Watchdog says new projects must be low carbon or existing plants must be cleaned up

The world has so many existing fossil fuel projects that it cannot afford to build any more polluting infrastructure without busting international climate change goals, the global energy watchdog has warned.

The International Energy Agency said almost all of the world’s carbon budget up to 2040 – the amount that can be emitted without causing dangerous warming – would be eaten up by today’s power stations, vehicles and industrial facilities.

Oil refinery plant at night
Fatih Birol, the executive director of the Paris-based group, told the Guardian:

“We have no room to build anything that emits CO2 emissions.”

The economist said to limit temperature rises to 2C, let alone the 1.5C as scientists recommend, either all new energy projects would have to be low carbon, which was unlikely, or existing infrastructure would need to be cleaned up.

That could include incentives for dirty power plants to be retired early or installing carbon capture and storage technologies, Birol said.

“We are eating up 95% of the [carbon] budget, even if we don’t do anything else. Which of course is impossible, not building any more trucks or power plants,” Birol said.

In total, the IEA calculated that existing infrastructure would “lock in” 550 gigatonnes of of carbon dioxide over the next 22 years. That leaves only 40 gigatonnes, or around a year’s worth of emissions, of wriggle room if temperatures are not to overshoot the 2C threshold.

The group’s annual World Energy Outlook, published on Tuesday, revised future CO2 emissions upwards on last year’s report.

Read more: The Guardian