Driving electric cars and scrapping your natural gas-fired boiler won’t make a dent in global carbon emissions, and may even increase pollution levels.
Higher electrification may lead to oil demand peaking by 2030, but any reduction in emissions from the likes of electric vehicles will be offset by the increased use of power plants to charge them, according to the International Energy Agency’s annual World Energy Outlook, which plots different scenarios of future energy use.
In order to significantly reduce harmful pollution by 2040, electrification will have to form part of a comprehensive package of policies to reduce power sector carbon emissions and improve energy efficiency, the Paris-based body that advises nations on energy policy said.
The clamor for global action to dramatically cut emissions has reached fever pitch in recent months following the publication of a United Nations report that called for annual investment of $2.4 trillion in clean energy to avoid irreversible damage to the world. A common belief is that the electrification of transport and heating systems will go a long way to meeting stringent pollution targets set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
“Electrification is a necessary part of deep decarbonization because it is relatively easy to decarbonize the power sector,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, a senior analyst at Greenpeace’s air pollution unit. “But electrification only helps if the power sector moves rapidly towards zero emissions.”
Since the turn of the century, carbon dioxide emissions from utilities have grown at an average of 2.3 percent a year, with coal-fired plants the biggest culprit, the IEA said. However, the rate of growth is slowing due to more electricity from booming renewable energy markets and an improvement in fossil-fuel plant efficiency.
Total global carbon dioxide output rose 1 percent last year and the IEA expects that to reach a record high in 2018.