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Business Comment

Michael McCarthy: World Energy Outlook is bad news as far as climate change is concerned

This year's World Energy Outlook (WEO) may look exciting to economists, with a new oil and gas renaissance meaning the US is soon to overtake Saudi Arabia and reclaim its position as the world's leading producer of hydrocarbons. But to anyone concerned about climate change, it is distinctly depressing.

Fatih Birol, the International Energy Agency's chief economist, said yesterday "the world is going in the wrong direction in terms of climate change".

The international community, he said, was getting farther away from the carbon-emissions trajectory on which future global warming might be held to a rise in two degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level, which has long been regarded by scientists as the danger threshold for the earth.

By 2017, Dr Birol said, in the absence of any major agreement to cut CO2 worldwide, the energy infrastructure currently being built would lock the world into an emissions path that would exceed the two-degree threshold.

At the UN climate conference last December nearly 200 countries agreed to try to negotiate an emissions-cutting treaty by 2015 – but even if it is negotiated it will not come into force until 2020.

Without such changes, figures in the WEO show, global energy-related CO2 emissions are likely to go up from 31.2bn tonnes in 2011 to 37 billion tonnes in 2035 – and this will set the world on a path to a global temperature rise of 3.6 degrees, which would be potentially catastrophic.