“The world is locking itself into an unsustainable future.” That’s the headline on the press release for this year’s World Energy Outlook(WEO). This conclusion, coming from the sober, serious International Energy Agency (IEA), sure grabbed attention at a panel discussion I moderated here in Durban Monday.
In presenting the Outlook, Laura Cozzi, IEA’s Senior Economist, laid out the WEO’s three scenarios for the future. Two of them, the ‘Current Policies’ scenario — that is, business-as-usual — and the ‘New Policies’ one, that is, governments cautiously implement commitments already made — do not get us where we need to be by 2035. Only one of them does that, the third, so-called ‘450 Scenario’, which sets out an energy path consistent with a 50%-chance of holding global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius. Past and current choices have the world ‘locked into’ a high emissions path. Laura showed that the 450 scenario takes the world to a situation of ‘no carbon space left’ for new energy generation by 2017. At that point, either only zero-carbon new energy generation can go forward or, if not, for every power plant commissioned, an equivalent dirtier one will have to be shut down.
It provoked a lively discussion. Dr. Leena Srivastava, Executive Director of India’s Energy and Resources Institute, pointed out that the ‘lock-in’ is caused not just by current patterns of production, but also by lifestyles and patterns of consumption. This resonated with the other two panelists: Dr. Subho Banerjee, Deputy Secretary of the Australian government’s Climate Change and Energy Efficiency Department, as well as Dr. Lu Qiang, of Beijing’s Energy Research Institute, a think-tank under China's National Development and Reform Commission. They reminded the audience that policy must influence patterns of consumption along with energy generation.