O.E.C.D. Warns of Ever-Higher Greenhouse Gas Emissions

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O.E.C.D. Warns of Ever-Higher Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Published: March 15, 2012

LONDON — Global greenhouse gas emissions could rise 50 percent by 2050 without more ambitious climate policies, as fossil fuels continue to dominate the energy mix, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Thursday.

“Unless the global energy mix changes, fossil fuels will supply about 85 percent of energy demand in 2050, implying a 50 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions and worsening urban air pollution,” the Paris-based O.E.C.D. said in its environment outlook to 2050 .

The global economy in 2050 will be four times larger than today and the world will use around 80 percent more energy. But the global energy mix is not predicted to be very different from that of today, the report said.

Fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas will make up 85 percent of energy sources. Renewables, including biofuels, are forecast to make up 10 percent and nuclear the rest.

Because of such dependence on fossil fuels, carbon dioxide emissions from energy use are expected to grow by 70 percent, the O.E.C.D. said, which will help drive up the global average temperature by 3 to 6 degrees Celsius by 2100 — exceeding the warming limit of within 2 degrees agreed to by international bodies.

Global carbon dioxide emissions from energy reached an all-time high of 30.6 gigatons in 2010 despite the economic downturn, which reduced industrial production.

The financial cost of taking no further climate action could result in up to a 14 percent loss in world per capita consumption by 2050, according to some estimates.

Human costs would also be high as premature deaths from pollution exposure could double to 3.6 million a year, the O.E.C.D. said.

Demand for water could rise by 55 percent, increasing competition for supplies and resulting in 40 percent of the global population living in water-stressed areas, while the number of plant and animal species could decline by a further 10 percent, according to the report.

To prevent the worst effects of global warming, the report said, international climate action should start in 2013, a global carbon market be set up, the energy sector transformed to low-carbon and all low-cost advanced technologies should be explored, including biomass energy and carbon capture.

A new international climate deal might not come into force until 2020, however, and carbon markets might not be linked until then, making it more difficult to meet the 2 degree limit and requiring very rapid rates of emissions cuts after 2020 to catch up.

Current international pledges to cut emissions fall short of what is required to limit temperature rises to safe levels, so decisive action at the national level is needed, the O.E.C.D. said.

Putting a clear and long-term price on carbon emissions through market-based mechanisms such as emissions trading programs or carbon taxes will encourage investment in low-carbon technologies, the report said.

The cheapest policy response to climate change would be to set a global carbon price, which would require linking various national and regional emissions trading programs. Scrapping inefficient fossil fuel subsidies would also encourage energy efficiency and renewables growth — increasing global real income by 0.3 percent in 2050, the report said.