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IEA: CO2 emissions falling, Copenhagen still crucial

Global GHG emissions could fall by 3% this year, but $3 trillion still required to tackle climate change

By Tom Nicholls

The recession has created an opportunity to stabilise greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions at a level that could prevent dangerous climate change, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). But the implementation of greener energy policies and the success of the UN climate-change process remain vital, says executive director Nobuo Tanaka.

The financial crisis has deferred investment in polluting technologies, the IEA says in a special early excerpt from its World Energy Outlook 2009 publication. As a result, CO2 emissions could fall in 2009 by as much as 3% – a steeper decline than at any time in the last 40 years.

With the right policies in place, this could put the world on course to stabilise GHG emissions at 450 parts per million (ppm) of CO2-equivalent; this would be consistent with an increase in global temperature of around 2°C, the point at which the more severe effects of climate change are generally expected to kick in.

This would result in emissions in 2020 being 5% lower than the IEA predicted just 12 months ago and "gives us a chance to make real progress towards a clean-energy future", Tanaka says. But he adds that if the world continues with today's energy and climate policies, the consequences of climate change will be severe – and that the success of December's UN climate-change meeting in Copenhagen in establishing policies to curb climate change is "crucial".

In the IEA's 450 ppm projection, the use of fossil fuels is expected peak before 2020, with energy-related CO2 emissions rising by just 6% between 2007 and 2020.

But to meet this ambitious target, incremental energy-sector investment of $10 trillion will be necessary between 2010 and 2030 – equivalent to 0.5% of forecast global GDP in 2020 and 1.1% of GDP in 2030.

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