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[RIO DE JANEIRO] Global investments in sustainable energy must increase by US$500 million a year to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to a report launched in Rio this week.

The report, 'Global Energy Assessment – Towards a Sustainable Future', was formally launched on 19 June on the sidelines of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).

Published by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria, it is the culmination of six years of research by 500 contributors, a third of whom come from developing countries, and has been heralded as the most comprehensive assessment of the global energy system to date.

The report is intended to provide policymakers, academics and the private sector with strategic advice on delivering of sustainable energy services.

The authors conducted an extensive literature review and identified 40 'pathways' — such as universal access to modern energy and climate change mitigation — that could simultaneously satisfy environmental and socio-political goals.The report covers four major themes: major global challenges and their energy linkages; technologies and resources available for providing adequate, modern and affordable energy; energy systems best suited to addressing future challenges; and the policies, measures, institutions and capacity required to realise a sustainable energy future.

To realise these goals, the report said annual investments in energy efficiency and supply would need to be increased to US$1.7–2.2 trillion.

"There is a strong need for a major transformation of the energy system — one could almost say a revolution is needed," said Nebojsa Nakicenovic, director of the GEA and deputy-director of IIASA

"In principle we have the financing, but money would have to be redirected."

He said that the necessary investment could be drawn from funds currently spent on energy subsidies — the bulk of which go to fossil fuels, which themselves are often charged with suppressing demand for cleaner solutions.

The report also recommends accelerating public spending in research and development and reorienting it towards efficiency and renewable energy.

Current global investments in energy R&D are around US$60 billion, of which a third is public money. Almost none goes towards access, and relatively little towards efficiency and renewable energy.

The GEA report states that improving energy efficiency in all sectors is crucial if its recommendations are to be achieved.   

It also recommends radical changes to the energy landscape, calling for an increase in renewable energy to 30–75 per cent of global primary energy up from its current 17 per cent. It also urges that by 2050, the use of coal without carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) must be completely phased out.

Keywan Riahi, acting programme leader of the Energy Programme at IIASA said that improved efficiency would increase flexibility in regional and sectoral energy supply, and the report said that  "allowing the GEA challenges to be met without the need for technologies such as CCS and nuclear".

The full report will be available in a few weeks.  

Link to report summary

Link to the International Energy Assessment's 2011 report [4.61MB]

This article is part of our coverage on Science at Rio+20. Read more in our live blog.