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Warming Target of 1.5°C Still Viable Due to Clean Energy Surge, New Report Says

The International Energy Agency said global carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector “remain worryingly high.”

A wind turbine stands out in a field against dark clouds and the sun in Schleswig-Holstein, Klanxbüll, on July 23, 2023.

The International Energy Agency said Tuesday that the rapid acceleration of clean energy growth worldwide has kept the Paris climate accord’s critical 1.5°C warming target alive for now — but warned the continued burning of fossil fuels poses a dire threat to efforts to stave off the worst of the planetary crisis.

In a new report, the IEA noted that the adoption of clean energy technology has “surged at an unprecedented pace over the last two years,” with solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity additions growing by close to 50% and electric car sales rising by 240%.

“This progress reflects cost reductions for key clean energy technologies — solar PV, wind, heat pumps, and batteries — which fell by close to 80% on a deployment-weighted average basis between 2010 and 2022,” according to the IEA’s report.

Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, said in a statement that “the pathway to 1.5°C has narrowed in the past two years, but clean energy technologies are keeping it open.”

“With international momentum building behind key global targets such as tripling renewable capacity and doubling energy efficiency by 2030, which would together lead to a stronger decline in fossil fuel demand this decade, the COP28 climate summit in Dubai is a vital opportunity to commit to stronger ambition and implementation in the remaining years of this critical decade,” Birol added.

The IEA’s report comes on the heels of a record-hot summer that saw catastrophic extreme weather events across the globe — disasters that scientists say will increase in frequency and intensity if world leaders don’t take immediate action to phase out planet-warming fossil fuels.

The World Meteorological Organization warned in May that there’s a 66% chance that, over the next five years, global temperatures will rise beyond 1.5°C of warming above pre-industrial levels for at least a year.

In its new report, the IEA makes clear that despite some encouraging progress, nations — particularly the wealthy countries most responsible for fossil fuel emissions — aren’t doing nearly enough to curb their polluting activities and transition to renewable energy.

The report finds that global carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector “remain worryingly high,” hitting a new record last year. Additionally, the report observes that fossil fuel demand and investments in supply have increased, “spurred by the energy crisis of 2022 after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”

“The energy sector is changing faster than many people think, but much more needs to be done and time is short,” the IEA said Tuesday. “Momentum is coming not just from the push to meet climate targets but also from the increasingly strong economic case for clean energy, energy security imperatives, and the jobs and industrial opportunities that accompany the new energy economy. Yet, momentum must be accelerated to be in line with the 1.5°C goal and to ensure that the process of change works for everyone.”

If nations don’t rapidly scale up their climate ambitions, the IEA warned, keeping warming below 1.5°C by the end of the century would require “massive deployment” of unproven carbon removal technologies.

“This report reaffirms a stark truth: To limit global temperature rise as agreed upon internationally, there’s no room for new oil, gas, or coal fields,” Kelly Trout, research director of Oil Change International, said in a statement Tuesday. “The time for a swift, equitable, and fully funded phase-out of fossil fuels is now, with rich countries moving first and fastest and paying their fair share to finance a global just transition.”

“As countries prepare to make serious climate commitments at COP28,” Trout added, “they must take into account the unequivocal evidence that the shift away from fossil fuels must happen, and it must happen fast.”

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