1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Peak emissions by 2020

Brigitte OsterathJune 15, 2015

The International Energy Agency has issued key recommendations for how to combat climate change, including promoting renewable energy. It's something of an about-face for the formerly pro-nuclear group.

Renewable energy
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

On Monday (15.06.2015), the International Energy Agency - or IEA - published a report entitled World Energy Outlook Special Report 2015 - Energy and Climate Change.

The IEA report details how four pillars are needed to make COP21, the Paris climate conference in December, a success. First and foremost is an early peak in energy-related emissions by 2020 - a goal that it said could be achieved if appropriate action is taken.

"It is clear that the energy sector must play a critical role if efforts to reduce emissions are to succeed," IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said.

That's why the agency says it "feels an obligation to make a contribution to COP21," the Paris climate conference in December.

How to reduce emissions

According to the report, five policy measures could insure a drop in emissions after 2020, without endangering the economy of any region. These measures include increasing energy efficiency in industry, building and transport.

They also involve reducing use of the world's least-efficient coal-fired power plants, and banning construction of new ones.

In addition, the IEA recommends gradually phasing out fossil fuel subsidies to industrial users by 2030, and increasing investment in renewable energy technologies up to $400 billion (366 billion euros) by 2030.

"A commitment to target such a near-term peak would send a clear message of political determination to stay below the 2 degree Celsius climate limit," the report reads. The G7 recently committed to this global warming limit - broad scientific consensus indicates going beyond this would be dangerous.

The IEA presents a so-called bridge scenario in which "coal use would peak before 2020 and then decline." Oil demand would plateau in the same year.

Coal-fired power plant in Gelsenkirchen, Germany (Photo: AP /Martin Meissner, File)
Get rid of the least-efficient coal-fired power plants, the IEA suggestsImage: picture-alliance/AP/M. Meissner

Currently, economic growth is coupled with increasing emissions in many countries, the IEA pointed out. But even China could reduce its emission by 2020 and still continue its economic growth, the agency has calculated. The main key is to improve the energy efficiency of industrial motors and in the building sector.

In the Middle East and Africa, though, key measures would be to reduce methane release from oil and gas production, and to reform fossil fuel subsidies.

Changing sides

"The International Energy Agency is rather conservative," comments Karsten Smid, campaign leader for climate and energy with Greenpeace Germany. "So if even they are saying we should move on to renewable energy, this is remarkable."

In former years, IEA reports tended to emphasize the importance of nuclear energy as a zero-emissions technology. In a summary of this recent report, nuclear energy is not mentioned at all. Instead, the agency stressed that renewable energies play a key role for future energy scenarios.

"The IEA is changing sides," Smid said. "For a few years now, they have started seeing solar and wind power as the energy sources of the future."

Further recommendations

As a second pillar in a worldwide combat against climate change, the IEA recommends reviewing national climate targets regularly.

"Agreeing on a mechanism at COP21 that will permit reviewing the level of ambition every five years will regularly shine a light on progress," the agency wrote. Such a "ratchet-up mechanism" is also an ambition of many involved in the negotiations.

Over time, low-carbon technologies are becoming better and cheaper. A compulsory regular look at the current state of affairs could therefore make a big difference.

Field of solar panels in China (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)
According to the report, solar energy and other renewables could even satisfy China's energy needsImage: STR/AFP/Getty Images

Moreover, countries not only need a climate goal - like a 2-degree warming limit - they also require collective emission goals.

From report to reality

The International Energy Agency used to be in favor of "clean coal" - that is, coal-fired power plants supplied with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). Carbon dioxide from coal combustion would be channeled into the ground and bound there.

"In the recent study, however, the IEA claims that we can only have a climate-friendly future energy scenario when we get rid of coal altogether," Smid says.

Greenpeace appreciates that, but criticizes how many governments do not live up to these ambitions.

"Unfortunately, reports like this do not lead to implementing appropriate political measures."