By SARAH KENT
LONDON -- The world has made almost no progress toward reducing
the carbon content of its energy supplies in the past 20 years,
despite more than $2 trillion of investment into
renewable-energy projects such as wind and solar
power, the International Energy Agency said Wednesday.
In its third annual report tracking the progress of clean
energy, the IEA, which advises rich and industrialized
countries on energy policy, paints a bleak picture of
global efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
Carbon-dioxide emissions from each unit of energy
consumed have fallen by less than 1% since 1990, largely
because of coal's continued dominance as a fuel for electricity
generation, the IEA said. As energy consumption has grown, this
means total global emissions of CO2 rose by 44% from 1990 to
2010, it said.
The IEA estimates that a cut in the carbon emissions per unit of energy
of more than 60% is needed to prevent global average
temperatures rising by more than two degrees Celsius in the
long term, and maintaining current levels would yield a
temperature increase of six degrees Celsius.
"The drive to clean up the world's energy system has
stalled," IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven said in a
statement. "We cannot afford another 20 years of listlessness.
We need a rapid expansion in low-carbon energy
technologies if we are to avoid a potentially catastrophic
warming of the planet."
Coal has been preferred in fast-growing Asian economies for
decades because it is relatively cheap and abundant, the IEA
said, and coal-fired generation "has far outpaced" the
significant increase from non-fossil energy.
China and India accounted for 95% of the
growth in global coal demand between 2000 and 2011, the IEA
Earlier this month, the Asian Development Bank warned that
Asia's use of fossil fuels was likely to keep rising for the
next 20 years, doubling the region's carbon output by 2035 and leaving
the prospects for emissions control looking grim.
"The goal of stabilizing global temperatures at acceptable
levels is nowhere in sight," said India's prime minister, Manmohan
Singh, at the launch of the IEA's report in New Delhi.
Even in Europe, which has some of the
world's most ambitious emissions-reduction targets, coal use is
rising, the IEA said. In Europe's largest economy, Germany, CO2
emissions edged higher last year as
more coal was burned because it was cheaper than natural gas,
according to the government's federal environmental agency.
The IEA warned that little is happening to mitigate the environmental impact of coal's
continued dominance in power generation. Many new coal-fired
power plants continue to use inefficient technologies,
offsetting measures to close some older and dirtier plants. Projects to develop the technology that would allow the
capture and storage of carbon emitted by power plants have made
little progress, it added.
Germany remains on track to meet its emissions-reduction
targets under the Kyoto Protocol, said Juergen Maas, a
spokesman for the country's environment ministry. Agreements
like Kyoto have had the desired effect because had there not
been any climate-protection policies over the past few years,
the world's greenhouse gas emissions would have increased by
even more, he said.
The IEA report comes as long-standing climate-protection
policies in Europe are increasingly under
threat. On Tuesday, the world's flagship plan to tackle global
warming, the European Union's Emissions Trading System, was put in
doubt after the European Parliament rejected a proposal to
support the carbon market.
Popular support for renewable energy subsidies is also
falling. Spain recently made retroactive cuts to its
renewable-energy subsidies in a bid to keep down electricity
The European Commission, the EU's
executive body, wasn't immediately able to comment on the IEA
report. Earlier in April, the bloc's energy chief, Gunther
Oettinger, said it should adopt more modest low-carbon goals in light of the
continent's economic problems.
Dow Jones Newswires