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'Efficiency is the key': IEA

By 2020, which is the first milestone for the new phase of the Kyoto Protocol, countries will collectively have to spend $400 billion per year to keep the earth’s balance in check, according to the International Energy Agency. Darryl D’Monte continues his despatches from the Climate Action Network International meet currently on in Bangkok

It’s not often that an environmental organisation will laud the initiative of a body like the International Energy Agency (IEA), which promotes the interests of OECD countries in accessing commercial energy. And yet, at the current UN talks in Bangkok on re-negotiating the Kyoto Protocol -- the first phase of which will end in 2012 -- the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) did precisely this. 

“The IEA report (in advance of the release of its World Energy Outlook 2009 in November) shows that it is completely stupid not to invest in a low-carbon economy,” John Nordbo, WWF technology and climate change expert said. “The investments that the world has to make will pay off and result in lower energy bills, less air pollution, and help keep climate change under control.” 

“Efficiency is the key,” said Fatih Birol, IEA’s chief economist. The agency expects the demand for fossil fuels to peak in 2020. Oil-producing countries will stand to earn revenues of $28 trillion by 2030 if there is no deal to cut carbon emissions at the UN conference in Copenhagen this December. With the restrictions, they will still earn $24 trillion, four times more than what they earned 22 years ago. 

Geographical location was important when it came to curbing greenhouse gases caused by burning energy. The US accounted for half the energy use of OECD countries and would have to reduce its consumption drastically. China, the Middle East and Russia had to cut theirs by 40%, by 2030, to keep the earth’s temperature under the tipping point. India, Brazil and African countries would have to cut theirs by 16% by that deadline. 

By 2020, which is the first milestone for the new phase of the Kyoto Protocol, countries will collectively have to spend $400 billion per year to keep the earth’s balance in check. Half of this burden would be borne by OECD countries, the agency said, the other half by developing countries. 

However, there would be enormous economic and other benefits. The benefit of avoiding the worst impact of climate change was “priceless,” Birol said. On energy bills, there would be a saving of $8.6 trillion between 2010 and 2030. This would be achieved through better use of energy in industry, transport and buildings. On transport alone -- primarily through the use of better automobiles running on renewable energy -- there would be $6.2 trillion in savings in these two decades. 

The world would also have better energy security, with the shift from fossil fuels to renewables, nuclear power and the carbon capture and storage method of trapping carbon dioxide within the earth, which is still not commercially viable. Yet another benefit would be lower pollution in cities through greater use of public transport. This reduction, the agency calculates, would be 29% by 2030. 

IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka cited how the world would need to build 18 nuclear reactors, 17,000 windmills and 16 carbon capture and storage plants every year. “This is a challenge and an opportunity,” he said. “If we don’t act in Copenhagen, inaction will extract a cost -- $500 billion a year.”   

Asked about the desirability and safety of relying on nuclear power, which Tanaka said could form 18% of the global energy mix by 2030, he replied: “We are open to nuclear power. Some developing countries too are in favour of it. Carbon credits should be granted to nuclear power, as well as to carbon capture and storage.” 

Infochange News & Features, October 7, 2009