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World running out of time to reach net zero by 2050, report warns

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The world’s pathway to reaching net zero carbon by 2050 is narrowing without an “unprecedented transformation” of how energy is produced, transported and used globally, the International Energy Agency (IEA) report has found.

According to Net Zero by 2050: a Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector, even if current climate pledges are achieved, the world would still fall well short of what is required to bring global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to net zero by 2050.

The report aims to set out a cost-effective and economically productive pathway to the climate goal, which would result in a resilient energy economy dominated by renewables like solar and wind instead of fossil fuels. It also examines key uncertainties, such as the roles of bioenergy, carbon capture and behavioural changes in reaching net zero.

“Our Roadmap shows the priority actions that are needed today to ensure the opportunity of net-zero emissions by 2050 - narrow but still achievable - is not lost,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director.

“The scale and speed of the efforts demanded by this critical and formidable goal - our best chance of tackling climate change and limiting global warming to 1.5°C - make this perhaps the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced.

“The IEA’s pathway to this brighter future brings a historic surge in clean energy investment that creates millions of new jobs and lifts global economic growth. Moving the world onto that pathway requires strong and credible policy actions from governments, underpinned by much greater international cooperation.”

The report suggests that investment in new fossil fuel supply projects must end immediately alongside unabated coal plants; defined as those which do not apply additional carbon capture technologies to their emissions.

It adds that sales of new internal combustion engine passenger cars must end by 2035 and that by 2040 the global electricity sector must have already reached net-zero emissions.

In the near term, the report describes a net-zero pathway that requires the immediate and massive deployment of all available clean and efficient energy technologies, combined with a major global push to accelerate innovation.

The pathway calls for annual additions of solar PV to reach 630 gigawatts by 2030 and those of wind power to reach 390 gigawatts.

Together, this is four times the record level set in 2020, equivalent to installing the world’s current largest solar park roughly every day.

A major worldwide push to increase energy efficiency is also an essential part of these efforts, resulting in the global rate of energy efficiency improvements averaging 4 per cent a year through 2030 – about three times the average over the last two decades.

Most of the global reductions in CO2 emissions between now and 2030 in the net-zero pathway come from technologies readily available today.

By 2050, almost half the reductions must come from technologies that are currently only at the demonstration or prototype phase. This demands that governments quickly increase and reprioritise their spending on research and development.

“Our Roadmap shows that the enormous challenge of rapidly transitioning to a net-zero energy system is also a huge opportunity for our economies,” said Dr Birol.

“The transition must be fair and inclusive, leaving nobody behind. We have to ensure that developing economies receive the financing and technological know-how they need to build out their energy systems to meet the needs of their expanding populations and economies in a sustainable way.”

In September, the IEA called for rapid and expanded investment for carbon capture projects as an essential technology for sticking to climate goals.

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