Action urged to fight climate change
IEA director hopeful agency and partners can lead the world out of global predicament
The International Energy Agency’s members and its partners can help lead the world out of its climate predicament, says IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol.
That is his message as representatives of around 200 countries gather in Poland for the 24th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, also known as COP 24. Birol, from Turkey, is urging governments to find solutions and limit global warming efficiently.
“Climate change and energy are very close, because about 85 percent of carbon dioxide emissions come from the energy sector,” Birol says.
The 30-member IEA, founded in 1974 in the wake of the 1973 Arab oil crisis, includes 22 European countries, Japan, the United States and Canada. China joined the Paris-based group in 2015, as one of its eight association countries. The IEA’s mission is to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for its member countries and beyond.
Birol says the IEA is closely watching this year’s UN climate change conference, which is taking place in the Polish city of Katowice from Dec 2 to 14. He says he hopes the international community will take rapid action to avoid climate catastrophe.
“When governments make decisions on energy, they have to think about it in terms of affordability — the energy price will have an impact on economic growth and consumers’ pockets, employment and the environment footprint. We have to look at all of these issues together,” he says.
Birol points out that the energy sector has a crucial role to play in combating climate change, and all nations must recognize that their policies on energy transition will have significant impacts on the shared future.
Before taking over as executive director in 2015, Birol had served IEA for two decades as chief economist and director of global energy economics, responsible for the organization’s World Energy Outlook publication. The 60-year-old energy expert founded and chaired the IEA Energy Business Council, which provides a forum for cooperation between the energy industry and policymakers. Apart from his role at the institution, he is also the chairman of the World Economic Forum’s energy advisory board and a member of the UN secretarygeneral’s High-Level Group on Sustainable Energy for All.
According to the United Nations, this year marks the deadline agreed on by the signers of the Paris Agreement to adopt a work program for the implementation of the commitments. Other pledges that global leaders made at COP21 in Paris, such as increasing financing for climate action and developing national climate plans by 2020, will also be reviewed.
The two-week negotiations in Poland are expected to finalize the implementation guidelines and produce a rule book on how to carry out the landmark 2015 Paris climate accord, which aims to limit the rise in global temperatures to between 1.5 C and 2 C.
“I am really worried there is a growing disconnect between the calls from different international bodies and what is happening in the real energy market,” Birol says, referring to the latest warnings made by several United Nations agencies on accelerated global warming.
He refers to the warning in November by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a UN body, that the world is not cutting emissions fast enough.
“When the IPCC announced there is an urgent need to cut emissions, we, the International Energy Agency, announced that global emissions will reach a historical high in 2018, a significant rise,” he says.
According to a report released by the UN Environment Programme on Nov 27, total annual greenhouse gas emissions reached a record high of 53.5 billion tons in 2017 after three years of decreases. UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report also estimates that global greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 could be between 13 billion and 15 billion tons, which is more than the level needed to keep global warming within 2 C this century.
“I think that many countries around the world could take climate change seriously. But when I look at the international determination to tackle climate change a few years ago and today, I see, in general, that there was a greater appetite three years ago from political leaders around the world. But I hope this trend can be reversed sometime soon,” Birol says. “Such a disconnect can only be solved through international cooperation between the governments all around the world.”
On the sidelines of the G20 summit in Argentina on Nov 30, China, France and the UN reiterated firm commitment to fighting climate change and calling for effective and transparent implementation of the Paris Agreement in all aspects.
According to the G20 joint statement, leaders look forward to a successful outcome at the COP24 climate change conference, despite the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement.
In line with the goals set by the Paris Agreement, the Talanoa Dialogue, mandated by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is a process designed to help countries implement and enhance their nationally determined contributions by 2020.
In addition, the United States has affirmed its strong commitment to energy access and security, utilizing all energy sources and technologies, while protecting the environment. The G20 economies all agreed to seek possible national paths aiming to achieve energy transition toward a low-emissions future.
Confronted with environmental challenges, one undoubtable imperative is to reach for technological advances, Birol says.
According to IEA’s Renewables 2018 report, renewable energy sources used in meeting global energy demand are expected to grow by onefifth in the next five years to reach 12.4 percent in 2023. Renewables are forecast to meet more than 70 percent of global electricity generation growth by 2023, led by solar photovoltaic and followed by wind, hydropower, and bioenergy.
“When we look at the numbers, renewable energy is growing very strongly and renewables’ share in the energy mix is increasing, thanks to the drop in cost and policy support from major economies such as China, which is the global leader for both solar PV and wind power, European countries and the US,” Birol says.
“But in order to solve the climate problems, renewables alone are not enough. We also need other new other advanced technologies, clean technologies such as nuclear power, carbon capture and storage, electric cars and so on,” he says.
From his point of view, China is playing a key role in shaping the future of low-carbon energy technologies by leading investment and innovation of cleaner energy sources. Birol says the Chinese government has made enormous efforts toward lowcarbon energy transition, with the aim to achieve the fastest and greatest progress in tackling climate issues.
“Firstly, China is pushing for zero carbon technologies, including solar, wind, hydropower, nuclear power and carbon capture and storage. Secondly, China is replacing coal with gas. China today is overtaking Japan to become the world’s largest importer of natural gas. The natural gas is helping to reduce the local pollution in cities in order to make the skies of China blue again. Thirdly, China is working closely with the IEA, trying to improve energy efficiency,” he says.
“If I can give you three top projects, one is to integrate renewable energies in the best way to the Chinese electricity grades; second is how we can make sure that the China gas market and relevant regulation is designed in the best way so that the gas becomes a significant part of the Chinese energy mix; and third, like Europe, China is designing its emissions trading system. It will be the world’s largest carbon market. We are helping the Chinese government to deliver the best,” he says.
In addition to closer ties with the IEA, Birol also expects more close cooperation between China and its members on investment in sustainable infrastructure.
“I hope to see that the Chinese emissions peak sooner than later, which will be good news for Chinese people, and also for the rest of the world,” he says.
Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, says international cooperation is the key to tackling climate change.