A report earlier this year by the International Energy Agency (IEA) based in Paris spells out what will need to happen to halt the climate crisis now recognized around the world. Issued in May 2021, the IEA report outlines what is needed to achieve “net zero” emissions by 2050. Portions of the report, “Net Zero by 2050: a road map for the global energy sector,” are published below.

“The energy sector is the source of around three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions today and holds the key to averting the worst effects of climate change, perhaps the greatest challenge humankind has faced.

“Reducing global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to net zero by 2050 is consistent with efforts to limit the long-term increase in average global temperatures to 1.5˚C. This calls for nothing less than a complete transformation of how we produce, transport and consume energy.

“The growing political consensus on reaching net zero is cause for considerable optimism about the progress the world can make, but the changes required to reach net-zero emissions globally by 2050 are poorly understood. A huge amount of work is needed to turn today’s impressive ambitions into reality, especially given the range of different situations among countries and their differing capacities to make the necessary changes. This special IEA report sets out a pathway for achieving this goal, resulting in a clean and resilient energy system that would bring major benefits for human prosperity and well-being.

“The global pathway to net-zero emissions by 2050 detailed in this report requires all governments to significantly strengthen and then successfully implement their energy and climate policies. Commitments made to date fall far short of what is required by that pathway. The number of countries that have pledged to achieve net-zero emissions has grown rapidly over the last year and now covers around 70 percent of global emissions of CO2.

“This is a huge step forward. However, most pledges are not yet underpinned by near-term policies and measures. Moreover, even if successfully fulfilled, the pledges to date would still leave around 22 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions worldwide in 2050. The continuation of that trend would be consistent with a temperature rise in 2100 of around 2.1°C. Global emissions fell in 2020 because of the Covid-19 crisis but are already rebounding strongly as economies recover. Further delay in acting to reverse that trend will put net zero by 2050 out of reach.”

The IEA is an autonomous agency established in 1974 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development based in Paris.

“In this Summary for Policy Makers, we outline the essential conditions for the global energy sector to reach net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050.…

“Getting to net zero will involve countless decisions by people across the world, but our primary aim is to inform the decisions made by policy makers, who have the greatest scope to move the world closer to its climate goals….

“In the net-zero emissions pathway presented in this report, the world economy in 2030 is some 40 percent larger than today but uses seven percent less energy.… Emissions reductions from the energy sector are not limited to CO2: in our pathway, methane emissions from fossil fuel supplies fall by 75 percent over the next ten years as a result of a global, concerted effort to deploy all available abatement measures and technologies.”

The IEA report is bullish on the strides made in generating electricity from renewable sources.

“Ever-cheaper renewable energy technologies give electricity the edge in the race to zero. Our pathway calls for scaling up solar and wind rapidly this decade, reaching annual additions of 630 gigawatts (GW) of solar photovoltaics (PV) and 390 GW of wind by 2030, four-times the record levels set in 2020. For solar PV, this is equivalent to installing the world’s current largest solar park roughly every day.

“Hydropower and nuclear, the two largest sources of low-carbon electricity today, provide an essential foundation for transitions. As the electricity sector becomes cleaner, electrification emerges as a crucial economy-wide tool for reducing emissions. Electric vehicles (EVs) go from around 5 percent of global car sales to more than 60 percent by 2030.  

“All the technologies needed to achieve the necessary deep cuts in global emissions by 2030 already exist, and the policies that can drive their deployment are already proven.…”

“A transition of the scale and speed described by the net zero pathway cannot be achieved without sustained support and participation from citizens. The changes will affect multiple aspects of people’s lives —from transport, heating and cooking to urban planning and jobs.

“We estimate that around 55 percent of the cumulative emissions reductions in the pathway are linked to consumer choices such as purchasing an EV, retrofitting a house with energy-efficient technologies or installing a heat pump. Behavioral changes, particularly in advanced economies —such as replacing car trips with walking, cycling or public transport, or foregoing a long-haul flight —also provide around 4 percent of the cumulative emissions reductions.

“Providing electricity to around 785 million people that have no access and clean cooking solutions to 2.6 billion people that lack those options is an integral part of our pathway. Emissions reductions have to go hand-in-hand with efforts to ensure energy access for all by 2030. This costs around US$40 billion a year, equal to around 1 percent of average annual energy sector investment, while also bringing major co-benefits from reduced indoor air pollution.

