LONDON -- A global climate deal that may come into force in 2020 will come too late to avert a global temperature increase of more than 2 degrees Celsius, unless governments swiftly implement four new policy measures to curb carbon emissions, the International Energy Agency said Monday.
Scientists have warned that a global temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius could have dramatic consequences for the environment, including increasing the frequency of extreme weather events with severe social and economic consequences.
"Rapid and widespread adoption could act as a bridge to further action, buying precious time while international climate negotiations continue," said IEA chief economist Fatih Birol, the report's lead author.
The IEA, which advises rich industrialized countries on energy policy, called on governments to act to adopt better energy-efficiency measures, cut back on the use of inefficient coal-fired power plants, minimize methane emissions from oil and gas production and accelerate the removal of fossil fuel subsidies in order to buy more time before a comprehensive agreement.
Governments agreed at the beginning of the decade to negotiate a new globally binding climate agreement by 2015 that would be implemented by 2020, but the IEA said preventing global temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius is already "extremely challenging."
Last month, US government scientists said carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time since monitoring began at Mauna Loa in Hawaii. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says atmospheric concentrations of CO2 must be kept below 450 parts per million in order to limit the global temperature rise to below 2C.
According to the IEA, carbon dioxide emissions rose by 1.4% in 2012 to reach a record high of 31.6 gigatons. In an April report tracking the progress of green energy technology, the agency said that the world had made almost no progress towards reducing the carbon content of its energy supply in the last 20 years.
The IEA said its four policy measures would leave open the possibility of limiting a global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius in 2020 without harming economic growth.
The suggested policies would benefit nuclear and renewables-based power plants which would see their net revenue boosted by $1.8 trillion to 2035, the IEA said. Existing coal-fired plants would see their revenue decline by a similar amount and 8% of new fossil-fuelled plants would be retired before their investment is fully recovered, it added.
While delaying stronger climate action to 2020 would avoid $1.5 trillion in low-carbon investments over the next seven years, it would mean an additional $5 trillion in investment would be needed to get back on track, the IEA said.
"Climate change has quite frankly slipped to the back burner of policy priorities. But the problem is not going away - -quite the opposite," said IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven.
UK-based environmental charity WWF said that the IEA's recommendations were not sufficient. "With the world on track for catastrophic levels of global warming, as the IEA says, these stop-gap proposals simply don't go far enough," said Samantha Smith, leader of the WWF global climate and energy initiative.