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This blog is expressly directed to readers who do not have strong training or backgrounds in science, with the intent of helping them grasp the underpinnings of this important issue. I'm going to present an ongoing series of posts that will develop various aspects of the science of global warming, its causes and possible methods for minimizing its advance and overcoming at least partially its detrimental effects.

Each post will begin with a capsule summary. It will then proceed with captioned sections to amplify and justify the statements and conclusions of the summary. I'll present images and tables where helpful to develop a point, since "a picture is worth a thousand words".

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

World Energy Outlook 2010: Climate and Energy Projections 2008-2035

Summary: The International Energy Agency recently published its World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2010.  The Outlook analyzes the commitments that nations of the world made at the 2009 Copenhagen climate change conference.  It finds that these measures are inadequate to restrict greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to keep the global average temperature within 2 deg C above the temperature that prevailed in the pre-industrial revolution period.  The Outlook instead demonstrates that only more drastic actions, begun immediately, can achieve this objective.  This conclusion is in agreement with those expressed recently by individual climate scientists and other organizations.

Introduction. The International Energy Agency (IEA) is an autonomous organization associated with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  The IEA has 28 member states among developed countries of the world, including most European countries, the U. S., Japan, and Australia. 

The IEA recently published its World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2010, which analyzes present and projected world-wide production and consumption of energy over the period 2010-2035, and assesses scenarios for meeting various objectives for limiting the effects of global warming.  This posting is based on the WEO 2010 Press Release of Nov. 9, 2010, and the WEO 2010 Executive Summary, both of which are available as linked without charge.  The full publication is available for purchase.

The Copenhagen Accord of 2009.  The United Nations conference on climate change held in Copenhagen in 2009 was convened to establish an updated agreement to follow the Kyoto Protocol.  Considerable disagreement among the participants led to a weakened result.  The Copenhagen Accord is a nonbinding commitment to limit the increase in global temperature to 2 deg C (3.6 deg F) above pre-industrial levels.  (Currently the global average temperature is 0.7 deg C above this baseline.)  In addition the Accord set the goal for industrialized countries to provide funding directed toward reducing global warming and for remediation in developing countries, amounting to US$100 billion per year by 2020. 

WEO 2010.  According to WEO 2010, however, the actual commitments made, even if fully placed in effect, would fail to achieve the stated objective of limiting global warming to 2 deg C by in turn limiting emissions of greenhouse gases.  The significance of this finding is that considerably greater effort and higher expenditures will be needed in coming years, for example after 2020, to achieve the original objective.  The feasibility of this scenario is deemed questionable.  An important aspect of achieving this goal would be eliminating various national subsidies promoting the “wasteful” use of fossil fuels.

Three energy scenarios appear in WEO 2010.  The Current Policies Scenario projects developments in the global energy economy in the absence of overt actions limiting fossil fuel use or developing alternative energy sources.  The New Policies Scenario offers predicted changes in energy demand resulting from measures to be taken in response to the Copenhagen commitments (nonbinding and inadequate though they may be).  WEO 2010 judges that under this Scenario CO2 emissions continue to rise, by 21% over the level of 2008; this “trend would make it all but impossible to achieve the 2 deg C goal, as the required reductions in emissions after 2020 would be too steep” (emphasis in the original).  Rather, this Scenario would likely lead to an atmospheric concentration of 650 ppm CO2-equivalents, corresponding to a likely temperature rise of more than 3.5 deg C (6.3 deg F).

The more rigorous 450 Scenario, first presented in the WEO 2008 document, has the objective of restricting global average temperature rise to 2 deg C (3.6 deg F) above the average temperature of the pre-industrial revolution period, by limiting atmospheric greenhouse gas content to about 450 parts per million of CO2 equivalents (ppm).  Climate scientists concur that limiting global warming to 2 deg C requires very drastic reductions in CO2-equivalent emissions, including removal of fossil fuel subsidies, and pricing CO2-equivalents at about US$90-120 per ton by 2035.

A somewhat detailed summary of WEO 2010 appears directly below.  Those readers not wishing to go through those details can skip to the Conclusion at the end of this posting.

