The Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) was established in 1974, with a mandate to promote “sustainable energy policies that spur economic growth and environmental protection in a global context – particularly in terms of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions that contribute to climate change.” One of the IEA’s proposals for reducing GHG emissions appears to have influenced the commitments of the major developed and developing nations following Copenhagen. These proposals are contained in a late 2009 report of the IEA entitled “How the Energy Sector Can Deliver on a Climate Agreement in Copenhagen”.
The 2009 IEA report presented three key points. First, that both developed and developing nations had to participate in the GHG reduction process in a meaningful way, while respecting their “common but differentiated responsibilities”. Second, although creating a market price for carbon is important, an immediate and substantial investment in new energy technology is also critical. Third, stabilizing the level of emissions is a long-term objective, with targets for the year 2030 as important as targets for the year 2020, and both less important than targets for the year 2050.
Public opinion has focused on 2020 targets. This opinion of a respected NGO that 2020 is less important than 2050 may cause a change in public opinion towards the importance of 2020 as a target year. For those who believe that global warming is worsening, this de-emphasis is discouraging, as it may lead to complacency at the government level. However, the IEA is not downplaying the importance of 2020 targets, which are significant both in themselves and as a marker of the advance towards longer term progress.
The IEA projects that developed nations could achieve by 2030 the outcome that environmental activists desire in 2020, without compromising the long-term 2050 objective. By the implementation of mitigation measures, the IEA believes developed nations can generate a reduction from pre-recession (2007) emission levels by 2020 in the range of 17% (effectively the current North American target). If nations do undertake an immediate and substantial investment in clean technologies and clean energy supply, more reductions can occur during the 2020’s, With such investment 2030 GHG levels could be 40% less than 2007 levels (comparable to the pathway in the proposed US climate change legislation).
The IEA also calls on the major emitters in the developing world to commence immediately a complementary set of policies. Although many of these major emitters, e.g. China, India, Brazil, and Russia, are not members of the IEA, they were not against the IEA recommendations. Given their different circumstances, the IEA envisaged they will initially adopt carbon intensity – not absolute reduction – targets until 2020, when they would then join the nations of the developed world in a cap and trade system driving absolute reductions. The result would be emissions growth in these countries that would peak in 2020, with annual emissions declining throughout the 2020’s.
It can be seen that the January commitments of the major developed and developing countries essentially follow the IEA pathway. Developed nations will scrutinize the actions planned by China to reduce the carbon intensity of the Chinese economy to see if its dedication to reduction is more than lip service. For its part the Chinese Government has maintained that there will be progress, but at this stage of the evolution of China’s economy and infrastructure the targets must be voluntary.