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IEA calls for $10 trillion to be spent on renewables, nuke energy to stave off climate change

Oct 6, 2009 - Michael Casey - The Associated Press

BANGKOK - The International Energy Agency said Tuesday that a $10 trillion investment in renewable energy, biofuels and nuclear power over the next 20 years is necessary in order to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions.

The Paris-based agency, which serves as a policy adviser on energy issues to 28 industrialized countries, warned that if governments failed to commit to an investment capable of remaking the energy sector, greenhouse gas emissions would more than double above safe levels in the "longer term." The energy sector - which includes the oil, gas and coal used to power industry and fuel vehicles - represents 85 per cent of all global carbon dioxide emissions.

But the organization said if the money were poured into the right technology, leaders would succeed in preventing temperatures from rising 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial levels - the threshold at which most scientists say serious climate change will ensue.

The IEA recommends that most of the spending until 2020 go into increasing energy efficiency, renewable energy and biofuels. In the following decade, more should be directed into nuclear power and the largely untested scheme of capturing carbon dioxide produced from burning coal and storing it underground, known as carbon capture and sequestration.

The IEA plan calls for 33 per cent of energy to come from renewables, including nuclear power, by 2030 - about triple today's 18 per cent. That would mean constructing 18 nuclear reactors and 17,000 windmills ever year. About 60 per cent of vehicles worldwide would have to be either hybrid or electric.

"The message is simple and stark: If the world continues on the basis of today's energy and climate policies, the consequences of climate change will be severe," said IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka, noting that under the agency's plan, fossil fuel usage would peak by 2020 and emissions would be capped at 6 per cent above 2007 levels.

"Energy is at the heart of the problem - and so must form the core of the solution," he said.

The report was presented on the sidelines of the U.N. climate talks where negotiators are working feverishly to craft a new climate pact that would replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. World leaders are hoping to forge a new deal in December in Copenhagen.

But negotiators from industrialized countries have yet to commit to any budget to finance clean technology and the other measures needed to move to a low-carbon economy. They also haven't agreed to the deep emissions cuts that the IEA plan endorses.

The agency said three-quarters of its plan should be financed by industrialized countries and more than 40 per cent of the money would be spent in poor countries, mostly in world's top emitter, China, which IEA estimates could account for about a third of global emission reductions by 2020.

The plan would require, among other things, "a major revolution on the car manufactures side, a big task," IEA Chief Economist Fatih Biroh said. "They will change their business plans if they get a signal from Copenhagen. They will not change themselves."

Most delegates and environmentalists Tuesday welcomed the IEA report as a reminder that negotiators need to put aside their differences and come to an agreement on the core issues.

"The IEA clearly states that the world needs a binding international climate agreement. The longer we postpone action, the more expensive it will be," Danish Climate and Energy Minister Connie Hedegaard said in a statement. "That is why the world needs to act now."