Projected Energy Demand Through 2035. The following table summarizes annual rates of increase in energy demand projected for each the three scenarios mentioned above.  As a point of reference, for the New

Energy demand, Annualized rates of increase
Historic (past)
Change 27 yrs, %/yr
Projected change
2008-2035, %/yr
Current Policies
New Policies



Policies Scenario, the overall projected increase is 36%, and represents an increase from the equivalent of about 12,300 million tons of oil-derived energy (Mtoe) as of 2008 to about 16,700 Mtoe in 2035 (see the graphic below).

Reproduced from World Energy Outlook 2010 © OECD/IEA.  The OECD has essentially similar membership as the IEA, plus 5 additional nations.   Data to the left of the solid vertical line at the year 2008 are actual.   Energy demand beyond 2008, to the right of the vertical line, is a projection based on the New Policies Scenario.  The dashed line indicates predictions based on the Current Policies Scenario (Reference Scenario).  Mtoe, energy demand (consumption) expressed as equivalents of millions of tons of oil.

The graphic above shows that the developed countries of the world, as represented by OECD (blue band), are projected not to contribute significantly to any increase in energy demand over the next 25 years.  Rather, China (orange band) and India and the rest of the countries of the world (yellow band) are projected to account for essentially all the increase in demand.  Together, nations outside the OECD account for 93% of the increase in overall energy demand in the New Policies Scenario (see the graphic above).  For example, the rate of growth of energy demand in China is projected to be 75%. 

This general result is understandable in view of the facts that
1.      these nations have populations far exceeding those of the OECD,
2.      their populations are growing at far faster rates than in the OECD, and
3.      their economic growth rates (and hence growth in energy demand) are higher than in the OECD, since they have only recently begun industrialization and urbanization.

The following Table illustrates some of these factors, for selected nations.  The U. S. and France are intended to exemplify OECD nations, whereas the other examples show data for developing, non-OECD, 

Population 2008, millions
Est. pop. 2050, millions
GDP, US$, billions, 2008
Rate of growth of GDP 2003-8, %

Source: The Economist, Pocket World in Figures, 2011 Edition, Profile Books, London, 2010.

The demand for energy is projected to be satisfied largely by conventional fossil fuels (oil, coal and natural gas).  Costs for these sources are likely to rise, contributing to a modulation in the demand for their use, being highest in the 450 Scenario.  Even so, the mix among these fuels is projected to shift, with demand for oil diminishing somewhat, and demand for coal and natural gas increasing.

China. WEO 2010 writes “[i]t is hard to overstate the growing importance of China in global energy markets.” China is now the largest national consumer of energy in the world in 2009, even though as recently as 2000 the country consumed only about half as much energy as the U. S.  Even so, its per capita energy use is still one third that of the OECD average.  China’s use of energy is expected to continue growing at similar high rates in coming years.  These observations may be visualized in the first graphic, presented above, and the following one, which includes China’s share of projected growth in sources of energy demand.

Reproduced from World Energy Outlook 2010 © OECD/IEA. 
The color scheme is the same as in the first graphic, above.  The bars for coal and oil to the left of the “0” line represent decreases in usage for these fuels over the period 2008-2035 in the OECD countries.  Single-handedly China accounts for profound increases in demand for fossil fuels over this period, as well as for renewable sources of energy.  Mtoe, energy demand (consumption) expressed as equivalents of millions of tons of oil.

Coal. According to WEO 2010, use of coal in the generation of electricity will expand greatly in the period 2008-2035 (see the following graphic).  Already in the period leading up to 2008, China was bringing new coal-burning facilities on line at a pace of 1-2 per week (note the expanding use of coal in that period).

Reproduced from World Energy Outlook 2010 © OECD/IEA.  Data to the left of the solid vertical line at the year 2008 are actual.   Coal-fired generation beyond 2008, to the right of the vertical line, is a projection based on the New Policies Scenario.   A watt-hour (Wh) is a unit of energy used in characterizing electricity generation and usage. TWh, terawatt-hours, or thousands of billion watt-hours.  The author presumes TWh refers to annual production of electric energy.

China has extensive domestic supplies of coal.  Use of coal is projected to almost double through 2035.  India is also greatly increasing its use of coal for electricity, whereas the OECD countries are projected to lower the use of coal for this purpose.

