Speaking in Japan ahead of the G8 meeting of energy ministers there this weekend, International Energy Agency (IEA) executive director Nobuo Tanaka warned on Friday that a technological revolution is the only way to solve the problem of climate change [PDF link].

In calling for industry and governments to embrace new technologies that can halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, Tanaka said the total cost would be of the order of $45 trillion (£23 trillion), which equates to 1.1 per cent of global GDP over that period.

Policy proposals

The likely cost of the clean energy technologies and the 2050 timeframe come from a new IEA report that was commissioned by the G8 in 2005. At 643 pages, ‘Energy Technology Perspectives – Strategies & Scenarios to 2050’ isn’t short, but its authors have a resoundingly clear message.

Tanaka underlined his point, saying, “We require immediate policy action and technological transition on an unprecedented scale – a new global technological revolution which would completely transform the way we produce and use energy.”

Focusing on the current high price of oil and its impact, Tanaka said, “Gordon Brown, the UK Prime Minister, says we are now in the third oil crisis – maybe so, but this book is the answer.”

Consumer side

Although much of the report focuses necessarily on the supply side of the energy equation – power generation, carbon capture and storage - IEA colleague Dolf Gielen addressed specific consumer technologies, particularly in transport.

He said: “Bio-fuels, battery/electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles each play a role. Cars account for about half of total transport sector fuel demand, [but] … we’re not able to say which [technology] will gain the dominant position.”

Inaction not an option

If concepts on a global scale are sometimes difficult to rationalize when we consider how to heat our homes or whether or not to leave devices on standby, then it’s worth considering the alternative to following the IEA’s recommendations.

According to the report, inaction will lead to a 70 per cent rise in oil consumption by 2050 and an increase in average global temperatures by as much as 6 per cent.

If the threat of ever-increasing extreme weather events, including more catastrophic hurricanes and massive costal flooding, isn’t enough to force a change from G8 leaders, then the choice of which gadget to buy or car to drive will become increasingly irrelevant.