While the Abbott government continues to ignore the role of clean energy in Australia’s emissions abatement task, a new report from the International Energy Agency has named renewables as one of the key ingredients to meeting climate mitigation goals, and called on governments to set policies accordingly.
The IEA’s Energy Technology Perspectives 2015 report, released on Tuesday, says that renewable energy, alongside energy efficiency, will account for nearly 75 per cent of all emissions abatement in the global effort to limit warming to 2°C – the number science agrees will limit irreversible, dangerous climate change.
In particular, it says, energy technology innovation will be central to meeting climate goals, while also supporting economic and energy security objectives; with wind and solar, alone, potentially providing 22 per cent of annual electricity sector emissions reduction in 2050 under the 2°C scenario. (Nuclear, it says, would account for only 8 per cent of reductions.)
The IEA names 2015 as a turning point in global climate change action, where the need to move quickly to mitigate global warming collides with the need to capture the benefits of a global energy transition – making it a top policy priority.
“Ultimately, deploying proven, cost-effective technologies is what will make the energy system transformation possible,” the report says.
“Continued dependence on fossil fuels and recent trends such as unexpected energy market fluctuations reinforce the role of governments, individually and collectively, to stimulate targeted action to ensure that resources are optimally aligned to accelerate progress.
“Establishing policy and market frameworks that support innovation and build investor confidence over the long term is a first-order task to deliver.”
That last sentence seems particularly pertinent to Australia, in light of the protracted policy stalemate over the nation’s Renewable Energy Target and the apparent reluctance of the Abbott government to bring it to an end.
In effect, the Coalition has achieved the total opposite of what the IEA describes as a “first order task”: a 90 per cent drop in investment in Australia’s large-scale renewables sector over the last 12 months, and a nobbling of innovation and development.
Furthermore, as Opposition climate spokesman Mark Butler reminded us on ABC’s Q&A on Monday night, the Abbott government has also failed to agree to the basic tenet that we need to limit global warming to 2°C, instead gearing its policies and projections to a 4°C scenario.
Indeed, in reading the IEA report you can see why this number appeals to Abbott – and fits with his plans for digging up, exporting and burning all of Australia’s coal.
As the report notes, under a 4°C scenario, fossil fuel remains dominant in primary energy use in 2050 – coal use rises by almost 25 per cent. Under the 2°C scenario, however, fossil fuel use falls to below 2012 levels, taking coal with it.
And of course, a decline in coal-fired power generation is what needs to happen if the world is to meet its carbon budget, says the report.
“Given the long technical lifetime of power generation technologies, avoiding lock-in of carbon-intensive technologies is critical,” it says.
“From the coal power plants currently operating or under construction, some 1000GW of coal capacity could still operate in 2050 and emit around 3.5GtCO2 annually – a volume more than double the allotted power sector emissions of 1.5GtCO2 in the 2DS.
“This illustrates that early retirement of coal capacity or retrofits with CCS are unavoidable.”