Energy must be at the core of a COP21 accord, or else climate effort risks failure

9 December 2015

IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol (left) at the press conference at COP21 with IEA Sustainable Energy Policy and Technology Director Kamel Ben Naceur. Photo by George Kamiya

The International Energy Agency has reiterated how important energy is to any accord delegates reach at the UN climate talks in Paris, particularly to break the long link between economic growth and rising greenhouse gas emissions.

“Any agreement in Paris must have energy at its core – otherwise it risks to be a failure,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said at a press conference on 9 December, the day after he challenged the plenary session of the negotiations to elevate energy from the leading cause of climate change to the leading solution.

Speaking after a new study in Nature magazine reinforced the IEA preliminary finding early this year that energy-related carbon dioxide emissions may not have increased in 2014 despite economic expansion, Dr. Birol said, “We expect Paris to signal a happy divorce between economic growth and emissions' increases.”

In its four key messages for the talks, the IEA has urged delegates to focus on putting the energy sector on a course to a low-carbon future, a call Dr. Birol echoed at both the press conference and the plenary session.

“COP21  is a critical and necessary step in ongoing and increasing global efforts to decarbonise the energy sector and limit global warming,” he told the press conference, adding, “It will be a historic mistake to lessen energy efficiency’s and renewable energy’s support as the price of fossil fuels declines.”

Dr. Birol emphasised the need for an accord to set a long-term goal on collective greenhouse gas emissions: “This will be essential for providing a clear signal to investors that the future lies in a low-carbon energy system.” And after COP21, progress must be re-examined before 2020 to find ways more can be done, particularly through use of new energy technologies. “This is where the IEA can play an important role,” he said, given the Agency’s more than 40 years of experience, particularly in assisting multilateral technology collaboration in energy innovation.

Finally, Dr. Birol noted that more than 1.3 billion people still lack access to modern energy, further reason to pursue clean-energy technologies so they too can enjoy economic development without raising global temperatures. 

On 10 December at COP21, Dr. Birol gave the opening speech before a capacity crowd at the IEA Big Energy Debates event as well as at the IEA-hosted Accelerating Innovation through Energy Technology Collaboration discussion. Among many other appearances by IEA experts that day, Energy Efficiency and Environment Division Head Phillipe Benoit gave the keynote address at a side event on key technologies to hold global warming to 2 degrees that was co-hosted by the Grantham Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London.

On Friday, the IEA was hosting the session Using Data to Track the Energy Transition, which included the launch of a brochure with the latest IEA energy and emissions data and trends for 11 world regions.