March 31 (UPI) -- Governments should enact strong policies to discourage drivers from buying gas-guzzling vehicles if countries intend to meet the goals of controlling climate change, one of the world's leading energy economists says.
The remarks came after the International Energy Agency held its 6th Annual Global Conference on Energy Efficiency on Monday, which examined how to achieve ambitious international climate goals and halt signs of stalling progress.
The conference included government officials from the United States, Britain, the European Union, Canada, China and Japan, as well as leaders in the United Nations Environment Program.
"Our analysis is very clear: In the absence of strengthening energy efficiency initiatives around the world, we have no chance whatsoever of meeting our energy and climate goals," IEA Executive Director Dr. Fatih Birol said in opening remarks at Monday's conference.
"We call on the governments with us today to make use of their existing efficiency policies but also to push the next generation of policies -- making use of digital technologies, smart grids and other key solutions."
One of the problems is the global use of gasoline-powered vehicles, particularly those that are not fuel efficient, like sport-utility vehicles, which make up almost half of all cars sold. SUVs are popular in the United States, Britain and across Europe, and are increasingly popular in two of the world's most populous countries -- China and India.
"It will not be possible to reach our climate goals if SUV sales continue at these rates," Birol told The Guardian. "We must either change the technology, to electric vehicles, or change tax policies to provide financial disincentives to consumers to go for the SUV option."
Birol urged governments to put in place strong measures to make fossil fuels less economically attractive and support clean energy and technologies like electric vehicles. He added that economies are rapidly returning to fossil fuel and new policies are urgently needed to put countries on a path to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
IEA figures show that global coal use was about 4% higher in the last quarter of 2020 than in the same period in 2019.
"We are not on track for a green recovery, just the opposite," Birol added in his remarks to The Guardian. "As long as countries do not put the right energy policies in place, the economic rebound will see emissions significantly increase in 2021."
Birol said the United States, particularly under new President Joe Biden, should lead the charge and set out a national plan for cutting emissions during the 2020s.
Biden signed multiple executive orders after taking office aimed at mitigating climate change.
"In my view, we have already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis. We can't wait any longer," he said in January. "We see it with our own eyes. We feel it. We know it in our bones. And it's time to act."
During his run for president, Biden unveiled a $5 trillion climate plan that calls for net-zero emissions and a fully clean-energy economy within 30 years. On Monday, his administration announced a program to boost development of offshore wind power for the United States.
Biden plans to host a Leaders Climate Summit on Earth Day, April 22, and reconvene the Major Economies Forum.