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What does COP28 need to do to keep 1.5 °C within reach?

COP28 | Posted on 2023-12-02 13:07

The COP28 climate change conference is bringing together world leaders in Dubai at a critical moment for the clean energy transition and international efforts to tackle climate change.

Under the Presidency of the United Arab Emirates, this COP is particularly significant because leaders will discuss the Global Stocktake of the Paris Agreement – the first official review of progress since the agreement was reached at COP21 in 2015.

IEA analysis shows that while the rapid deployment of clean energy technologies in recent years has made a major difference to the climate outlook – shaving about 1 °C off projected global warming, based on today’s policy settings by governments – a huge amount remains to be done. That 1 °C reduction has moved the projected temperature rise in 2100 from a truly catastrophic 3.5 °C to an only slightly less severe 2.4°C. Good news, but not nearly good enough. We are not on track to meet the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global warming well below 2 °C – let alone below the threshold of 1.5 °C that science has shown is crucial to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

The door to 1.5 °C is closing rapidly, but COP28 can keep it open. Encouragingly, agreement appears to be emerging around a commitment to triple the world’s renewable power capacity by 2030. I commend the countries rallying around this target, which the IEA has been highlighting from an early stage. This includes the European Commission and the COP28 Presidency’s efforts to push for a global pledge; India’s work via its G20 Presidency; and the support for the target in the recent US-China statement on climate.

Success means tripling renewables, doubling efficiency – but more as well

Committing to triple renewables is a good first step in the right direction. Unfortunately, this measure alone – assuming countries actually deliver on the commitment – would not reduce emissions enough to put the world on a path towards the 1.5 °C goal.

As the IEA’s recent World Energy Outlook 2023 shows, keeping the door open to 1.5 °C requires agreement and action on five interdependent measures – including tripling renewables. Those central pillars for action between now and 2030 are:

  1. Triple global renewable power capacity
  2. Double the rate of energy efficiency improvements
  3. Commitments by the fossil fuel industry, and oil and gas companies in particular, to align activities with the Paris Agreement, starting by cutting methane emissions from operations by 75%
  4. Establish large-scale financing mechanisms to triple clean energy investment in emerging and developing economies
  5. Commit to measures that ensure an orderly decline in the use of fossil fuels, including an end to new approvals of unabated coal-fired power plants

Building consensus quickly around all of these pillars is going to be essential. None of the five pillars work without the others. And achieving them will also require a host of accompanying measures, such as expanding electricity gridsscaling up low-emissions fuels, and building more nuclear plants. It also requires ensuring energy access for all by 2030. This is a central tenet of our 1.5 °C scenario and the IEA will be hosting in Paris a major International Summit on Clean Cooking in Africa in spring 2024.

Tripling renewable power capacity by 2030 would deliver about a third of the emissions reductions needed this decade to move the world to a pathway aligned with 1.5 °C. But without commitments and concrete action to mobilise and channel far more financing for emerging and developing economies, the world is likely to fall short of achieving the goal.

Make no mistake: tripling renewables by 2030 is both necessary and doable. But on its own, tripling renewables by 2030 would still leave the world on track to dangerous levels of global warming, well above 2 °C.

The role of the fossil fuel industry

As highlighted above, the fossil fuel industry has an important role to play in ensuring a successful COP28 and keeping the door open to 1.5 °C. The fact that this year’s COP is hosted by a major oil and gas producer in the Middle East offers an opportunity to engage with the industry. I hope to see strong outcomes and commitments, led by COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber.

Our recent report, The Oil and Gas Industry in Net Zero Transitions, shows what meaningful engagement by the industry with the Paris Agreement and the 1.5 °C goal looks like. The report stresses the need for tangible efforts to tackle emissions from the industry’s own operations, bringing them down by 60% by 2030, and to embrace the opportunities in areas of clean energy that could benefit from the oil and gas industry’s skills and resources, such as offshore wind and low-emissions hydrogen. Today, the industry only invests 2.5% of its capital spending in clean energy.

Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) can play an important role by decarbonising specific parts of the economy where emissions are hardest to tackle, such as cement. But the idea that producers can just carry on doing what they are doing now while the world brings down emissions via a massive deployment of CCUS is implausible. The numbers don’t add up: it would require increasing annual investment in CCUS from less than USD 4 billion last year to USD 3.5 trillion every year to 2050. Reducing fossil fuel emissions means reducing fossil fuel demand. There is no way around this.

Oil and gas producers need to explain how any new resource developments are viable within a global pathway to limiting warming to 1.5 °C and be transparent about how they plan to avoid pushing this goal out of reach.

The positive news is that all of the measures we need to take this decade to keep 1.5 °C within reach are based on known technologies and tried and tested policies. Many of them are highly cost-effective, reducing costs and risks for households and businesses around the world.

By agreeing to the five pillars set out above, countries can bring renewed hope and momentum for limiting global warming to 1.5 °C. In this worrying time of geopolitical fragmentation, countries must live up to the spirit of the Paris Agreement. The world is watching to see if governments can deliver.

Dr Fatih Birol  Dr Fatih Birol, Executive Director, International Energy Agency


Posted on 2023-12-02 13:07

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