IEA's Birol: Say goodbye to climate goals

Jan. 24, 2011 at 5:34 PM
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PARIS, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Without a serious policy turnaround from the world's largest emitters, the world won't meet its target of limiting the global temperature increase to no more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, a top IEA official has warned.

The 3.6 degree F cap -- 2 degrees Celsius -- a threshold scientists say is crucial to avert the most catastrophic effects of the temperature increase, can't be reached given the international community's current level of commitment, said Fatih Birol, the chief economist of the International Energy Agency.

"As we stand now, we're only a few meters away from saying goodbye to the 2-degree target," The New York Times, in a story from the ClimateWire, quoted Birol as saying. "When I look at the next 10 years, even if I take into consideration the pledges made after the Copenhagen meeting, the best case is that this could put us on a trajectory in line with 3.5 degrees C," or 6.3 degrees F.

Decarbonization efforts had to be increased by 400 percent to stay within the 3.6 degree F limit, Birol said.

At a climate summit in Cancun, Mexico, the limit was included in a joint statement by the countries present, including the world's two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, China and the United States.

Yet the international community has still not agreed to a binding climate protection treaty. Adding up industrialized nations' reduction targets while considering all the loopholes buried in the current agreements amount to carbon dioxide reductions of 2 percent in 2020 based on 1990 levels, the Heinrich Boell Foundation, a policy think tank linked to the German Green Party, said in its analysis of the decisions taken at the Cancun climate summit. "That's a catastrophe," it added.

With the economy picking up again in many parts of the world, the hunger for oil is approaching pre-recession levels.

"The later we move, the more difficult it will be, especially in the United States," Birol was quoted as saying. "There is a lot of infrastructure being built, lots of power plants. The later we move, the more expensive it will be."

In the United States, the discovery of massive unconventional gas resources, which kept gas prices near record lows, had undermined investments in renewable energy sources, Birol said.

If the phenomenon of cheap gas stays around for while, it could turn into a "problem for the competitiveness of renewable energy," he said.

Founded in the 1970s during the oil crises by the world's largest economies to stand guard over western oil interests, the IEA has become an influential adviser to industrialized nations over energy issues.

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