Energy and Climate Change – pillars for success at COP21

A peak in global energy-related emissions could be achieved as early as 2020 and at no net economic cost, the International Energy Agency says in its new World Energy OutlookSpecial Report on Energy and Climate Change.

‘The Agency showed how to achieve an early peak in emissions as one of four key pillars that it believes are needed to make the upcoming UN climate talks a success, from an energy perspective.

The world is at a critical juncture in its efforts to combat climate change, with momentum building towards the 21st UN Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris in December 2015.

World greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions from energy production and use are double the level of all other sources combined, meaning that action to combat climate change must come first and foremost from the energy sector.

The IEA proposes that the following four key pillars are needed to make COP21 a success, from an energy perspective:

1. Peak in emissions – set the conditions to achieve an early peak in globalenergy-related emissions.
2. Five-year revision – review national climate targets regularly, to test the scope to raise ambition.
3. Lock in the vision – translate the world’s climate goal into a collective long-term emissions goal.
4. Track the transition – establish a process for tracking achievements inthe energy sector.

“As IEA analysis has repeatedly shown that the cost and difficulty of mitigating greenhouse-gas emissions increases every year, time is of the essence,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven.

“It is clear that the energy sector must play a critical role if efforts to reduce emissions are to succeed. While we see growing consensus among countries that it is time to act, we must ensure that the steps taken are adequate and that the commitments made are kept.”


A peak in global energy-related emissions could be achieved as early as 2020 if governments implement just five key policy measures, as shown in the IEA’s “Bridge Scenario”.

This major climate milestone is possible utilising only proven technologies and policies, and without changing the economic and development prospects of any region. Intended as an effective bridge to further action, the five measures focus on:

  • Increasing energy efficiency in the industry, buildings and transport sectors
  • Reducing the use of the least-efficient coal-fired power plants and banning their construction
  • Increasing investment in renewable energy technologies in the power sector from $270 billion in 2014 to $400 billion in 2030
  • Gradual phasing out of fossil-fuel subsidies to end-users by 2030
  • Reducing methane emissions in oil and gas production

For countries that have submitted climate pledges for COP21, the proposed strategy identifies possible areas for over-achievement. For those that have yet to make a submission, it sets out a pragmatic baseline.

The IEA report highlights the need for climate pledges for COP21 to be viewed as the basis from which to create a “virtuous circle” of increasing ambition, and advocates, as its second pillar, a five-year review cycle to test the scope for further action.

Both the situation and the solutions are evolving rapidly: the world’s shrinking “carbon budget” means that any delay in taking action can be costly, while the pace of energy sector innovation means that a five-year review would allow national targets to keep up with events and help build investor confidence.

As its third pillar, the IEA recommends that the goal of keeping the increase in long-term average global temperatures to below two degrees Celsius (2 °C) also be expressed as a long-term greenhouse-gas emissions target, making it more straightforward to apply in the energy sector.

Doing so would help anchor future expectations, guide investment decisions, provide an incentive to develop new technologies, drive needed market reforms and spur the implementation of strong domestic policies, such as carbon pricing – all of which are necessary to meet the 2 °C goal.

The final pillar proposed by the IEA report is that the COP21 agreement establish a strong process for tracking progress in the energy sector.

Tracking national progress would both provide clear evidence of results, reassuring the international community that others are acting diligently, and identify countries that are struggling with implementation, enabling assistance to be provided if needed. In recognition of this need, the IEA report sets out appropriate metrics to monitor energy sector decarbonisation.

“Any climate agreement reached at COP21 must have the energy sector at its core or risk being judged a failure,” said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol.

“Climate pledges submitted for COP21 are an important first step to meeting our climate goal, and our report shows that they will have a material impact on future energy trends.”

Collectively, countries accounting for around two-thirds of global energy-related emissions have either formally submitted their climate pledges for COP21 (known as “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions [INDCs]”) or have signalled their possible content (such as China).

A first assessment reveals these pledges will have a positive impact on future energy trends, but fall short of the major course correction required to meet the 2 °C goal.

The assessment of the INDCs shows that the growth in global energy-related emissions slows but does not peak by 2030. The link between economic growth and emissions weakens significantly, but is not broken: the economy grows by 88% from 2013 to 2030 and energy-related carbon dioxide emissions by 8%.


Renewables are the leading source of electricity by 2030, but inefficient coal-fired power generation capacity declines only slightly. Such findings underline the need for ambitious national pledges for COP21 that can act as a solid base upon which to build stronger action, such as those enabled by a transfer of resources (technology or finance).

The World Energy Outlook Special Report on Energy and Climate Change is available for download here.


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