LONDON -- The world is far behind on delivering the low-carbon energy it needs, and unless urgent action is taken, calamitous climate change is certain, the International Energy Agency told a meeting yesterday of energy ministers whose countries account for 80 percent of global energy demand.

An executive of the world energy watchdog said that renewable power was on track to stop the planet from tipping into the climatic unknown and that industry and transportation had made some progress but had significant room for improvement. But he asserted that all other sectors, including carbon capture and storage, the drive for clean coal, nuclear energy and biofuels, were falling behind the timelines needed to minimize global warming.

"Under current policies, we estimate that energy use and CO2 emissions would increase by a third by 2020 and almost double by 2050. This would likely send global temperatures at least 6 degrees Celsius [10.8 degrees Fahrenheit] higher. Such an outcome would confront future generations with significant economic, environmental and energy security hardships -- a legacy that I know none of us wants to leave behind," IEA deputy executive director Richard Jones told the opening session of the Clean Energy Ministerial meeting, jointly hosted by the United Kingdom and the United States.

"Transitioning to clean energy will be essential to reaching our common energy security, economic development and sustainability goals," Jones told the ministers from more than 20 countries.

Jones said achieving the goal of limiting global average temperature increases this century to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels was "ambitious but still possible," but only if governments took swift and decisive action to promote clean energy technologies across key economic sectors.

Carbon capture and nuclear energy falling behind
"But clean energy technology is falling short of where it needs to be. Some mature technologies are making progress ... but in many areas, the great potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions are progressing far too slowly," he said. "Carbon capture and storage remains trapped in its commercial infancy."

Jones noted that the nuclear power plant disaster in Japan last year had made some countries backpedal on their nuclear power plans, while others were pushing ahead. But, he said: "Public opposition to nuclear power is rising."

The IEA's report noted that coal remained the dominant source of power and had accounted for about half of additional electricity demand over the past decade.

And while wind energy had been growing at an average annual rate of 27 percent and solar photovoltaic, too, was surging as costs fell sharply, so-called clean coal remained a long way off and governments' ambitions for fuel efficiency and electric vehicles were well ahead of reality.

"The transition to a low carbon energy sector is affordable and represents tremendous business opportunities, but investor confidence remains low due to policy frameworks that do not provide certainty and address key barriers to technology deployment," says the IEA report, called "Tracking Clean Energy Progress," that was presented to the ministers.

Pay now, and benefits come later
It said spending $5 trillion over the next decade on energy infrastructure and fuel efficiency would save $4 trillion in fuel alone, resulting in a net cost of $1 trillion. At the same time, however, it would generating vast savings in climate-changing carbon emissions.

Jones said the governments represented in the ornate gilt conference room in London's Lancaster House had a unique possibility and responsibility to act.

"It is my hope that they heed our warning of insufficient progress and act to seize the security, economic and environmental benefits that a clean-energy transition can bring," he said.

With less than two months to go before the Rio+20 U.N. conference in Brazil, which many hope will breathe new life into the sustainable development agenda, the two-day Clean Energy Ministerial meeting is being hailed as a major opportunity to set the stage with a range of bilateral initiatives expected to be announced on projects across the renewable energy spectrum.

Furthering that hope is the fact that running in parallel to the ministerial gathering, a special high-level group set up by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to promote his Sustainable Energy for All initiative is also meeting in London, with the two groups coming together today.

Energy ministers from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates are at the conference, being hosted by U.K. Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey and U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

They will discuss behind closed doors with representatives of industry and financial institutions topics from energy efficiency to electric vehicles, carbon capture and storage, the whole range of issues involving renewables, access to energy and smart grids.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500