IEA Outline Roadmap for World to Reach Net-Zero by 2050

by Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

Yesterday, the International Energy Agency–an international energy forum comprised of 29 industrialized countries under the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation– issued a comprehensive roadmap of what it would take for the world to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 while keeping to the 1.5C goal. 

As the BBC explained, by 2050 the IEA envisions a global economy that is twice as big as today, with two billion extra people but with the demand for energy dropping by 8%.

    • The authors say their plan achieves this with no carbon offsets and a low reliance on technologies to remove carbon from the air.
    • Crucially, it sees no place for new supplies of coal, oil or gas.

Why This Matters: These recommendations have been made before, but this is the first time the International Energy Agency has delineated ways to make these emissions cuts. 

What’s more, is that in the past the IEA has consistently underestimated the role of renewable energy while overstating that of fossil fuels. Not anymore, the agency raised the growth forecast for wind and solar by another 25%.

Kelly Trout, senior research analyst at Oil Change International, an environmental advocacy group told the New York Times: “It’s a huge shift in messaging if [the IEA] saying there’s no need to invest in new fossil fuel supply.”

The Caveat: The IEA warned that the “path to net-zero emissions is narrow.”

Adding that, “Staying on it requires the massive deployment of all available clean energy technologies – such as renewables, EVs and energy efficient building retrofits – between now and 2030.

For solar power, it is equivalent to installing the world’s current largest solar park roughly every day.”

Making the Rhetoric a Reality: Many major economies, from the US to the European Union, have promised to reduce their emissions to zero by 2050. But this will require a series of major changes that global leaders may not be ready for. 

To get to net zero, every nation would have to stop using fossil fuels much more quickly, according to the report. The pace of installations for solar panels and wind turbines would have to quadruple by 2030— which is roughly equivalent to building the world’s largest solar farm every day for the next decade. 

According to the New York Times the agency sketched out one potential timetable:

  • This year, nations would stop approving new coal plants unless they are outfitted with carbon capture technology to trap and bury their emissions underground. Nations would also stop approving the development of new oil and gas fields beyond those already committed.
  • By 2025, governments worldwide would start banning the sale of new oil and gas furnaces to heat buildings, shifting instead to cleaner electric heat pumps.
  • By 2030, electric vehicles would make up 60 percent of new car sales globally, up from just 5 percent today. By 2035, automakers would stop selling new gasoline- or diesel-fueled passenger vehicles. By 2050, virtually all cars on the roads worldwide either run on batteries or hydrogen.
  • By 2035, the world’s advanced economies would zero out emissions from power plants, shifting away from emitting coal and gas plants to technologies like wind, solar, nuclear or carbon capture. By 2040, all of the world’s remaining coal-fired power plants are closed or retrofitted with carbon capture technology.
  • In 2035, more than half of new heavy trucks would be electric. By 2040, roughly half of all air travel worldwide would be fueled by cleaner alternatives to jet fuel, such as sustainable biofuels or hydrogen.

Fatih Birol, the agency’s executive director, said in an interview with the Times, “We’re seeing more governments around the world make net-zero pledges, which is very good news. But there’s still a huge gap between the rhetoric and the reality.”


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