Oil Change: IEA’s ‘Grand Coalition’ with Fossils Won’t Fix the Climate Crisis
It’ll take more than a “grand coalition” between the International Energy Agency and the world’s biggest fossil producers to get the climate crisis under control, Oil Change International wrote late last month, in an advance rebuke to a planning session the IEA was scheduled to host earlier today.
In a release yesterday, IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said the Paris-based agency is “building a grand coalition focused on reducing emissions—encompassing governments, companies, investors, and everyone with a genuine commitment to tackling our climate challenge.” The IEA announced the hour-long webcast, scheduled for 11:30 CET, would feature COP 25 Host Minister Teresa Ribera of Spain, COP 24 President Michal Kurtyka of Poland, and UK Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth Kwasi Kwarteng, whose country is hosting COP 26 later this year.
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But Oil Change’s energy futures and transitions director, Hannah McKinnon, doesn’t put much faith in the outcome.
“In response to mounting criticism for its climate shortfalls,” the IEA “has clearly identified their solution to these critiques: a public relations effort that bears a striking resemblance to the spin coming from the oil and gas industry itself,” she writes. “The perspective that Big Oil and Gas are onboard to plan their own necessary demise is either impressive cognitive dissonance, revisionist history, or simple denial.”
“Simply put, there is no room for new fossil fuel production in a safer climate future,” but “this is not a welcome message for the fossil fuel sector,” she says. “So instead, the plan to save the world according to the IEA comes from the same songbook as the fossil fuel sector itself: we need everybody from all parts of the energy sector to come together around solutions—as long as those ‘solutions’ don’t get right to the point of actually phasing out fossil fuels. This type of strategy—ignoring power and pretending that everyone is showing up to the table with good faith or adequate solutions—has repeatedly failed the climate, whilst protecting the status quo for the fossil fuel industry and its profits.”
The “glaring reality is that major oil companies continue to actively invest against an energy transition,” she adds, pointing to the vanishingly small 0.8% of total capital investment that fossils directed to renewable energy and carbon capture and storage in 2019.
McKinnon links her critique to her organization’s campaign and more recent social media toolkit aimed at reforming the IEA’s World Energy Outlook, an annual energy futures report whose main scenario routinely projects growing fossil fuel demand and low uptake of renewable energy, largely fails to factor in the steps required to hold average global warming to 1.5°C—and has come in for increasingly sharp criticism as a result.
“Governments lean on IEA scenarios to justify approvals for major new fossil fuel infrastructure. The fossil fuel industry points to them to insist that their oil, gas, or coal will indeed be ‘in high demand’ for decades to come. And investors use them to validate the hundreds of billions of dollars poured into new fossil fuel development annually,” she writes.
“So it is a very big problem that the scenario that the IEA chooses to feature in the WEO is one that tracks towards 3°C of warming and their climate scenario veers off course from meeting the Paris Agreement goals. It doesn’t hit net-zero until 2070, 20 years too late according to the best science.”
If 2020 is to be “the year the fossil fuel sector runs out of places to hide,” she adds, “the IEA has a shrinking window to prove that it can serve its member states’ and other users’ needs with a scenario that would actually allow them to plan for success when it comes to meeting the Paris goals,” McKinnon concludes. That would mean “swapping the grand coalition greenwash for a central scenario that serves the purpose of advancing climate action rather than dragging it down.”