An influential energy group sees reason for climate optimism For the first time, the International Energy Agency projects that demand for fossil fuels will soon peak. It's nowhere close to the speed the world needs to stop climate change - but it's a big step.

An influential energy group sees reason for climate optimism

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We've been talking a lot about how the world is still nowhere close to where it needs to be in the fight against climate change. But now NPR's Camila Domonoske is going to bring us a little bit of optimism, courtesy of the International Energy Agency.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Daniel Raimi sums up 500 pages in a few words.

DANIEL RAIMI: We are not there. We are not close to there. But we are moving in the right direction.

DOMONOSKE: Raimi is with the nonprofit Resources for the Future. He reads a lot of reports projecting future oil demand. And this one from the IEA shows real progress. Here's the IEA's executive director, Fatih Birol.

FATIH BIROL: For the first time in the current policy settings, we are seeing a peak - a distinct peak of fossil fuels in 2030s.

DOMONOSKE: A peak of fossil fuels in about 10 years. That means demand will start to go down. The world will use less and less oil, coal and natural gas year after year after year. That has never happened since the Industrial Revolution began. Of course, for decades, climate scientists have said we need to pivot away from fossil fuels in order to avoid climate change, which will cause tremendous human suffering. So what's new here? Let's rewind.

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BIROL: For the first time in the current policy settings...

DOMONOSKE: Current policy settings. Birol means policies today, not what the world should do or needs to do. He means this is what the world is on track to do based on the policies governments are announcing now, policies like the big climate law that Democrats passed this year with a lot of money for green energy or Europe scrambling to invest in anything that's not Russian oil and natural gas, which meant money for renewables, or clean energy pushes in China and India and Japan. The future that the IEA projects - it would still create catastrophic global warming, well over 1.5 degrees. But it's a major improvement from just a few years ago, and it matters a lot that it's the IEA saying this. It's hardly a radical green group. It was born out of the world's hunger for oil. Henry Kissinger came up with the idea for it during the oil crisis of the '70s.

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HENRY KISSINGER: With respect to the oil price, it will not come down by tough declarations. It will come down only when the objective conditions are created which shift the forces of the market.

DOMONOSKE: So the IEA was invented to shift the oil market. It's a group of oil-consuming countries and a serious player in energy markets. When the IEA says the world will use less oil, well, that's really good news for the planet, if you buy it. Bob McNally is the founder of Rapidan Energy Group. In between meetings in Houston, the heart of America's energy industry, he squinted at one of the IEA's charts for oil demand.

BOB MCNALLY: Nobody I know in the oil business believes that.

DOMONOSKE: Other outlooks have projected peak oil before, and they've been wrong. And McNally thinks the IEA is way too optimistic that governments will actually follow through on all their policies.

MCNALLY: The energy industry looks at this and says, this is a dangerous illusion. While it's perhaps a pleasing idea that the world is going to see a peak in fossil fuel consumption in the next five to 10 years, it's - there's no evidence for it.

DOMONOSKE: And the fact is that, yeah, it's pretty much impossible to predict what's going to happen. This is a projection based on current policies. What actually happens will depend on what people choose to do - people sitting in presidential palaces and boardrooms and c-suites, people casting ballots and visiting dealerships and shopping for heat pumps. To channel a certain diplomat in the '70s, the world's consumption of oil won't go down based on tough declarations. It'll take objective conditions to shift the market. Camila Domonoske with a bit of Henry Kissinger, NPR News.

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