Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director and one of the world’s foremost energy economists, told the Guardian: “If governments are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now – from this year.”
He said strong new policies were needed from governments around the world: “More and more countries are coming up with net zero commitments, which is very good, but I see a huge and growing gap between the rhetoric [from governments] and the reality...If governments are planning investments, it is up to them. But if governments make commitments to net zero emissions, they should see what the implications are.”
It's strongest warning yet on the need to drastically scale back fossil fuels.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) also called for no new fossil-fuel cars to be sold beyond 2035, and for global investment in energy to more than double from $2tn (£1.42tn) a year to $5tn (£3.54tn.
Few governments intend to halt fossil-fuel exploration. The UK is licensing new oil and gas fields in the North Sea, China is building coal-fired power plants, and oil companies are still investing in new output.
Pledges made by governments in the run-up to the Cop26 UN climate talks, due to be held in Glasgow this November, are also inadequate and need to be strengthened if the world is to limit temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, he said.
Birol made it clear that the technology needed to reach net zero is neither blue-sky nor futuristic. He said: “These technologies are already invented, but not yet in full development. Innovation is critical, but the technologies are here with us.”
The crucial new technologies in development are: advanced batteries, particularly for use in electric vehicles; hydrogen; and carbon capture. These will be needed because some sectors are especially hard to decarbonise, such as steel and cement manufacturing, aviation and shipping, and those using heavy-duty road vehicles. Birol said that most of the rest of the global economy could be decarbonised using economical technologies that are already in widespread use, such as wind and solar power.
The IEA has set out 400 milestones for governments to reach, including the phasing out of new fossil-fuel cars from 2035 and the decarbonisation of global electricity generation by 2040. Its analysis also took into account a global population rise of about 2 billion people, as well as the need to supply electricity to 785 million people who do not have access to it, and clean cooking to the 2.6 billion people who currently lack it. Doing so would cost about $40bn a year, or 1% of global annual energy sector investment, and would cut premature deaths from indoor air pollution by about 2.5m a year.