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IEA Looks To Fossil Fuel Industry to Control Climate Change

Today, the International Energy Agency put out a report saying that CO2 emissions in 2012 grew by 1.4%, or 31.6 gigatonnes. This increase means that the chances of constraining emissions to cap global warming at 2 degrees C are narrowing.

When I first started covering the cleantech/renewables space for C&EN back in 2008, there was a common belief among technologists and some policy makers that within a few short years, a price would be put on carbon with policies (such as cap and trade or a carbon tax) that would act like jet fuel, powering demand for renewable fuels and related industries.

But as IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven points out, ““Climate change has quite frankly slipped to the back burner of policy priorities.” The good news in the report is that the growth in renewable energy production in the U.S. and Europe has helped those regions decrease carbon emissions. However, it was the switch to shale gas from coal that had the biggest impact on U.S. emissions. In contrast, growing energy demand from China and other developing nations has more than made up for those changes.

(You can read C&EN’s recent coverage of the EU Carbon Trading scheme here: http://cen.acs.org/articles/91/i7/EU-Carbon-Emissions-Trading-Scheme.html)

IEA is pushing four policies that are all outside of the renewables space. The organization’s plan would shave 8% off the carbon emissions compared to no further constraints by:

1. Making buildings, industry, and transportation more energy efficient, to get 50% of the cut.
2. Limiting construction of the least efficient types of coal-fired power plants, for 20% or more of the cut.
3. Halving methane emissions from upstream oil and gas operations (18% savings)
4. A partial phase-out of fossil fuel consumption subsidies (12%)


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  • Jun 11th 201304:06
    by Chad

    “However, it was the switch to shale gas from coal that had the biggest impact on U.S. emissions.”

    There is no particular reason to believe that shale gas has modified our long-term emissions in either direction. In the short term, it displaced some coal use, but already we see shale gas leveling off, coal regaining market share, and the price advantage of natural gas over coal and oil eroding. The fracking booml likely just brought forward some relatively clean fossil fuels while moving some dirtier emissions into the future. However, about the same amount of coal and oil will be burned in the long run as gas prices rise and coal plants rev back up.

  • Jun 11th 201308:06
    by Melody Bomgardner

    Hi Chad,
    Thanks for your comment – I think you are correct, and the IEA makes the same point in its report. The emissions reduction was due to the lower cost of natural gas compared to coal, and that equation can change. There is no reason to believe that the coal will stay in the ground forever.

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