The ‘stubborn incumbency’ of fossil fuels is leaving the world way off course to combat global heating, warned the International Energy Agency (IEA) as it issued a rallying call to governments ahead of the COP26 summit and called for spending on clean energy to triple.

The IEA highlighted the need for more ambitious action by governments by claiming that the pledges already announced will result in just 20% of the emissions reductions by 2030 need to keep the world on track for net zero by 2050. And the agency warned that event though oil demand will peak as soon as 2025, the projected rate of decline varies widely depending on policies pursued, while coal is actually enjoying a rebound that is pushing emissions upwards.

“The world’s hugely encouraging clean energy momentum is running up against the stubborn incumbency of fossil fuels in our energy systems,” said IEA executive director Fatih Birol. “Governments need to resolve this at COP26 by giving a clear and unmistakeable signal that they are committed to rapidly scaling up the clean and resilient technologies of the future. The social and economic benefits of accelerating clean energy transitions are huge, and the costs of inaction are immense.”

Birol warned that “volatility” in energy markets would remain an ongoing risk unless the energy transition accelerates. He slammed as a “gross mischaracterisation” suggestions that the green shift was to blame for the current energy crisis hitting markets around the world, saying it was the solution rather than the cause.

The IEA chief also said the gas industry “doesn't get good marks” from consumers for its role in the problems.

The IEA made the plea as it released its World Energy Outlook 2021 as a prelude to COP26 in Glasgow starting at the end of October, with three scenarios covering outcomes in 2050 based on policies implemented by governments.

The ‘Zero Emissions by 2050’ scenario, consistent with limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees C, requires a huge step-up in ambition but would also bring massive economic rewards, the IEA claimed.

“Reaching that [net zero path requires investment in clean energy projects and infrastructure to more than triple over the next decade. Some 70% of that additional spending needs to happen in emerging and developing economies, where financing is scarce and capital remains up to seven times more expensive than in advanced economies,” Birol said.

But alongside stabilised global temperatures, the 2050 prize would include “a market for wind turbines, solar panels, lithium-ion batteries, electrolysers and fuel cells of well over $1 trillion a year by 2050, comparable in size to the current oil market”.

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