The chief of the International Energy Agency (IEA), Fatih Birol, has expressed optimism about the world’s ability to stay within the 1.5C limit on global heating. He attributed this optimism to the remarkable growth of renewable energy and green investments over the past two years. According to Birol, while there is still much work to be done, the rapid adoption of solar power and electric vehicles is encouraging.
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In an interview, Birol stated, “despite the immense challenges we face, I am more hopeful now than I was two years ago. Solar photovoltaic installations and electric vehicle sales are aligning with our projections to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and, consequently, remain within the 1.5C target. Clean energy investments have surged by a staggering 40% in the last two years.”
However, he emphasised that greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector remain stubbornly high and the recent extreme weather events worldwide have demonstrated the alarming pace of climate change.
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The IEA’s “Net Zero Roadmap” report, published recently, calls on developed countries with 2050 net-zero targets, including the UK, to accelerate their timelines. The report indicates that nearly all countries should bring forward their net-zero goals, which are set at 2050 for most developed nations. Some countries, such as Germany, have earlier targets (2045), while developing countries often have later ones, like China (2060) and India (2070).
Birol sees the upcoming COP28 UN climate summit in Dubai as a crucial opportunity for countries to commit to more ambitious emissions reduction plans. He proposes a tripling of renewable energy by 2030 and a 75% reduction in methane emissions from the energy sector by the same year, which can be cost-effective due to high gas prices.
Despite these objectives, Birol acknowledges that the geopolitical landscape, including conflicts like the war in Ukraine and strained US-China relations, could complicate the summit. He stressed that international cooperation is essential to limit temperature increases to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
Birol also called for COP28 to endorse a doubling of energy efficiency, emphasising the importance of reducing fossil fuel demand to decrease emissions.
While he stopped short of endorsing a full fossil fuel phase-out by 2050, Birol emphasised that all countries must work on reducing their fossil fuel consumption. He urged advanced economies to increase their ambition in clean energy and underscored the potential for job creation and global competitiveness in clean energy technologies.
Tessa Khan, executive director at Uplift, a campaigning organisation, highlighted the incongruity of wealthy countries, like the UK, expanding oil and gas production while professing leadership in climate action. She pointed out that a small group of countries, including the US, Canada, Australia, Norway and the UK, are responsible for more than half of all planned oil and gas projects up to 2050.