Oil.  Oil pricing has less than expected effects on supply and demand.  It is costly to identify and exploit new reserves, driving up the price, but demand does not respond accordingly, in part because of the use of oil in transport for which there is no alternative.  The graphic below depicts the projected growth in number of cars for 2020 and 2035.

Reproduced from World Energy Outlook 2010 © OECD/IEA.  Data through the year 2008 are actual.

In addition, many nations provide subsidies for purchase of oil products, as well as other fossil fuels, to their citizens.  Unconventional oil sources are being increasingly exploited, including tar sands in Canada and shale oil.  These sources require higher input of energy to extract the intended product than conventional drilling and pumping.

In the New Policies Scenario oil production grows to about 99 million barrels per day in 2035, up from 84 million barrels per day in 2009.  In this Scenario, production barely reaches a peak by the end of the period.  In the 450 Scenario, in contrast, oil production is seen to reach a maximum by 2020, and falls considerably thereafter.

Gas.  Use of natural gas increases strikingly in the projected period.  In the New Policies Scenario, its use grows by 44% by 2035, or about 1.4% per year.  Demand in China increases the most, averaging almost 6% per year.  Most expanded production originates in the Middle East.

Electricity Generation.  The global demand for electricity is projected to grow most intensely of all final forms of energy consumed.  In the New Policies Scenario it is expected to grow 2.2% per year, 80% of which occurs in non-OECD nations.  The profile of electricity generation is seen as shifting profoundly to use of alternative energy sources.  Coal, the least efficient source for generating electricity, is projected to fall from 41% of supply in 2008 to 32% by 2035.  Natural gas production, which is considerably more efficient both in terms of power generated and in terms of emitting less greenhouse gas, grows in absolute quantities but remains at about 21% of the overall mix. 

Renewable sources for electricity generation grow considerably (see the graphic below),

Reproduced from World Energy Outlook 2010 © OECD/IEA.  Mtoe, energy demand (consumption) expressed as equivalents of millions of tons of oil.

but will rely heavily on continued sizeable government support to sustain its growth.  The shift away from fossil fuels for electricity generation should reduce the emission of CO2 per unit of electricity provided by about one-third over the time period considered.  In order to make renewable fuels and biofuel production significant in the global energy economy, government support should increase from about US$57 billion in 2009 to about US$205 billion (present value) by 2035.

Conclusion.  WEO 2010 considers that the goal of limiting global warming to 2 deg C above pre-industrial levels is achievable using the 450 Scenario.  Oil demand would peak by 2020.  Coal demand likewise would peak at about the same time.  New coal-fired power plants to be built would largely be fitted with carbon capture and storage capability (which this author believes is unproven as of today), keeping their CO2 emissions out of the atmosphere.  Nuclear energy and renewable energy sources are foreseen playing a large and increasing role in the energy economy by 2035.

Because of global political delays in embarking on policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the recent past, WEO 2010 projects the additional expense to implement the more vigorous measures needed to compensate for the delay would add about US$1 trillion to the cost estimate of about US$11 trillion that was proposed in WEO 2009. 

Overall, WEO 2010 deems that achieving the Copenhagen goal of limiting global warming to 2 deg C is “still (just about) achievable”, by embarking on the 450 Scenario.
This conclusion is in accord with other evaluations of the present status of global warming.  Davis, Caldeira and Matthews showed that even if no new installations burning fossil fuels were put in operation in the future, existing facilities would still emit atmospheric CO2 that would lead to further global warming.  In view of this result, Hoffert, in his commentary on the Davis article, emphasizes the very dire situation that we will actually face in the future.  Recent predictions of future global warming from the United Kingdom and the United Nations suggest that average global temperatures could rise 4 deg C (7 deg F) or more from today by the end of the century.  Hoffert emphasized the immediate need to undertake major, drastic efforts to cut back on global greenhouse gas emissions, and to develop renewable and sustainable energy sources.

In summary, it is clear that both individual climate scientists and official organizations agree on the need for bold, rapid, large-scale programs to supplant a fossil fuel-driven energy economy with a renewable, sustainable one.

© 2010 Henry Auer

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