Limiting the long-term increase of global temperature to 2° Celsius is still possible

17 August 2012

Copyright: GraphicObsession. Glacier ice.

Attaining the international goal of limiting the long-term increase of global temperature to 2° Celsius is still possible despite the world not being on track, the IEA Executive Director said on the first day of her official visit to Canada.

Energy use and carbon dioxide emissions are set to increase by a third by 2020 and almost double by 2050 under the current energy policies in place throughout the world, she warned industry representatives at the Toronto Board of Trade on 13 August.

Ms van der Hoeven, who earlier in the day had met with the Canadian Minister of Natural Resources, The Hon. Joe Oliver, cited Energy Technology Perspectives 2012 – the IEA’s flagship energy technology publication – in which technologies are divided into three groups to test their present performance. She explained that some are on track, notably mature renewable technologies like hydro, biomass, onshore wind and solar photovoltaic, and some require more effort, such as electric vehicles and industrial energy efficiency. However, the majority are currently off track, including nuclear power and carbon capture and storage (CCS).

“Let’s not be discouraged,” she said. “While ambitious, a clean energy transition is still possible. But action in all sectors is necessary to reach our climate targets.”


Ms. van der Hoeven offered four key recommendations to move towards a more sustainable energy future. First, she stressed that energy prices need to reflect the true cost of energy. “That means pricing carbon and abolishing fossil fuel subsidies – subsidies which in 2011 were almost seven times higher than support for renewables,” she said.

The IEA Executive Director added that governments can unlock the potential of energy efficiency by adopting the IEA’s 25 energy efficiency policy recommendations.

In addition, she noted that energy innovation and public support for research, development and demonstration must be accelerated to encourage private sector investment and more widespread commercial use.

Finally, Ms van der Hoeven said that while natural gas can provide a crucial bridge to low-carbon technologies going forward, in order to maintain the viability of the unconventional gas revolution, ‘Golden Rules’ must be implemented to address public concerns while maintaining a healthy investment climate. The Golden Rules, outlined by the IEA in May 2012, underline the importance of full transparency, measuring and monitoring of environmental impacts and engagement with local communities; careful choice of drilling sites and measures to prevent any leaks from wells into nearby aquifers; rigorous assessment and monitoring of water requirements and of waste water; measures to target zero venting and minimal flaring of gas; and improved project planning and regulatory control.

Oil sands

The day after her speech in Toronto, Ms van der Hoeven went to Fort McMurray to visit the oil sands, which comprise more than 97% of Canada’s 174 billion barrels of proven oil reserves.

During her visit to the oil sands, the IEA Executive Director saw the sheer magnitude of the mining and in situ operation. Ms. Van der Hoeven observed the Waipisiw area, which was the first mine reclaimed, and the transition that is underway to make mining and upgrading a more sustainable process. She had opportunities to hear about initiatives that foster co-operation amongst companies, through initiatives like Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) and with universities, that can bring fundamental step-changes to the efficiency, sustainability, and social acceptability of oil sands production.

Ms. van der Hoeven then flew to Calgary where she met with Alberta’s Minister of Energy, Ken Hughes, before participating in an Energy Roundtable with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. She heard from participants at the roundtable about the technical and environmental challenges that the oil and gas industry face in developing Canada’s hydrocarbon resources.

The Executive Director concluded her visit to Canada with a speech at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce on 15 August where she presented the IEA’s report on the Golden Rules that are needed in order to usher in a golden age of natural gas.