Pathway to net-zero emissions narrow, needs transformation: IEA

Special Correspondent

19 May, 2021 12:00 AM printer

Pathway to net-zero emissions narrow, needs transformation: IEA

International Energy Agency says the world has a viable pathway to building an energy sector with net-zero emissions in 2050 but it needs an unprecedented transformation of how energy is produced and used.

“The world has a viable pathway to building a global energy sector with net-zero emissions in 2050, but it is narrow and requires an unprecedented transformation of how energy is produced, transported and used globally,” said IEA in a special report Tuesday.

The world’s first comprehensive energy roadmap shows that the government actions to rapidly boost clean energy and reduce fossil fuel use can create millions of jobs, lift economic growth and keep net zero in reach.

Climate pledges by governments to date – even if fully achieved – would fall well short of what is required to bring global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to net zero by 2050 and give the world an even chance of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 °C, according to the new report.

The report titled “Net Zero by 2050: a Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector” is the world’s first comprehensive study of how to transition to a net zero energy system by 2050 while ensuring stable and affordable energy supplies, providing universal energy access, and enabling robust economic growth.

It sets out a cost-effective and economically productive pathway, resulting in a clean, dynamic and resilient energy economy dominated by renewables like solar and wind instead of fossil fuels.

The report also examines key uncertainties, such as the roles of bioenergy, carbon capture and behavioural changes in reaching net zero.

“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,” 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,” Birol added.

Building on the IEA’s unrivalled energy modelling tools and expertise, the roadmap sets out more than 400 milestones to guide the global journey to net zero by 2050.

These include, from today, no investment in new fossil fuel supply projects, and no further final investment decisions for new unabated coal plants.

By 2035, there are no sales of new internal combustion engine passenger cars, and by 2040, the global electricity sector has already reached net-zero emissions.

The pathway calls for annual additions of solar PV to reach 630 gigawatts by 2030, and those of wind power to reach 390 gigawatts.

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.

This demands that governments quickly increase and reprioritise their spending on research and development – as well as on demonstrating and deploying clean energy technologies – putting them at the core of energy and climate policy.

“The clean energy transition is for and about people,” Birol stressed.

“Our roadmap shows that the enormous challenge of rapidly transitioning to a net zero energy system is also a huge opportunity for our economies,” IEA executive director said.

Providing electricity to around 785 million people who have no access to it and clean cooking solutions to 2.6 billion people who lack them is an integral part of the roadmap’s net zero pathway.

This costs around $40 billion a year, equal to around 1persent of average annual energy sector investment.

Total annual energy investment surges to $ 5 trillion by 2030 in the net zero pathway, adding an extra 0.4 percentage points a year to global GDP growth, based on a joint analysis with the International Monetary Fund.

The jump in private and government spending creates millions of jobs in clean energy, including energy efficiency, as well as in the engineering, manufacturing and construction industries.

By 2050, the energy world looks completely different. Global energy demand 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.

Almost 90 percent of electricity generation comes from renewable sources, with wind and solar PV together accounting for almost 70 percent. Most of the remainder comes from nuclear power. Solar is the world’s single largest source of total energy supply.

Fossil fuels fall from almost four-fifths of total energy supply today to slightly over one-fifth.

“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,” he added.

The special report is designed to inform the high-level negotiations that will take place at the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) of the United Nations Climate Change Framework Convention in Glasgow in November.

It was requested as input to the negotiations by the UK government’s COP26 Presidency.

“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 – that we must act now to scale up clean technologies in all sectors and phase out both coal power and polluting vehicles in the coming decade,” said COP26 President-Designate Alok Sharma.

New energy security challenges will emerge on the way to net zero by 2050 while longstanding ones will remain, even as the role of oil and gas diminishes.

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 the net zero pathway, and supplies 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 percent in recent years to 52 percent in 2050, a level higher than at any point in the history of oil markets.

Growing energy security challenges that result from the increasing importance of electricity include the variability of supply from some renewables and cybersecurity risks.

“Since the IEA’s founding in 1974, one of its core missions has been to promote secure and affordable energy supplies to foster economic growth. This has remained a key concern of our Net Zero Roadmap,” Dr Birol said.

 


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