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 said.
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 costs.
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