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Global shift to clean energy means fossil fuel demand will peak soon, IEA says

Wind turbines turn behind a solar farm in Rapshagen, Germany in 2021. The International Energy Agency projects demand for fossil fuels will peak before 2030 as renewable energy continues to grow.
Michael Sohn
Wind turbines turn behind a solar farm in Rapshagen, Germany in 2021. The International Energy Agency projects demand for fossil fuels will peak before 2030 as renewable energy continues to grow.

Demand for climate-warming fuels like coal, oil and natural gas will likely peak before 2030, evidence of the accelerating global shift to energy that doesn't emit greenhouse gasses, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA)'s World Energy Outlook.

"The transition to clean energy is happening worldwide and it's unstoppable. It's not a question of 'if', it's just a matter of 'how soon' – and the sooner the better for all of us," said Fatih Birol, IEA executive director, in a statement. The agency represents countries that make up more than 80% of global energy consumption.

The annual IEA report estimates that in 2030 there will be 10 times as many electric vehicles on the road worldwide and 50% of the cars sold in the United States will be electric. The agency says solar panels installed across the globe will generate more electricity at the end of the decade than the U.S. power system produces now. And the report projects that renewable energy will supply 50% of the world's electricity needs, up from about 30% now.

But the report warns the pace of the transition will have to quicken considerably in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, and avoid some of the worst case scenarios in a changing climate.

The IEA's outlook lays out a strategy for meeting that goal that includes tripling renewable energy, doubling energy efficiency measures and slashing methane emissions from fossil fuel operations by 75% by 2030. Methane has more than 25 times the climate-warming potential of carbon dioxide, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Climate and anti-fossil fuel groups say the IEA's methane strategy should be even more aggressive.

"The only way out of climate disaster is for oil and gas to peak immediately and decline rapidly," says Kelly Trout, research director at Oil Change International. "This year's World Energy Outlook underscores that we can't solve the climate crisis by adding renewable energy on top of new fossil fuels."

Still, the IEA says an "unprecedented surge" in new natural gas export projects, including those in the U.S., are part of its projections. The agency says that will ease price and gas supply concerns traced to Russia's decision to cut gas supplies to Europe after its invasion of Ukraine.

Geopolitics is introducing more uncertainty into IEA projections. Fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza is cited in the report. While relatively little oil and gas is produced in the areas involved, Middle East tensions tend to create more uncertainty in global oil markets. The IEA says that's on top of higher inflation and interest rates that raise costs for energy developers.

"Every country needs to find its own pathway, but international cooperation is crucial for accelerating clean energy transitions," Birol says. "In particular, the speed at which emissions decline will hinge in large part on our ability to finance sustainable solutions to meet rising energy demand from the world's fast growing economies."

That will be among the key topics as countries prepare to meet for the annual United Nations climate summit in Dubai from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.
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