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IEA Chief: World Faces 'Race Against Time'

Copyright © 2021 Energy Intelligence Group
Norway Equinor

Time is running out for humanity to slash carbon emissions and avoid devastating climate change, the head of the International Energy Agency (IEA) told the Energy Intelligence Forum on Monday.

IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol told the Forum that the world has a very narrow path to get to net-zero emissions by 2050 and is running a "race against time."

The net-zero goal can only be attained if governments adopt policies to reduce demand for coal, oil and natural gas, and if investors provide capital to develop new energy technologies, Birol said.

Countries are currently falling far short, he said, when it comes to implementing the measures needed to attain the net-zero target.

"The next 10 years are critical," Birol said. The world must move swiftly to expand low-carbon power generation, develop hydrogen as a source of energy, invest heavily in carbon capture and storage, and scale back consumption of fossil fuels, he added.

No Rose Garden

He urged participants in the UN Climate Change Conference at Glasgow in November to send an "unmistakable signal" to international investors that they are committed to taking the steps needed to ensure that our planet remains livable.

But even if nations agree to take the right steps, the energy transition will be difficult, Birol warned. "It will not be a smooth, easy way, it will not be a rose garden," he said.

The IEA chief defended the net-zero scenario laid out in a report published by the agency in May: Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector.

The report argued that the world already has enough discovered fossil fuel resources under its net-zero pathway and that no further investment would be needed in exploration.

Nevertheless, Birol said that large investments would still be needed in existing oil and gas fields to maintain adequate energy supplies while also reducing carbon emissions.

The report, Birol explained, sought to quantify what a net-zero commitment by large countries such as the US, China and Japan would mean for the global energy industry.

Renewables Not to Blame

Following publication of the report, “many governments around the world asked us to support them to build their own carbon roadmaps," he said.

Birol also predicted that some large oil-producing countries would soon commit to net-zero emissions by 2050 to help limit global warming to 1.5°C.

Back in May, the IEA's net-zero report drew criticism from some oil-producing countries.

Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman described it as "irresponsible" and "condescending" and also likened it to a Hollywood fantasy.

But Birol said "no country will be immune to the energy transition. It is coming. Producers need to diversify their economies."

The IEA chief also told the Forum that the recent volatility in traditional energy markets has little to do with the pursuit of low-carbon alternatives.

The weather and the strong economic recovery after last year's downturn are the key drivers of the choppiness seen in recent months, especially in the gas market, he said.

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