IEA World Outlook: Our Planet is Worth Saving

7 October 2009

The benefits of taking serious steps to solve global warming far outweigh the costs, says the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its World Energy Outlook 2009 Climate Change excerpt report released yesterday.

A tool for the IEA’s regular projection of global energy use and global warming pollution, its report this time is particularly significant as the IEA has often been criticised for inflating costs and underestimating benefits. In this instance, the IEA used a measure of 450 ppm when the latest science shows the world needs to find a way to stay below 350 ppm to avoid even costlier effects of climate change. Hence, the IEA’s findings are actually quite “conservative” which make them even more compelling.

The IEA report provides the first analysis to account for the global impact of the financial crisis on energy emissions and the first time that they broke down their 450 ppm scenario on a country-by-country basis. Looking at 2010 to 2030, the report found:

•  A total additional investment of $10,500 billion will be needed to bring global emissions slightly below current levels

•  Savings in energy costs will be $8,600 billion

• Reduced costs of local air pollution will be  $40 billion in 2020 and $100 billion in 2030

• Every year of delay will increase the energy sector’s mitigation costs by $500  billion.

Measures that provide economic benefits in the medium term will already yield positive results for the climate. Yet, it has to be noted that for staying below 2oC with good certainty, actions greater that those estimated by the IEA are required. Even so, based on its analysis it is fair to say that costs will remain reasonable compared to the massive benefits of taking action.

Other findings of note state:

If we do not take action we are headed for a 6°C world (a 1,000 parts per million one)

We can get onto a path to solving global warming with the right investments. Clearly it requires a large investment and political focus to drive these results but it pays off. Energy efficiency is the dominant source of reduction (65% of the reduction in 2020), followed by renewables (17% of the reduction).

Oil imports are reduced. In the industrialised countries imports are reduced by 7 million barrels per day in 2030 below what they were in 2008; in China and India oil imports are lowered by 10%. These kinds of energy security benefits and consumer savings drive tremendous public support for climate action in many nations.

Big reductions in local air pollution as a result of taking action on global warming pollution. In 2030, sulphur dioxide emissions are 29% lower, nitrous oxide emissions are 19% lower and particulate matter is 9% lower. This saves $200 billion in 2030 for the cost of pollution control and lessens the impact of smog and other air pollutants that contribute to asthma, death and lost work days (just to name a few).

Hence, it is loud and clear that taking action on global warming at Copenhagen is a good investment for the world – the balance sheet is positive. The IEA’s new analysis adds to previous assessments which stated that addressing global warming saves countries money compared to continuing with the current business-as-usual pathway. And this does not include the costs of global warming impacts which will tip the balance sheet even further in favour of taking action.

The IEA’s report shows that addressing the climate challenge can reap financial benefits. As a clear and strong outcome in Copenhagen will unlock this potential, ECO calls on world leaders to focus on driving these solutions.

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