Reflections on the urgency of the IEA preparing a new scenario that puts the Paris Agreement’s objectives at its centre

The latest IEA press releases suggest that Dr Birol, its Executive Director, has the attention of global decision-makers and business leaders. EiD congratulates the IEA and Dr Birol for this achievement. However, EiD, like 60 leaders from within the climate community, worries about the potential delayed climate action which might be triggered by the IEA advice to governments on their upcoming stimulus packages.

According to the IPCC 1.5°C report published in October 2018, “mitigation requirements can be quantified using carbon budget approaches that relate cumulative CO2 emissions to global mean temperature increase”. The remaining carbon budget is defined by the IPCC as the “remaining cumulative CO2 emissions from the start of 2018 until the time of net zero global emissions for global warming”.

The IPCC estimates the remaining carbon budget at about 420 GtCO2 for a two-thirds chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C. Based on this estimate of the remaining carbon budget, the IPCC 1.5°C report suggests four different pathways to avoid the announced climate outbreak:

  • The Low Energy Demand Scenario in “which social, business and technological innovations result in lower energy demand up to 2050 while living standards rise, especially in the global South. A downsized energy system enables rapid decarbonization of energy supply. Afforestation is the only CDR[1] option considered; neither fossil fuels with CCS[2] nor BECCS[3] are used.”
  • The Sustainability Scenario with ‘’a broad focus on sustainability including energy intensity, human development, economic convergence and international cooperation, as well as shifts towards sustainable and healthy consumption patterns, low-carbon technology innovation, and well-managed land systems with limited societal acceptability for BECCS.”
  • The Middle of the Road Scenario in ‘’which societal as well as technological development follows historical patterns. Emissions reductions are mainly achieved by changing the way in which energy and products are produced, and to a lesser degree by reductions in demand.”
  • The Fossil Fuel Development Scenario which is ‘’a resource- and energy-intensive scenario in which economic growth and globalization lead to widespread adoption of greenhouse-gas-intensive lifestyles, including high demand for transportation fuels and livestock products. Emissions reductions are mainly achieved through technological means, making strong use of CDR through the deployment of BECCS.”

Based on the descriptions above of the four IPCC pathways, it is obvious that the Low Energy Demand Scenario is the most transformative pathway never seen before and so needed now. It is my view that world leaders should design their coronavirus crisis economic recovery packages on this scenario, or to some extent on the combination of the Low Energy Demand and Sustainability Scenarios. The stimulus packages under preparation to address the economic crisis triggered by COVID-19 provide, in fact, a unique opportunity for world leaders to step-in and show real climate leadership. EiD hopes world leaders will not miss their chance!

To EiD it is crystal clear that the Middle of the Road Scenario is a Business as Usual Scenario which would accelerate the climate outbreak while the Fossil Fuel Development Scenario is the worse pathway for humanity. In fact, these two last scenarios will delay climate action. They both heavily rely on unproven CCS and BECCS technologies to compensate for the projected increase of global primary energy demand which would be addressed by an increasing use of fossil fuels.

EiD hopes the IPCC will avoid including such scenarios in its upcoming assessment reports to ensure global policy leaders will no longer be misled.

On the other hand, since 2017 the IEA has been proposing the Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS). SDS is promoted by the agency as THE SCENARIO which would deliver on both the Paris Agreement target and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

However, it appears from the comparison of the four IPCC pathways and the IEA 2019 scenario that the 2040 projected global primary energy demand in the IEA Sustainable Development Scenario is 8% above the projected one in the IPCC Middle of the Road Scenario, which is, as mentioned earlier, a Business as Usual Scenario.

Moreover, the IEA projects a contribution to the global primary energy mix of fossil fuels up to 58%. This is equivalent to the projected contribution of fossil fuels to the global primary energy mix in the IPCC Fossil Fuels Development Scenario, which is, as mentioned earlier, a scenario driven by the principles of delayed climate action (see Figure).

Last but not least, compared to IPCC scenarios, the IEA Sustainable Development Scenario projects the highest share of nuclear in the 2040 global primary energy mix (see Figure).

As shown above, the IEA Sustainable Development Scenario is far from being Paris Agreement compliant. Therefore, EiD hopes the upcoming IEA recommendations to governments on recovery measures and stimulus packages will not be based on this scenario. Instead a transformative pathway with disruptive policy measures will be proposed by the IEA.

As called for in the letter addressed by 60 leaders from within the climate community to Dr Birol, it’s time for the IEA to develop a Paris compliant scenario within the remaining carbon budget of about 420 GtCO2 with a two-thirds chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C. Otherwise, there is a risk that the current success of the IEA and Dr Birol in influencing global policy and business leaders will turn into a disaster for the planet.


[1] CDR : Carbon Dioxide Removal

[2] CCS : Carbon Capture and Storage

[3] BECCS: Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage


5 thoughts on “Reflections on the urgency of the IEA preparing a new scenario that puts the Paris Agreement’s objectives at its centre

  1. It is curious that nowhere in any of these letters addressed to the IEA is any reference made to the IEA’s consistent description of energy efficiency as “ the first fuel.” Why this omission?

      • Might the cynical conclude from this absence that perhaps the IEA doesn’t believe its own rhetoric?

      • It is trying to juggle a lot of balls and it doesn’t know what should be the priority and how it should start. I think the post I provided this week is quite important because its most ambitious scenario simply isn’t enough. And I’m not sure how committed it is to decarbonisation. Low carbon, yes. But the Global Commission for Urgent Action on Energy Efficiency [] has to keep pushing the IEA. We all must.

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