IEA report says there is 'narrow pathway' to net zero emissions by 2050

Tue 18 May 2021 View all news

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has published what it says is the 'world’s first comprehensive energy roadmap'. The IEA's Executive Director says that the exploitation and development of new oil and gas fields must stop this year and no new coal-fired power stations can be built if the world is to have a chance of meeting net zero emissions by 2050.

The report also calls for no new fossil-fuel cars to be sold beyond 2035, and for global investment in energy to more than double from $2tn (£1.42tn) a year to $5tn (£3.54tn). Such investments, it says, would lead to a net benefit for the global economy.

It says "there is a viable pathway to building a global energy sector with net-zero emissions in 2050, but it is narrow and requires an unprecedented transformation in how energy is produced, transported and used globally".

The IEA says that the climate pledges by governments to date – even if fully achieved – would fall well short of what is required to bring global emissions to net zero by 2050 and give the world an even chance of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 °C. 

Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director said (reported by The Guardian): “If governments are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now – from this year.”

He added: “More and more countries are coming up with net zero commitments, which is very good, but I see a huge and growing gap between the rhetoric [from governments] and the reality.”

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

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. 

The report says that 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 IEA comments that 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.

Fatih Birol said: “The clean energy transition is for and about people. 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.”

The report is designed to inform the high-level negotiations that will take at CoP26 which will be held in Glasgow in November. It was requested as input to the negotiations by the UK government’s COP26 Presidency.

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