Business and Society

IEA: ‘Progress towards clean energy has stalled’

April 17, 2013 | 3 min read

“The drive to clean up the world’s energy system has stalled,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven told the CEM, a global forum which promotes policies and programs that encourage and facilitate the transition to a global clean energy economy. The CEM brings together ministers representing countries responsible for four-fifths of global greenhouse-gas emissions. She said: “Despite much talk by world leaders, and despite a boom in renewable energy over the last decade, the average unit of energy produced today is basically as dirty as it was 20 years ago.”

To illustrate this inertia, the report, “Tracking Clean Energy Progress”, introduces the Energy Sector Carbon Intensity Index (ESCII), which shows how much carbon dioxide is emitted, on average, to provide a given unit of energy. The ESCII stood at 2.39 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of oil equivalent (tCO2/toe) in 1990, and had barely moved by 2010, holding at 2.37 tCO2/toe. “As world temperatures creep higher due to ever-increasing emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide — two thirds of which come from the energy sector — the overall lack of progress should serve as a wake-up call,” Maria van der Hoeven said. “We cannot afford another 20 years of listlessness. We need a rapid expansion in low-carbon energy technologies if we are to avoid a potentially catastrophic warming of the planet, but we must also accelerate the shift away from dirtier fossil fuels.”

Some positive signs

While noting that progress remains alarmingly slow for a majority of technologies that could save energy and reduce carbon dioxide emissions consistent with international climate goals, the IEA’s report did find some recent, positive signs. For instance, from 2011 to 2012, solar photovoltaic and wind technologies grew by an impressive 42% and 19%, respectively, despite ongoing economic and policy turbulence in the sector. Emerging economies are also stepping up efforts in clean energy. Brazil, China and India were among the countries that enhanced policy support for the renewable electricity sector in 2012, for example. Advanced vehicle technologies also progressed well, with hybrid-electric vehicles breaking the 1 million annual sales mark. Electric vehicle sales also more than doubled to reach 110 000 vehicles.

Shale gas’ footprint

Particularly in Europe, coal use has expanded, its share of the power generation mix increased at the expense of natural gas. In the United States, the revolution in shale gas technology has triggered a switch from coal to gas — which according to the IEA is important to reducing emissions in the short term. However, this does not take into account recent findings of studies which suggest that the footprint for shale gas is greater than that for conventional gas or oil when viewed on any time horizon, but particularly over a period of 20 years. Scientists from the U.S. Cornell University[1] warn that the large green house gas footprint of shale gas undercuts the logic of its use as a bridging fuel over coming decades, if the goal is to reduce global warming.

Set-back for EU carbon goals

On 16 April, the European Parliament voted against the European Commission's back-loading proposal for the auctioning of allowances in phase 3 of the EU ETS[2]The EC had proposed to postpone (back-load) the auctioning of 900 million EU ETS allowances from the years 2013-2015 to 2019-2020. This measure was supposed to raise the price of carbon and bring an incentive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The 'no' vote is a dangerous set-back for the internal energy market and for EU carbon goals, Secretary General Hans ten Berge of the electricity industry association Eurolectric stated in a reaction.

Ten Berge: “Immediate carbon market reactions to the vote show how low the credibility of the ETS has fallen. Only urgent action by the Commission to put forward structural proposals on ETS can now stop Member States from each legislating their own alternative policies: 27 different carbon floor prices, coal taxes, carbon taxes. Eurolectric remains convinced of the need to firmly establish the ETS as the main policy instrument for driving investment choice in CO2 reduction. An early revision of the ETS annual linear reduction factor in the region of 2.3%, in line with a firm, economy-wide 2030 CO2 reduction target, is the best means of achieving this objective."

IEA policy recommendations

Maria van der Hoeven emphasized the ongoing, significant potential of energy efficiency measures. She noted that while there has been progress in improving the fuel economy of passenger vehicles, a wide difference in standards among countries remains, and very few regions currently have comprehensive fuel economy measures in place. According to the IEA report, in a world that continues to rely heavily on fossil fuels, carbon capture and storage (CCS) deployment is ever more critical. While CCS technologies are mature in many applications, the report stresses that they are unlikely to be deployed commercially until governments make a strong commitment in the form of appropriate policy. The IEA gives policy recommendations, technology by technology. Maria van der Hoeven ends on a hopeful note: “The CEM governments represent 4.1 billion people and three-quarters of global GDP. Together, they have the power to set the clean energy transition in motion, and now it is time for them to use it.”


This article may be reproduced according to our terms of use with attribution (and link, if online) to To be cited as: “IEA: Progress towards clean energy has stalled”, Ingrid Ramaan,, April 17, 2013.

  1. See the website: Climate Impacts of Shale Gas Development, Howarth/Marino Lab,Cornell University, U.S.
  2. The EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS)

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IEA Report: Tracking Clean Energy Progress
International Energy Agency


Ingrid Ramaan
Administrative Editor FSinsight

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