The IEA on Tuesday renewed its call for more investments in carbon capture and storage projects as essential to reducing greenhouse gases in a world that is still "hooked on fossil fuels."
But delays in funding for CCS research and demonstration projects are resulting in missed chances to tap more than two-thirds of the world's current proven fossil-fuel reserves and still meet European climate change goals, the agency said in a statement.
Those coal and other fossil resources could be used if carbon dioxide emissions were captured at the smokestack using CCS technology and then "sequestered" underground.
Environmental groups, however, say the technology only delays an inevitable switch to renewable energy while others question whether the high-priced systems are worth the investment.
"The high cost and simultaneous lack of incentive policies are delaying deployment of CCS, leading the International Energy Agency to renew its calls for action in 2013 and beyond on this critical element to limiting climate change," the agency said.
The call came two weeks after the European Union announced no CCS projects would be funded in the first round of 2013 grants from its emissions trading scheme, with the money instead being funneled into renewable energy programs.
The IEA statement quoted Juho Lipponen, head of its Carbon Capture and Storage Technology Unit, touting the need for the technology in November at the 11th International Conference on Greenhouse Gas Control Technologies in Kyoto, Japan.
"For the IEA, carbon capture and storage is not a substitute but a necessary addition to other low-carbon energy technologies and energy efficiency improvements," he said. "Fossil-fuel CCS is particularly important in a world that currently shows absolutely no sign of scaling down its fossil fuel consumption."
Backers claim CCS could help European nations reach CO2 reduction goals, put the European Union on target for its 2050 de-carbonization "roadmap" and help reach the international goal of keeping global temperatures from increasing more than 2 degrees Celsius.
But the technology is expensive and, unlike other CO2-cutting technologies such as wind and solar power, has yet to be commercially deployed.
The European Commission on Dec. 18 announced that $1.6 billion in profits from the EU emissions trading scheme that had been earmarked for CCS pilot and demonstration projects would instead be distributed among 23 renewable energy efforts.
European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard said the move didn't represent a policy shift, but instead reflected the fact that no member states came forward with co-financing for the projects, the Brussels weekly European Voice reported.
"We are basically giving out money; there have to be certain rules that people will have to live up to," she said. "The good news is that there will be a second chance [for CCS] in the second call of the (emissions trading scheme) fund," which will launch in early 2013.