Wednesday, November 11, 2009

IEA calls for global push to end energy poverty

Rich countries are being urged to sign up to a Make Poverty History-style pledge at the climate change summit at Copenhagen next month to bring electricity to the 1.5 billion people in the world without it.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) is working with the United Nations and the World Bank on a project to electrify millions of homes and villages in Africa and south Asia.

The energy watchdog's chief economist, Fatih Birol, told the Guardian the west was ignoring the issue of energy poverty in developing countries. The IEA also predicted that without international action by governments, there would still be 1.3 billion people – or 16% of the world's population – with no access to electricity in their homes or villages by 2030.

Energy firms have no incentive to build power plants or connect remote areas to the grid if people are too poor to pay the bills. "It's not likely to happen unless there's a major international concerted effort by rich countries," Birol said. "We will start to push it on to the main agenda at Copenhagen."

Birol will appeal for international support on the issue ahead of the Copenhagen summit when he delivers a speech at the UN in New York on 23 November.

today, the IEA outlined its annual World Energy Outlook, which forecasts that global oil supplies could increase by more than a fifth from just under 85m barrels a day last year to 105m by 2030.

The Guardian revealed on the eve of the report's publication that senior figures within the organisation disagreed with its forecast, believing that it would be impossible for the world to maintain oil supplies even at 90m-95m barrels. They claim that the IEA, under pressure from the US and to prevent panic on global stock markets, is deliberately exaggerating the level of accessible new supplies of oil.

The IEA responded today by publishing on its website a key chapter from last year's outlook report detailing how it estimates the decline in the rate of production from the world's largest oilfields. The information is normally only available to those who buy the entire report for €150 (£134). The agency, which dismissed the Guardian's report as "groundless", said it wanted to show the public that its research was independent. Birol said: "We are very proud of our analysis and independence. We have a lot of critics. It's not possible to make everyone happy."

The IEA's forecast of global oil supplies hitting 105m barrels in 2030 represents its "doomsday" scenario, which, it said, would result in catastrophic global warming and energy supplies becoming increasingly vulnerable to terrorists or accidents. This is based on Copenhagen failing to reach a deal that ensures a higher carbon price, which would make the consumption of fossil fuels such as oil and coal more expensive and encourage the use of low-carbon forms of energy such as renewables and nuclear instead.

This business-as-usual scenario would leave the west even more dependent on oil from the Middle East, it said. Emissions would soar by more than a third from 2007 levels and global temperatures rise by up to 6C over the next two decades.

Birol said: "The reason why we showed it is to say this is the way that we are going and we should not go there otherwise there will be an accident in terms of climate change and energy security. We do not want it to happen."

The IEA, set up to advise its 28 member countries, said that the alternative scenario would see oil consumption only increase slightly between now and 2030. This is based on countries agreeing at Copenhagen to stabilise the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to 450 parts per million. This would give the world a 50% chance of limiting temperature increases to 2C, it said.

Birol admitted that there was "lots of resistance" to such a "450 scenario", particularly among Opec nations which stand to lose trillions of dollars in revenue from lower consumption of oil and gas. But he said the global economic downturn provided a "window of opportunity" for the world to take tough action. Many companies and countries had shelved investment in power plants because of the fall in energy demand. "But in the absence of a signal from Copenhagen, in 2010, or 2011, they will be built," he warned. "If a coal plant is built, it will emit for 50 years."

He added that last summer's record $147 a barrel oil price had "traumatised" many developing countries into looking for less volatile and costly forms of energy. Birol said oil prices, which had since fallen back to about $80, would continue to be volatile and would rise over the long term.

No comments: