian springs are drying up as glaciers melt
Morocco to hammer out details of the landmark global climate change accord reached in Paris almost a year ago, the independent International Energy Agency warned that the nearly 200-nation deal was too weak to meet its avowed temperature target.

The I.E.A.’s annual World Energy Outlook stated that reaching the Paris targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was possible, and that meeting those targets would slow climate change. Yet the I.E.A.’s estimates also showed that the result of those reductions was not likely to keep the temperature increase beyond preindustrial levels “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, as hoped. Instead, the report’s authors estimated, meeting the national commitments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions would still allow temperatures to rise 2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100.

Meeting the most ambitious temperature goal discussed at the conference would be next to impossible, the report stated: “The transformation required for a reasonable chance of remaining within the temperature goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius is stark.”

A shifting mix of energy sources that favors renewable energy and more efficient energy use are putting those targets within reach.

The annual report of the I.E.A., which is based in Paris, noted that renewable energy was booming, with more capacity added in 2015 than for coal, oil and nuclear power combined. Still, fossil fuels will have a substantial role to play in the global energy mix for many years to come — especially natural gas, which is rapidly displacing coal.

“The era of fossil fuels is far from being over, even if the Paris pledges are fully implemented,” said Fatih Birol, executive director of the I.E.A. Today, he said, the share of fossil fuels in the global energy mix is about 81 percent; if Paris goals are met, the share will drop only to 74 percent by 2040. This is in part because even though renewable energy sources are finding their way into electricity generation, oil is still an important source of power for transportation and petrochemical production.

Still, there are winners and losers within fossil fuels, Dr. Birol said. The biggest winner worldwide in the group’s projections is natural gas, and the biggest loser is coal. China, the world’s largest coal producer and user, has been pulling back and appears to have reached the peak of its coal use in 2013.

Dr. Birol declined to discuss the effect on the group’s projections of the election of Donald J. Trump, who has called climate change a hoax, and pledged to abandon the Paris deal and to promote a revival of coal.

“We are a technical organization,” Dr. Birol said. “Governments come and go around the world, and this is a perfectly normal thing.” He said the group would be watching the actual policies and actions that emerge from the Trump administration, since “these changes may have global implications.” Once the policies do emerge, “we will include them” in future reports, Dr. Birol said.

The report predicted that by 2040, 80 percent of the new energy generated to meet global demand will come from natural gas and renewable sources like solar and wind power.
A push to use energy more efficiently is expected to help in the fight against climate change, Dr. Birol said, citing predictions that world energy use is expected to rise more slowly than in the past, even in the face of continued economic growth.

Tim Buckley, an analyst with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, a progressive research organization based in Cleveland, said that the decline of coal and the explosion in low-cost renewable energy provided a simple lesson: “Those who exit fossil fuels and embrace solar and wind will reap financial rewards and avoid stranded assets.”

“Stranded assets” is a term applied to fossil fuel reserves such as oil, coal and natural gas that are still in the ground; in many scenarios of addressing climate change, companies would not be able to exploit their reserves. Oil companies like Exxon Mobil have disputed the issue. The new report states that unless governments work hard to address the issue for a smooth and orderly transition away from fossil fuels, “there is a risk that major losses will be incurred.”

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