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Global temperature to rise 3.5 degrees C. by 2035: International Energy Agency

Unless governments cut subsidies for fossil fuels and adopt new policies to support renewable energy sources, the Copenhagen Accord to hold global warming to less than a 2-degree increase will not be reached.

By Staff writer / November 11, 2010

People sunbathe on the beach of Nice, southeastern France, as the temperatures reach an unseasonably warm 73 degrees, Thursday, Nov. 4.

Lionel Cironneau/AP Photo

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Global temperatures are projected rise 3.5 degrees C. over the next 25 years, the International Energy Agency said Tuesday, meaning that governments worldwide will have failed in their pledge to hold global temperature at a 2-degree increase.

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But there's hope yet, says Fatih Birol, the chief economist for the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA).

If governments remove subsidies for fossil fuels and increase investments in renewable energy to make them cost competitive, then the Copenhagen Accord can still be upheld. The voice of guarded optimism comes just ahead of a summit starting Nov. 29 in Cancún, Mexico, for another round of climate talks.

“Renewable energies need substantial subsidies from governments,” Dr. Birol said in a telephone interview. “The important task [for governments] is to decide whether they will support energy renewables in the future. It could be bad news for energy security and climate change if they don’t."

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None of that may be surprising, considering the 28-nation Copenhagen Accord signed in December 2009 was not legally binding and also fell short of recommendations from the UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for how to prevent temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees C. Yet if global warming is going to be curtailed, then governments must support the development and use of renewable energy.

“Renewable energy can play a central role in reducing carbon-dioxide emissions and diversifying energy supplies, but only if strong and sustained support is made available," IEA executive director Nobuo Tanaka said in a statement upon Tuesday's release of the 2010 World Energy Outlook.

The IEA projects global energy demand to surge 36 percent over the next 25 years. As that happens, use of modern renewable energy sources will triple as their share in total primary energy demand increases from 7 percent to 14 percent, the IEA said.

According to current government commitments and policies, the IEA projects government intervention in support of renewables (electricity from renewables and biofuels) will increase from $57 billion in 2009 to $205 billion (in 2009 dollars) by 2035. Still, these current government policies “are collectively inadequate to meet the Copenhagen Accord’s overall goal of holding the global temperature increase to below 2 degrees C.,” according to the report.

As carbon dioxide emissions rise 21 percent to 35 billion tons, temperatures will rise 3.5 degrees C.

To keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees C., the share of renewables among total energy use must reach to 38 percent by 2035, governments must end their subsidies on fossil fuels, and global demand for coal, oil, and gas must plateau before 2020.

The longer the world waits to tackle the issue the more expensive it will become. The IEA estimates the price tag of meeting the Copenhagen Accord pledges at $11.6 trillion through 2030, which is a $1 trillion increase from the IEA's projection once year ago.

But the world has never been quick to adopt new energy policies, as Monitor correspondent Douglas Fox pointed out in his cover story on the future of energy.

"Energy revolutions have usually been slow, starchy, conservative affairs, not overnight explosions; and the next one promises to be, too – never before has humanity replaced 15 trillion watts of worldwide energy production," writes Mr. Fox. "Our success in making it happen quickly enough to stave off climate change will depend every bit as much on strategic use of fossil fuels now as it does on flashy new technologies in the future."

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