This is our chance to make 2019 the definitive peak in global emissions

Three prominent figures in the global energy and climate debate came to IEA headquarters in Paris last week to discuss the great challenge the world faces: how to meaningfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

I was delighted for the IEA to be the home of this important energy and climate discussion – and privileged to host high-profile representatives from the countries where the UN climate conference took place in 2018 and 2019, and where it will be held this year. Our distinguished speakers were Michał Kurtyka, Poland's Minister of Climate who served as President of COP24; Joan Groizard Payeras, Director-General of the Ministry for the Ecological Transition of Spain, which hosted COP25; and Kwasi Kwarteng, Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth for the United Kingdom, which holds the Presidency of COP26.

The discussions with these three COP hosts focused on how real-world energy solutions and ambitious policies can enable us to reach and even exceed international climate goals. The audience of ambassadors, business leaders, investors, energy experts and journalists included representatives from more than 40 countries. During the engaging conversation, the three guest speakers shared their experiences from recent COP meetings and their thoughts on how the energy sector can help COP26, which takes place in Glasgow in November, become a success.

The IEA announced some encouraging news the day before the event: According to the latest data, global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions stopped growing in 2019, even as the world economy expanded by 2.9%. This defied widespread expectations of another increase in emissions and gave grounds for optimism that the world can put emissions on a sustainable path without undermining economic growth.


Energy related CO2 emissions, 1990-2019

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The halt in global emissions growth last year was primarily the result of declining emissions from electricity generation in advanced economies, thanks to the expanding role of renewable sources, fuel switching from coal to natural gas, and higher nuclear power generation. This indicates clean energy transitions are underway in the United States, the European Union and elsewhere.

We now need to work hard to make sure that 2019 is remembered as a definitive peak in global emissions, not just another pause in growth. We have the energy technologies to do this – ambitious moves are required now to make use of them on a major scale.

I highlighted in a recent op-ed for CNN that this can be the decade when the world takes action to achieve a near-term peak in global emissions and put them into steep decline. This is a crucial step towards longer-term climate objectives and ensuring a secure and sustainable energy future for everyone.

Since energy is responsible for more than two-thirds of those emissions, the IEA – as the world’s energy authority – has a critical role to play to help accelerate this momentum.

We already strongly support the COP meetings and the wider process, with our data, analysis and expertise helping countries determine and implement their policy ambitions. The IEA is also at the forefront of efforts to advance clean energy transitions around the world while ensuring energy security and pursuing affordable access to energy for all. 

Energy is a good thing. It underpins the daily life and well-being of billions of people. We don’t have an energy problem; we have an emissions problem. We have to solve it – and we have to do so quickly.

The dialogue with our distinguished speakers in Paris last week underscored this point. The discussion also addressed the question of how to shift from climate dialogue to climate action – and how to ensure that climate action achieves effective results and is carried out in a credible way that is fair and just for all citizens.

Limiting the rise in global temperatures will require cool-headed debate and well-designed strategies for clean energy transitions. I believe the magnitude of our climate challenge calls for a grand coalition encompassing governments, investors, companies and everyone else who is genuinely committed to taking concrete measures to reduce global emissions. The discussion hosted by the IEA last week was an important step in building this grand coalition and bridging the gap between the energy and climate communities.

As part of this effort, the IEA is preparing a new special report that will look at short-term measures that can achieve rapid cuts in global emissions. The report – part of our flagship World Energy Outlook series – will identify immediate and high-impact actions that can quickly move the needle on emissions and that are also aligned with a long-term pathway for a secure and sustainable energy future.

The special report will be a key element informing deliberations at the upcoming IEA Clean Energy Transitions Summit on 9 July. Our hope is that this ministerial event will help bring about a successful outcome at COP26 in Glasgow – and decisive measures that significantly reduce emissions in the coming years.