"All countries must take vigorous, immediate and collective action to curb runaway energy demand. The next ten years will be crucial for all countries... We need to act now to bring about a radical shift in investment in favor of cleaner, more efficient and more secure energy technologies."
~Nobuo Tanaka, head of the International Energy Agency (IEA)
The head of GM, Rick Wagoner, says there is 'now an irrefutable business case' for producing green cars. Mr Wagoner told the BBC that in future, all cars would have to be flexible enough to run on biofuels, hydrogen derived from electric power, or batteries which plugged into the electricity power grid. He warned that with the growth of demand for cars soaring in developing countries, it would not be long before the world ran out of petrol - at least at a price that car drivers could afford.
The International Energy Agency has suggested that only a massive and immediate investment in sustainable energy can prevent a global crisis. At the agency's annual World Energy Outlook a major theme was the "alarming" growth in worldwide energy needs. According to the IEA, this rampant growth may be threatening energy security, accelerating global climate change and will possibly bring worldwide shortages and conflicts within a single generation.
It's an unusually pessimistic proclamation coming from the agency that has long asserted that oil production, with trillions of dollars of investment, could continue to meet rising energy needs. But the explosive growth of China and India has changed all of the predictions, which now make it clear that we must move decisively beyond fossil fuels if we want to divert a global crisis.
Within three years the burgeoning economies of China will surpass the U.S. to become the world's leading energy user. China and India have inalterably changed the global energy landscape, making them the focus of the 675-page report released last week.
China's energy needs are estimated to grow 5.1 percent annually through 2015. Fuel needs will quadruple by 2030 as China's vehicle fleet approaches 270 million. China also will need an extra 1,300 gigawatts of electricity, an amount equal to what the United States currently produces.
The projections for India are also staggering. But the IEA makes a fair point of saying the two nations' growth has improved the quality of life for two billion people and therefore "must be accommodated and supported." Even so, "the consequences of unfettered growth in global energy demand are alarming for all countries."
That demand is expected to more than double by 2030, with China and India accounting for almost half the growth, the IEA says. Fossil fuels will remain the leading source of energy, providing 84 percent of the world's needs, and oil will continue to dominate the picture as daily demand rises from 85 million barrels today to 116 million in 2030.
The IEA says we've got enough oil to make it to 2030 even if we don't do anything to change course, but at what cost? Even if the oil sands in such places as Canada and in the US are able to push back the timeline, the environmental impact of such growth could be devastating. Without sweeping changes, the report states, carbon dioxide emissions will rise 57 percent to 42 gigatons by 2030. Even under the very best case-scenario, which assumes that all of the various proposals by industrialized nations to reduce emissions all come to pass, emissions will still climb 25 percent.
China and India will account for two-thirds of the increase, and even under the best circumstances any meaningful effort to cut emissions below current levels will require "exceptionally quick and vigorous policy actions by all countires, and unprecedented technological advances, entailing substantial costs," the report states.
So what can we do? The IEA doesn't offer a whole lot of solutions beyond saying improving energy efficiency - of everything, from automobiles to refrigerators - will be the quickest and cheapest way to begin curbing energy demand and carbon emissions. Clearly that won't be enough, and the IEA makes that point clear when it says we must explore every option and "a substantial increase is called for in public and private funding for energy technology research, development and demonstration."
The U.S. could shift much of its economy from oil to clean, renewable technologies within a decade for about what we spent in today's dollars to put a man on the moon, and for much less that what we are currently spending in Iraq on what is half-jokingly being referred to as Operation Iraqi Liberation (OIL).
Newer technologies like hydrogen and solar are not without hurdles, but because they are engineering issues (rather than scientific ones) they can be overcome with enough money. Wind, wave, geothermal power and cellulosic ethanol, to name only a few, are all worth further exploration. Almost any option grows more attractive and realistic as the price of oil creeps to $100 a barrel. Any reasonable alternative to oil should be pursued. Market forces and other factors will inevitably sort out which options are the most feasible over the long haul.
The IEA advises "we do not have the luxury of ruling out any of the options for moving the global energy system onto a more sustainable path." In other words, the time to get serious about developing and supporting clean, sustainable energy is NOW.
Posted by Rebecca Sato
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