“Some of the changes brought by the clean energy transformation may be challenging to implement, so decisions must be transparent, just and cost-effective. Governments need to ensure that clean energy transitions are people-centered and inclusive….

“In the net zero pathway, global energy demand in 2050 is around 8 percent smaller than today, but it serves an economy more than twice as big and a population with 2 billion more people. More efficient use of energy, resource efficiency and behavioral changes combine to offset increases in demand for energy services as the world economy grows and access to energy is extended to all.

“Instead of fossil fuels, the energy sector is based largely on renewable energy. Two-thirds of total energy supply in 2050 is from wind, solar, bioenergy, geothermal and hydro energy. Solar becomes the largest source, accounting for one-fifth of energy supplies. Solar PV capacity increases 20-fold between now and 2050, and wind power 11-fold.

“Net zero means a huge decline in the use of fossil fuels. They fall from almost four-fifths of total energy supply today to slightly over one-fifth by 2050. Fossil fuels that remain in 2050 are used in goods where the carbon is embodied in the product such as plastics, in facilities fitted with carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS), and in sectors where low-emissions technology options are scarce.

“Electricity accounts for almost 50 percent of total energy consumption in 2050. It plays a key role across all sectors —from transport and buildings to industry— and is essential to produce low-emissions fuels such as hydrogen. To achieve this, total electricity generation increases over two-and-a-half-times between today and 2050. At the same time, no additional new final investment decisions should be taken for new unabated coal plants, the least efficient coal plants are phased out by 2030, and the remaining coal plants still in use by 2040 are retrofitted.

“By 2050, almost 90 percent of electricity generation comes from renewable sources, with wind and solar PV together accounting for nearly 70 percent. Most of the remainder comes from nuclear. 

“Emissions from industry, transport and buildings take longer to reduce. Cutting industry emissions by 95 percent by 2050 involves major efforts to build new infrastructure.…

“Policies that end sales of new internal combustion engine cars by 2035 and boost electrification underpin the massive reduction in transport emissions. In 2050, cars on the road worldwide run on electricity or fuel cells. Low-emissions fuels are essential where energy needs cannot easily or economically be met by electricity. For example, aviation relies largely on biofuels and synthetic fuels, and ammonia is vital for shipping. In buildings, bans on new fossil fuel boilers need to start being introduced globally in 2025, driving up sales of electric heat pumps. Most old buildings and all new ones comply with zero-carbon-ready building energy codes.

“Beyond projects already committed as of 2021, there are no new oil and gas fields approved for development in our pathway, and no new coal mines or mine extensions are required. The unwavering policy focus on climate change in the net zero pathway results in a sharp decline in fossil fuel demand, meaning that the focus for oil and gas producers switches entirely to output  —and emissions reductions— from the operation of existing assets.

“Unabated coal demand declines by 98 percent to just less than 1 percent of total energy use in 2050. Gas demand declines by 55 percent to 1,750 billion cubic meters and oil declines by 75 precent to 24 million barrels per day (mb/d), from around 90 mb/d in 2020.

“Clean electricity generation, network infrastructure and end-use sectors are key areas for increased investment. Enabling infrastructure and technologies are vital for transforming the energy system.

“Annual investment in transmission and distribution grids expands from US $260 billion today to US $820 billion in 2030. The number of public charging points for EVs rises from around 1 million today to 40 million in 2030, requiring annual investment of almost US $90 billion in 2030. Annual battery production for EVs leaps from 160 gigawatt-hours (GWh) today to 6,600 GWh in 2030 —the equivalent of adding almost 20 gigafactories each year for the next ten years. …

“The contraction of oil and natural gas production will have far-reaching implications for all the countries and companies that produce these fuels. No new oil and natural gas fields are needed in our pathway, and oil and natural gas supplies become increasingly concentrated in a small number of low-cost producers.

“For oil, the OPEC share of a much-reduced global oil supply increases from around 37 percent in recent years to 52 percent in 2050, a level higher than at any point in the history of oil markets.

“Yet annual per capita income from oil and natural gas in producer economies falls by about 75 percent, from US $1,800 in recent years to US $450 by the 2030s, which could have knock-on societal effects.

“Structural reforms and new sources of revenue are needed, even though these are unlikely to compensate fully for the drop in oil and gas income. While traditional supply activities decline, the expertise of the oil and natural gas industry fits well with technologies such as hydrogen, CCUS and offshore wind that are needed to tackle emissions in sectors where reductions are likely to be most challenging.”

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