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No Magic Bullet For Carbon Pollution Says IEA

File photo: Smog and pollution covering Mexico city.
by Staff Writers
Nairobi (AFP) Nov 14, 2006
The world's economies have no alternative to boosting energy efficiency and lowering carbon emissions to tackle global warming, as clean energy lies decades away as a mainstream source, the head of the International Energy Agency (IEA) said here on Tuesday.

Claude Mandil, executive director of the Paris-based agency, issued what he called "a message of urgency" on the eve of a three-day meeting in Nairobi of the world's environment ministers, tasked with charting the next steps in the fight against climate change.

"With current policies, our energy future is insecure and environmentally unsustainable," Mandil told a press conference. "We can't wait for a decade to make sure technology will solve the problem," he warned. "We are not on a sustainable track."

Mandil noted that emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal greenhouse gas, had risen by 1.2 billion tonnes between 2003 and 2004, with coal accounting for 60 percent of the higher-than-expected increase.

The rise is mainly due to fast-growing developing countries like China, which are burning more and more coal to feed their voracious economies.

Fossil fuels have such a grip on the world's energy market that cleaner, renwable technologies such as wind, solar and tidal power will remain minority sources of power for decades to come, added Mandil.

According to the IAE's forecast for 2030, oil will remain the No. 1 energy source, followed by coal and then gas. These fossil fuels will still account for 85 percent of needs.

That scenario is unsustainable in terms of environmental damage as well as in geopolitical risk, as more user countries will be chasing oil sourced from fewer producers, said Mandil.

Mandil suggested countries take urgent steps to provide consumers with information about energy consumption by buildings, appliances and cars and scrap fiscal incentives and subsidies that encourage wasteful energy use, such as as tax breaks for car use.

In electric lighting alone, which uses 19 percent of global electricity production, energy needs could be slashed by 38 percent in the least-cost technologies were adopted but at no loss of service to consumers.

Estimated from 2008 to 2030, 16 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions would be stopped this way.

Mandil also argued in favour of innovation. The energy market had to price in the security risk of fossil fuels, and there should be major investment in testing carbon storage for safety and effectiveness, he said.

Carbon storage entails drawing off CO2 from fossil-fuel power stations. Instead of letting the CO2 escape into the atmosphere, it would be pumped into chambers deep underground.

Several pilot experiments are unfolding to see whether the technique is feasible. Critics worry that a rupture by an earthquake could cause the stored gas to belch into the atmosphere, adding to the greenhouse-gas problem.

The November 6-17 conference in Nairobi is taking place under the aegis of the UN Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the parent treaty of the Kyoto Protocol.

earlier related report
Technical Gains But No Political Breakthrough At Climate Talks
Nairobi (AFP) Nov 14 - Negotiators on Tuesday forged several technical deals on combatting climate change ahead of a three-day meeting of the world's environment ministers, but progress on tougher political problems remained elusive.

Delegates attending a marathon conference of the UN Convention on Climate Change struck a deal on how a fund to help poor countries adapt to global warming will be managed, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer said.

"It was very encouraging progress," de Boer said.

The so-called Adaptation Fund is a key innovation of the Kyoto Protocol, the landmark UN pact to curb greenhouse gases.

The Fund has already been launched but to date only has three million dollars, de Boer said.

Fuelled by voluntary contributions and by levies on one of Kyoto's mechanisms for carbon trading, the fund is widely expected to reach hundreds of millions or billions of dollars, although de Boer admitted its ultimate size "is very difficult to say."

Its goal is to provide finance to help vulnerable countries gain technology and expertise to cope with drought, rising sea levels or storms triggered by disruption to Earth's climate system.

Delegates also agreed on a five-year work programme to identify areas in rich and poor countries alike that could be vulnerable to climate change.

In addition, they agreed rules for defining which projects should be eligible under Kyoto's "Joint Implementation" (JI) initiative. JI is a scheme by which rich countries that transfer clean technology to former Soviet eastern European countries can gain carbon credits that they can trade or offset against their own emissions goal.

Agreement came ahead of a three-day conference by environment ministers or their stand-ins, due to be launched on Wednesday by UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan.

Despite these steps forward, several important questions related to the Adaptation Fund were postponed for debate until 2007, and the two biggest political problems still cast their shadow over the 189-nation talks in the Kenyan capital.

One is how to breathe life into talks on how to frame cuts in greenhouse gases when Kyoto runs out in 2012.

The European Union (EU) is hoping for signs from big developing countries such as Brazil, China and India, that post-2012 they will join industrialised countries under Kyoto in making targeted pledges to curb their emissions.

The other is how to coax the United States, the world's No. 1 carbon polluter, into stepping up cooperation with Kyoto countries on long-term reductions in greenhouse-gas discharges.

The United States, like Australia, has refused to ratify Kyoto, an absence that many experts say seriously weakened a treaty that took life only in February 2005 after years of bitter haggling.

Cutting carbon emissions carries an economic cost as it requires a shift in energy efficiency or towards clean technology. President George W. Bush says Kyoto's caps are too costly for the US economy, and developing countries argue that the global warming problem was caused first and foremost by rich countries, which thus should shoulder the burden.

British Environment Minister David Miliband on Tuesday urged Bush to use the final years of his term to join worldwide cuts on carbon pollution.

"It's essential that the United States is part of a global agreement to binding global carbon reductions," Miliband told reporters as he toured the Nairobi slum of Kibera.

"I can't think of a greater legacy for the last two years of the Bush presidency than to work on a bipartisan basis with Democrats as well as Republicans" for a deal to reduce emissions, he said.

Meanwhile, financial experts on Tuesday warned that climate change could so amplify the effect of weather disasters that droughts, storm surges and other natural catastrophes could cost as much as a trillion dollars in a single year by 2040.

"Most insurance and re-insurance companies have no doubt that the rising tide of losses from weather-related disasters is linked with climate change," said Thomas Loster of German reinsurance giant Munich Re.

"The possibility of a one-trillion-dollar-loss year is one scenario out of many, but whatever the precise figures the losses are already large and set to increase."

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Zanzibar, Tanzania (AFP) Nov 13, 2006
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