The world must immediately stop investing in new oil and gas projects in order to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the International Energy Agency said in a new report.
The Paris-based forecasting group said the globe only has a “narrow” opportunity to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, a target that scientists say must be met in order to avoid the worst consequences of global warming.
The new report underscores the huge challenges facing the Biden administration, which has promised aggressive action this decade to cut U.S. emissions in half by 2030, a level necessary to put the country on track to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
Net-zero means countries would stop adding any new emissions to the atmosphere.
The United States and other large countries that have made net-zero commitments account for around 70% of global carbon emissions, but those pledges are nowhere near enough for the world to hold global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, the goal of the Paris Agreement.
“Moving the world onto that pathway requires strong and credible policy actions from governments, underpinned by much greater international cooperation,” said IEA Director Fatih Birol, who said the goal remains “achievable” if it follows a path laid out by his agency.
Here are some actions the world must take to keep pace, the IEA said:
- The world’s least efficient coal plants would need to be phased out by 2030, and any remaining plants in use by 2040 would have to be equipped with carbon capture technology.
- No new oil and natural gas fields can be approved for development.
- Automakers could not sell new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035, while electric vehicles would have to increase from around 5% of global car sales to more than 60% by 2030.
- Across the economy, fossil fuels supply almost four-fifths of total energy supply today, but that would have to fall to just over one-fifth by 2050.
- Coal demand must decline by 90%, oil consumption by 75%, and gas demand has to decrease 55% by mid-century. To do that would require drastically cutting emissions from trucks, ships and planes, steel and cement factories, and chemical plants — areas of the economy in which there are currently few alternatives to fossil fuels.
The Biden administration has vowed to hold up its end of the bargain but faces a difficult task.
The U.S. reduced economywide emissions by 12% from 2005 through 2019, more than any other country, but it will have to more than triple its pace to meet the Biden target of 50% to 52% reductions by 2030.
The other top two global emitters, China and India, still expect their emissions to keep rising this decade, which is incompatible with reaching the 1.5 degrees Celsius Paris Agreement target.
China, the top emitter, is still building new coal plants, although its president Xi Jinping vowed at Biden’s climate summit to begin phasing out coal by the second half of this decade.
In addition to dramatically reducing fossil fuel production and consumption, the world needs to scale up clean energy technologies to replace it.
Some of the measures advised by the IEA include:
- The renewable energy build-out would have to be massive. Under the IEA’s pathway, the world would add 630 gigawatts of solar and 390 gigawatts of wind each year by 2030. That level of renewables is 4 times the record capacity additions set in 2020. According to the IEA, meeting that level of solar deployment would mean installing an amount equal to the world’s current largest solar facility every day. In total, renewables would make up 70% of electricity generation by 2050.
- Other low-carbon technologies need to scale up much more quickly. The IEA estimates that nearly half of the emissions reductions in 2050 are the result of technologies that right now are only in the demonstration or pilot stage. The IEA says it is critical that governments invest heavily over the next 10 years to research, develop, and deploy technologies such as long-duration battery storage, electrolyzers to produce green hydrogen, and direct air capture to suck carbon emissions directly from ambient air. The IEA calls on governments to mobilize $90 billion for clean energy demonstration projects by 2030, more than triple the $25 billion that is currently budgeted for the next decade.
- The world will have to be much more efficient to limit growth in energy demand. Global energy demand under the IEA’s net-zero scenario is 8% smaller than today, even though that energy serves 2 billion more people and a global economy double in size. Energy efficiency improvements play a huge role in the net-zero pathway, and the IEA calls for an average improvement of 4% per year through 2030, roughly 3 times the rate of improvement over the last two decades.