The International Energy Agency (IEA) cited progress in advanced vehicle technologies, but said too many different national fuel-economy standards and too few comprehensive regional fuel-economy standards are holding back growth. The agency also said incentives will be required for years to come.

In a report on the world's progress to low-carbon energy, the IEA, a 28-nation energy think tank, gave a bleak assessment on the advances made to date. "The drive to clean up the world’s energy system has stalled,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven told a meeting of IEA ministers in New Delhi. Those ministers represent countries responsible for four-fifths of the world's greenhouse emissions.

"Despite much talk by world leaders, and despite a boom in renewable energy over the last decade, the average unit of energy produced today is basically as dirty as it was 20 years ago,” van der Hoeven said.

In the report, the IEA said it was "encouraging" that hybrid vehicle sales now total more than 1 million a year and electric vehicles sales last year more than doubled to 110,000 units. But the organization said the absence of cross-border standards and the lack of concrete measures in place to further boost EVs sales are holding back growth. The average fuel economy of new cars varies by 55 pc between some IEA member countries, the organization noted.

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IEA's van der Hoeven says energy is still "dirty" (Photo: IEA)

In addition, van der Hoeven said, "there are still only few countries with fuel economy standards for heavy duty vehicles."

The IEA executive director said "fuel economy improvement holds the greatest potential to reduce fuel consumption and emissions in the road transport sector to 2020." And she noted that annual fuel economy improvements of 1.8 pc a year between 2008 and 2011 are not sufficient to meet its the organization's targets. which are aimed at slowing down global warming.

Van der Hoeven said auto-industry production targets for EVs are much more conservative than government targets, which means incentives are needed. "We project that advanced vehicles will need subsidies for the next decade," she said, adding that EVs should be competitive without incentives "somewhere around 2020."

And she added: "Until then, whether for electric or natural gas vehicles, we must incentivize the optimum rate of infrastructure deployment to both prepare for and support the growth of those new engine technologies."