IEA Unveils Ambitious Path to Net-Zero Emissions by 2050

In a new report, the International Energy Agency is calling for an immediate end to new investments in fossil fuel supply projects such as pipelines, the rapid adoption of renewable energy such as solar and wind power, and a large-scale research and development program to develop future technologies, including advanced batteries, producing energy from hydrogen, and the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere.

The report, entitled Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector, says that with global greenhouse gas emissions continuing to rise, current pledges to cut CO2 “would fall well short” of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 and holding global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). The IEA says the world has a “viable” yet “narrow” path to avoiding disruptive climate change and must embrace “an unprecedented transformation of how energy is produced, transported and used globally.”

The IEA roadmap lays out 400 milestones on the road to net-zero emissions within four decades, including a halt in final investment decisions on coal-fired power plants, no new sales of internal combustion passenger cars by 2035, and the decarbonization of the global electricity sector by 2040. The agency also calls for quadrupling of solar and wind power capacity in the next decade and a global push to adopt energy efficiency improvements of 4 percent a year by 2030.

This rapid transition away from fossil fuels must also occur as the world provides electricity to 785 million people who currently lack it and clean-cooking technologies to the 2.6 billion people who lack them. The IEA says that this suite of measures to wean the economy off fossil fuels will add $5 trillion in energy investments by 2030, create millions of jobs, and lead to a global gross domestic product in 2030 four percent higher than a business-as-usual approach.

The IEA predicts that in 2050, “the world looks completely different,” with 90 percent of electricity coming from renewables, solar making up the single-largest source of global energy, and fossil fuels mainly used in the manufacture of plastics and other products and in producing electricity with carbon capture-and-storage.

“The scale and speed of the efforts demanded by this critical and formidable goal … make this perhaps the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.