The International Energy Agency, the Paris organization that reports to the advanced industrial countries, has just issued the latest of its biennial Energy Technology Perspectives, saying the world's present course is not sustainable. If current trends continues, we'll be consuming 70 percent more oil and generating 130 percent greater carbon dioxide emissions in 2050 than we are now. To get emissions back to present-day levels or lower by 2050 will require a necessary but achievable revolution in global energy technology, IEA director Nobuo Tanaka said last week.
The IEA report evaluates three scenarios and broadly confirms the controversial conclusions reached by Britain's Stern Review last year. Getting CO2 emissions back to present levels by 2050 would require that a price of $50 per ton be put on carbon emissions, and reducing them by 50 percent would imply a price of $200/t. Achieving the 50 percent reduction target would require a total of $45 trillion in new energy investments, equivalent to roughly 1.1 percent of average annual GDP during the next four decades.
The Stern Review found that to keep carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere no more than twice as high as they were before the industrial revolution began, emissions levels would have to be about 25 percent lower in 2050 than they are now. Attaining that goal--which Stern would pay for itself in terms of damages avoided and risks averted--would cost about 1 percent of global GDP per year.
To achieve a 50 percent emissions cut by 2050, the IEA says the world each year would have to outfit 35 coal and 20 natural gas generating plants to capture carbon, at a cost of $1.5 billion each. It would have to build 32 new nuclear power plants and 17,500 wind turbines each year. The whole transportation sector would have to become more efficient by a factor of eight.
To achieve the 25 percent reduction needed to stabilize carbon levels at twice pre-industrial, the Stern Review said that the power sector would have to become 60-75 percent carbon-free. Exactly as the IEA now says, Stern said, "Deep cuts in the transport sector are likely to be more difficult in the shorter term, but will ultimately be needed."