France – International Energy Agency stated in a special study that the world has a plausible pathway to constructing a global energy sector with net-zero emissions by 2050, but it is narrow and demands an enormous transformation of how energy is produced, transported, and utilized globally.
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, Net Zero by 2050: a Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector.
How to get to net-zero by 2050
The report is the world’s first comprehensive look at how to get to a net-zero energy system by 2050 while maintaining reliable and inexpensive energy sources, assuring universal energy access, and permitting vigorous economic growth. It lays out a cost-effective and economically productive road to a clean, dynamic, and resilient energy economy that is dominated by renewables such as solar and wind rather than fossil fuels. The report also looks into major unknowns, such as the impact of bioenergy, carbon capture, and behavioral changes in achieving net zero emissions.
“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 Roadmap sets out more than 400 milestones to guide the global journey to net zero by 2050. These include 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.
Deployment of clean energy technology
In the short future, the report proposes a net zero energy pathway, which would necessitate the rapid and widespread deployment of all current clean and efficient energy technologies, as well as a huge worldwide push to expedite innovation. Annual solar PV additions are expected to reach 630 gigawatts by 2030, while wind power additions are expected to reach 390 gigawatts. This is four times the previous high, established in 2020. It’s almost equivalent to building the world’s largest solar park every day in terms of solar PV. A huge global push to enhance energy efficiency is also an important aspect of these efforts, with global energy efficiency improvements averaging 4% per year until 2030, or three times the average over the previous two decades.
The majority of the global CO2 emissions reductions in the net zero pathway between now and 2030 will come from technologies that are currently available. However, nearly half of the reductions in 2050 will come from technologies that are now in the demonstration or prototype stage. This necessitates that governments rapidly boost and reprioritize their spending on research and development, as well as demonstration and deployment of clean energy technology, placing them at the center of energy and climate policy. Progress in better batteries, hydrogen electrolysers, and direct air capture and storage might all have a big influence.
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.
Total annual energy investment surges to USD 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. All of this puts global GDP 4% higher in 2030 than it would reach based on current trends.
By 2050, the energy world looks completely different. Global energy demand is around 8% smaller than today, but it serves an economy more than twice as big and a population with 2 billion more people. Almost 90% of electricity generation comes from renewable sources, with wind and solar PV together accounting for almost 70%. 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. Fossil fuels that remain are used in goods where the carbon is embodied in the product such as plastics, in facilities fitted with carbon capture, and in sectors where low-emissions technology options are scarce.
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% in recent years to 52% 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. 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.