Credit: Alexander Tsang
The International Energy Agency's (IEA) recently published landmark report, Net Zero by 2050, sets out a roadmap for the global energy sector. The report calls out the need to close the gap between rhetoric and action if there's a chance of reducing carbon dioxide emissions to a net zero state in less than thirty years. Noting that the pledges by governments across the globe, even if fully achieved, fall considerably short of what would be required, the report puts forward a vision for achieving a fossil fuel-free planet.
“The Net Zero Commitment from the energy sector requires a huge leap of innovation. Governments and other entities need to provide the right programs to incentivise the creation of new technologies and its adoption across society to deliver the results,’ notes Jose Maria Ortiz, Palladium Managing Partner.
Acknowledging the drastic decline in annual per capita income likely faced by oil and gas supplying economies without extreme pivots, the report puts forward seven principles supported by 22 of the agency's 30 member governments organisations to date.
"This would be a monumental transformation in the ways we produce and consume energy, while testing our ability to not only innovate but to adopt that innovation into our day-to-day lives," Ortiz adds.
The seven key pillars to support decarbonisation depend on an unprecedented push towards clean energy throughout the next decade.The report also acknowledges uncertainties around behaviour changes, carbon capture, utilisation and storage applied to emissions from fossil fuels, and the need for bioenergy and land-use change requirements.
1. Energy Efficiency
Minimising energy demand growth through efficiency improvements is expected to make a critical contribution. The simplicity and scalability of efficiency measures in industry, buildings, appliances and transport offer rapid and tangible results that provide the largest opportunity to curb energy demand and emissions in the near term.
2. Behavioural Change
The wholescale transformation of the energy sector globally cannot be achieved without the willing participation of the world's citizens. There are three specific areas for creating the behaviour change needed for this transformation; the reduction of excessive or wasteful energy use, switching of transportation modes, and efficiency gains in materials, including reduced material needs because of increased recycling.
Representing one of the most important drivers of emissions reductions, direct use of low‐emissions electricity in place of fossil fuels is essential; the path calls for an expansion of electrification across industries, with a particular focus on transportation.
The report points to renewables as the key pillar from a global perspective and representative of the best opportunity to reduce emissions from the electricity supply. The IEA calls for the tripling of renewable energy approaches, dramatically expanding the use of wind and solar by 2030, and an eightfold increase by 2050.
5. Hydrogen and Hydrogen-Based Fuels
While the near-term path focusses on converting existing uses of fossil energy to low‐carbon hydrogen, leveraging approaches that don't immediately require new transmission and distribution infrastructure (including hydrogen use in industry, refineries and power plants, together with the blending of hydrogen into natural gas for consumer distribution), longer-term solutions will require the development of infrastructure.
The focus on bioenergy is twofold. The first is on changing usage patterns by moving away from the use of solid biomass within cooking, for example, and instead towards modern sustainable sources. The second is avoiding the risk of potential negative impacts, which together provides an opportunity to meet about 20 percent of total energy needs by 2050.
7. Carbon capture, utilisation and storage
Tackling emissions from existing global assets, providing approaches to address the most problematic sectors, creating cost‐effective pathways to scale up low‐carbon hydrogen production at pace, and allowing for CO2 removal from the atmosphere are areas that will require a range of measures and policies to be realised.
Acknowledging that nothing short of a complete transformation of the energy systems underpinning global economies will suffice, the report from the IEA is an urgent rallying cry to the international community. With more than 400 clear milestones spanning sectors and technologies, including an immediate stop to investment in new fossil fuel supply projects, and no sales of new internal combustion engine passenger cars by 2035, the report provides opportunities to track progress along the path towards net zero.
The international approach presented, with unique country-by-country customisation, will require vast amounts of investment, innovation, skilful policy design and implementation, together with technology deployment, infrastructure building, and of course international cooperation and efforts across many other areas.
“The Net Zero target can only be achieved through a comprehensive approach to changing the ways we produce, consume, tax, and value resources,” adds Ortiz. “The energy sector is only one pillar, and in the upcoming COP26 conference, we expect to see a more global approach where we combine several interventions to achieve the targets in each country, as well as across the planet as a whole.”
Ortiz notes that the transformation will require more than the cooperation of the energy sector. “The agricultural and forestry sectors, the activation of the blue economy, the value of nature, as well as the mobility sector need to be activated as part of the solution, and most importantly they all need to complement each other to truly deliver the outcome we need.”
While the challenge of transforming global energy systems is undoubtedly an enormous one, it also represents an incredible opportunity for economies, complete with the potential to create millions of new jobs and boost economic growth – in a sustainable way. Optimism aside, it's reassuring to know that the IEA have delivered a pathway leveraging already existing technologies in the near term, to 2030, and building on proven policies that can drive further technological development and deployment.
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