As head of the organization that advises countries on energy policy, Fatih Birol has a blunt message to governments ahead of a crucial climate summit: He wants “real global action”, not just words.
“I want to see a plan,” Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, told AFP.
In an interview, he discussed his hopes for the two-week COP26 meeting that will be held in Scotland from October 31.
What do you expected from the summit?
“There are three major outcomes I hope to see. The first one is: when we look at the countries today, who made commitments for net zero (emissions) by 2050, even if those commitments were to be fulfilled, we are far from reaching our climate goals. Therefore I would hope to see a reinforcement of those commitments.
“Number two, and for me it’s the fault line of the entire climate debate, it is financing clean energy investments in emerging countries. More than 80 percent of the emissions in the next 20 years will come from emerging countries, and only less than 20 percent of the clean energy investments go to emerging countries. It is the reason why it’s urgent that the advanced economies, including the G20 countries, should make sure that the financing of clean energy investments in emerging countries are one of the key outcomes coming from COP26 meeting.
“The third one is a political one. The government leaders attending the COP meeting should give an unmistakable signal to the investors around the world saying ‘you investors if you invest in the old energy sources, you are going to risk losing money. Because we are determined as the governments of this world to bring the world in a clean energy future’.”
Is momentum building up before the COP?
“There’s an excellent political momentum around the world from China to the United States, from Europe to African countries. But now this political momentum should need to be transformed into real global action, instead of sporadic government initiatives here and there.
“It is excellent to have those targets but I’d like to see the milestones to reach those targets and how they are going to finance (them).
“I want to see a plan, an energy plan. Of course it’s a good start to have this pledge, to have this commitment to 2050. But how is it going to happen?”
What is the priority?
“How do we deal with coal? Today one third of the emissions come from the coal use in electricity generation. This is the main issue.
“The problem is in Asia, especially China, India, Indonesia. Two big countries make (up) almost close to half of the world population and in all of them more than 60 percent of the power comes from coal. How do we retire them (coal plants) before the investment is paid back? This is a key issue.”
Has Covid changed things?
“There was a general belief that after Covid human beings would be better people and we said at the time, if there are no government policies put in place, right policies, we would see a big rebound of the emissions. According to our numbers, this year global emissions will increase to the second highest in history ever. So therefore I don’t think we can have good results without changing the government policies, hence the pledges are good, rhetoric is good but we would like to see not a big gap between the rhetoric and what is happening in real life.”
An IEA report in May called for an end to future fossil fuel projects. Was the aim to shake stakeholders?
“I don’t want to shock anybody. The reason is that more and more countries made this 2050 net zero (commitment), and we wanted to put a mirror in front of them: if you reach there, these are the things we need to do. We wanted to show the world that it is a herculean task.”