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.
This is the conclusion of a landmark special report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), Net Zero by 2050: a Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector.
It reveals 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.
Affordable clean energy
The report 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.
‘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.
‘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 cooperation.’
DR FATIH BIROL
IEA’s executive director
No new fossil fuel supply
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.
In the near term, the report describes a net zero pathway that requires the immediate and massive deployment of all available clean and efficient energy technologies, combined with a major global push to accelerate innovation.
Solar and wind
The pathway calls for annual additions of solar PV to reach 630 gigawatts by 2030, and those of wind power to reach 390 gigawatts.
Together, this is four times the record level set in 2020.
For solar PV, it is equivalent to installing the world’s current largest solar park roughly every day.
A major worldwide push to increase energy efficiency is also an essential part of these efforts, resulting in the global rate of energy efficiency improvements averaging 4% a year through 2030 – about three times the average over the last two decades.
Spending on R&D
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.
Progress in the areas of advanced batteries, electrolysers for hydrogen and direct air capture and storage can be particularly impactful.
A ‘fair and inclusive’ transition
A transition of such scale and speed cannot be achieved without sustained support and participation from citizens, whose lives will be affected in multiple ways.
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 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 2.5 million a year.