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IEA unveils blueprint to reach net-zero emissions by 2050

Highlights

Global energy system needs 'unprecedented transformation'

IEA charts course for net-zero, ensuring affordable energy

630 GW/yr solar, 390 GW/yr wind needed by 2030

London — The International Energy Agency has unveiled what it describes as the world's first comprehensive road map to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

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The report comes ahead of the COP26 United Nations climate summit in November where governments are set to upgrade their national climate targets in a bid to close the gap between what's been pledged and what is needed to avoid temperature increases of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100.

"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," the Paris-based agency said in a statement May 18.

The IEA's roadmap sets out more than 400 milestones to guide the journey to net-zero, including an immediate end to investment in new fossil fuel supply projects, and no further final investment decisions for new unabated coal plants.

It calls for annual additions of solar photovoltaic power to reach 630 GW by 2030, and those of wind power to reach 390 GW.

The global rate of energy efficiency improvement also needs to ramp up to 4% per year through 2030 – about three times the average over the last two decades, the agency said.

Meeting the net-zero target requires total annual energy investment of $5 trillion by 2030, adding an extra 0.4 percentage point a year to global GDP growth, the IEA said.

"Moving the world onto that pathway requires strong and credible policy actions from governments, underpinned by much greater international cooperation," IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said.

Climate pledges by governments to date -- even if fully achieved -- would fall well short of what was required, the IEA said.

NET ZERO PATHWAY MILESTONES

2021
No new unabated coal plants approved
No new oil and gas fields approved
No new coal mines or mine extensions
2025
No new sales of fossil fuel boilers
2030
Universal energy access
New buildings zero carbon ready
60% of global car sales are electric
Most new clean techs in heavy industry demoed at scale
1,020 GW annual solar and wind additions
Phase out of unabated coal in advanced economies
2035
Most appliances and cooling systems sold are best in class
50% of heavy truck sales are electric
No new ICE car sales
All industrial electric motor sales are best in class
Net zero emissions electricity in advanced economies
2040
50% of existing buildings retrofitted to zero carbon ready levels
50% of fuels used in aviation are low emission
Net zero emissions electricity globally
Phase out of all unabated coal and oil power plants
2050
More than 85% of buildings zero carbon ready
More than 90% heavy industry production low emissions
Almost 70% electricity generation from solar PV, wind
Source: IEA

Energy emissions seen peaking in 2025

S&P Global Platts Analytics' most likely case outlook in its Global Integrated Energy Model shows global fossil fuel energy-related emissions peaking in 2025 and remaining above 2021 levels through 2040.

Meanwhile, CO2 emissions from coal are forecast to decline 16% over the 20-year period, from 14.61 billion mt/year to 12.27 billion mt/year.

The scenario sees energy-related emissions from oil increase by 8.2% to 12.28 billion mt/year by 2040 although oil emissions peak in 2032. Energy-related emissions from natural gas are forecast to rise 29.1% to 9.27 billion mt/year, and do not peak throughout the forecast horizon in the most likely case.

"Aggressive emissions reduction pathways like net-zero require intense policy support from governments and business, rapid technological innovation, and a willingness from consumers and taxpayers to pay for it," Platts Analytics' head of scenario planning, Dan Klein, said.

"These are challenges even for wealthy nations, but perhaps the biggest challenge is paying for these changes in developing nations when the cost to consume fossil fuels is still relatively low," he said.

'A mosaic of solutions'

The modeling of Platts Analytics' 2 Degree Scenario suggested it would be difficult for the world to achieve this less aggressive policy goal, let alone netting out all carbon emissions.

"These challenges can be overcome by a mosaic of solutions, including biofuels, hydrogen, electric vehicles, renewables, nuclear and carbon capture, but it is clear investment in these areas needs to accelerate exponentially right now if net-zero is to be achieved by 2050," Klein said.