The road to net zero by 2050 is “narrow but still achievable”, warns the IEA in its latest report
The International Energy Agency (IEA) calls for 630 GW of new solar per year 2030, and 390 GW of new wind
Failing to boost investment in green energy would mean missing the 1.5 C targets
Governments must boost investment in innovation and abandon new fossil fuel projects
The IEA’ new roadmap for the energy sector has outlined what government must to do reach net zero by 2050. The agency is positive that it will happen, but warned that continuing as at present is not an option.
Its report warned that current climate pledges made by governments would fall well short of what is required to bring global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to net zero by 2050.
The report calls for annual additions of solar PV capacity to reach 630 GW by 2030, and those of wind to reach 390 GW. Together, this is four times the record level set in 2020.
The report forecasts that renewables will provide almost 90% of electricity by 2050, and that one-fifth of that electricity will be used to produce hydrogen.
Secondly, the report calls for the immediate end of new investment in all fossil fuel supply projects, and no further final investment decisions (FIDs) for new unabated coal plants.
Indeed, a total coal phase-out would be needed out by 2040, and in advanced economies by 2030.
Meanwhile, global investment in fossil fuel supply should fall from $575bn on average over the past five years to $110bn in 2050. Upstream fossil fuel investment should be restricted to maintaining production at existing oil and natural gas fields.
Other milestones include the end to the sales of internal combustion engine passenger cars by 2035 and reaching net-zero emissions in the electricity sector by 2040.
The IEA said that a viable pathway existed to reach net zero, but said it is narrow and will require an unprecedented transformation of how energy is produced, transported and used globally.
“Our roadmap shows the priority actions that are needed today to ensure the opportunity of net-zero emissions by 2050 – narrow but still achievable – is not lost. The scale and speed of the efforts demanded by this critical and formidable goal – our best chance of tackling climate change and limiting global warming to 1.5 °C – make this perhaps the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director.
“The IEA’s pathway to this brighter future brings a historic surge in clean energy investment that creates millions of new jobs and lifts global economic growth. Moving the world onto that pathway requires strong and credible policy actions from governments, underpinned by much greater international co-operation.”
Innovation and technology roll-out
As well as divesting from fossil fuels and boosting clean generation, the report calls for accelerated innovation and the rapid roll-out of technology available today.
Most of the global reductions in CO2 emissions between now and 2030 in the net-zero pathway come from technologies readily available today.
But in 2050, almost half the reductions come from technologies that are currently only at the demonstration or prototype phase.
The report stressed that 785mn people still do not have to access to electricity, mainly in Africa and developing Asia.
Providing electricity to these and clean cooking solutions to 2.6bn people who lack them is an integral part of the Roadmap’s net-zero pathway, the report said.
This would cost around $40bn a year, equal to around 1% of average annual energy sector investment. It also brings major health benefits through reductions in indoor air pollution, cutting the number of premature deaths by 2.5mn per year.
“The clean energy transition is for and about people,” said Dr Birol. “Our Roadmap shows that the enormous challenge of rapidly transitioning to a net-zero energy system is also a huge opportunity for our economies. The transition must be fair and inclusive, leaving nobody behind. We have to ensure that developing economies receive the financing and technological know-how they need to build out their energy systems to meet the needs of their expanding populations and economies in a sustainable way.”
In terms of investment, annual outlay of $5 trillion by 2030 is required, compared with $2 trillion today. This would boost economic expansion and potentially add 0.4 percentage points per year to global GDP growth, according to research from the IEA and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
A snapshot of the energy sector in 2050 would see 90% of electricity generation coming from renewables, with solar and wind accounting for 70% and much of the rest nuclear.
In terms of supply, this means 23,000 TWh of solar (33%) in 2050, 25,000 TWh of wind (35%) and 14,000 TWh of other renewables (20%).
Other output in 2050 would be 5,000 TWh of nuclear (8%), 2,000 TWh of hydrogen (2%) and 1,000 TWh of CCS (2%).
This compares with global supply in 2020 of 27,000 TWh. By 2050, electricity will account for almost 50% of total energy consumption in 2050, while fossil fuels’ share will fall from 80% to 20% in 2050.
Fossil fuels would be centred on industrial sectors that are difficult to decarbonise, even though carbon capture technology would be widespread.
“The pathway laid out in our Roadmap is global in scope, but each country will need to design its own strategy, taking into account its own specific circumstances,” said Dr Birol. “Plans need to reflect countries’ differing stages of economic development: in our pathway, advanced economies reach net zero before developing economies.”
The first crucial test for the report will be the COP26 conference in Glasgow, and the UK government aims to use the IEA’s report to drive the conference’s agenda.
“I welcome this report, which sets out a clear roadmap to net-zero emissions and shares many of the priorities we have set as the incoming COP Presidency,” said COP26 President-Designate Alok Sharma.
“Our first goal for the UK as COP26 President is to put the world on a path to driving down emissions, until they reach net zero by the middle of this century.”
The report says that the move to electrifying the global economy poses its own risks.
Challenges include the variability of supply from some renewables and cyber-security risks. In addition, the rising dependence on critical minerals required for key clean energy technologies and infrastructure brings risks of price volatility and supply disruptions that could hinder the transition.
The oil and gas industry is set to suffer far-reaching consequences. No new oil and natural gas fields are needed in the net-zero pathway, and supplies will become increasingly concentrated in a small number of low-cost producers.
OPEC’s share of a much-reduced global oil supply grows from around 37% in recent years to 52% in 2050, a level higher than at any point in the history of oil markets.
To conclude, the report offers a way to achieve the Paris Agreement goals by keeping global warming below 1.5C. This could be accompanied by universal energy access, 2mn fewer premature deaths from pollution and increased global GDP.
Yet the warning is stark. The path to net-zero emissions is narrow, the report said, but staying on it requires immediate and massive deployment of all available clean and efficient energy technologies.
This article first appeared in bne IntelliNews sister publication Newsbase.com