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The World Needs To Quit Oil To Avoid The Worst Of Climate Change, IEA Says

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

You may have heard this chant from climate activists who want the world to quit oil.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Keep it in the ground. Keep it in the ground.

KELLY: Today, the head of a major energy organization said something that isn't quite as catchy but might be just as radical.

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FATIH BIROL: There is no need for new fossil fuel supply investments.

KELLY: That is Fatih Birol of the International Energy Agency. The group just released a big report on what it would take to avoid the worst effects of climate change. NPR's Camila Domonoske is here to break it down.

Hey, Camila.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Hi.

KELLY: So a big report - what is the big takeaway?

DOMONOSKE: Well, we all know that in order to stop the worst effects of climate change, we would need to stop burning oil and gas, right? But we've also built the entire global economy around these fuels, so it's a daunting task. But the IEA says we could do it. The global energy system could stop contributing emissions to climate change by 2050, and the global economy would actually grow faster than it would otherwise. It would be a truly massive task, and it would need to start immediately. But they say there's a window of opportunity.

KELLY: OK. You just said they're saying by 2050, so that's 29 years. How do they say we could do this?

DOMONOSKE: Well, under the pathway that they lay out, governments would immediately stop approving new oil and gas projects. Projects that are already approved would keep going but nothing new - no new coal, either. And then there would be huge investments into solar power, wind energy, hydrogen, more efficient buildings, more electric cars - a lot more electric cars - in fact, no new gas or diesel cars by 2035. There's 200 more pages of all the details. But fundamentally, it's a switch from fossil fuels to renewables.

KELLY: All of which sounds like ideas that we have heard environmental activists calling for for ages. What does this report add?

DOMONOSKE: Well, this report is not coming from environmental activists. The IEA, the group that put out this report - they were actually founded by governments during the oil crisis in the 1970s. And their whole point, the reason they exist, was to make sure rich countries never ran out of oil again. In recent years, they've been criticized by environmental activists for downplaying the role of renewables or their potential role and overemphasizing oil. So when this group says that this kind of a shift away from oil can be done and should be done, it really gets attention in a lot of corners.

KELLY: Interesting. OK, so they're saying this can be done. They're saying this should be done. Does it strike you, having gone through the report, that they actually think this can be done, that we can get there?

DOMONOSKE: Well, they say that the pathway they lay out is technically feasible - very important - cost-effective - that's huge - socially acceptable. That's also very important. But one thing that's not on that list is politically viable. And the question of political will is crucial here. This is a huge transformation that we're talking about. It's hard to overstate how many things have to be done at the exact same time. And the IEA says, look; governments around the world need to be bold. They need to act immediately. They need to cooperate with each other. And they note that, right now, that's not happening. There's a giant gap between rhetoric and action on these fronts. So this is really a call to action. Some parts of this are in motion. Electric vehicles are on the rise. Renewables are getting cheaper but on their own, not enough for us to actually be on this pathway.

KELLY: Thank you, Camila.

DOMONOSKE: Thank you.

KELLY: NPR's Camila Domonoske. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.