Sustainable Development Scenario

A cleaner and more inclusive energy future

The world is currently not on track to meet the main energy-related components of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), agreed by 193 countries in 2015. The IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) outlines a major transformation of the global energy system, showing how the world can change course to deliver on the three main energy-related SDGs simultaneously.

A new approach to energy and sustainable development

Based on existing and announced policies – as described in the IEA New Policies Scenario – the world is not on course to tackle climate change, achieve universal access to energy, or substantially reduce the severe health impacts of air pollution. The SDS sets out an ambitious but pragmatic vision of how the global energy sector can evolve in order to achieve the SDGs.

The SDS and the Paris Agreement

The SDS is fully aligned with the Paris Agreement’s goal of “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C”.

To achieve the temperature goal, the Paris Agreement calls for emissions to peak as soon as possible and reduce rapidly thereafter, leading to a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks (i.e. net-zero emissions) in the second half of this century. These conditions are met in the SDS: global CO2 emissions peak around 2020 and then decline steeply to 2040, on course towards net-zero emissions in the latter half of the century.

From now until 2040 (the period covered by the model), the emissions trajectory of the SDS is at the lower end of other decarbonisation scenarios projecting a median temperature rise in 2100 of around 1.7 °C to 1.8 °C. It is also within the envelope of scenarios projecting a temperature rise below 1.5 °C.

The ultimate long-term temperature outcome will depend on the trajectory of emissions after 2040 – including when global CO2 emissions reach net zero – as well as levels of emissions of other types of greenhouse gases. A continuation of the SDS pre-2040 emissions reduction rate would lead to global energy-sector CO2 emissions falling to net-zero around 2070, still at the lower end of the other scenarios projecting a temperature rise of 1.7-1.8 °C. Maintaining this rate of reduction of energy- and process-related emissions after 2040 will require continued technological innovation, including for carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) and so-called negative emissions technologies that allow for CO2 to be withdrawn from the atmosphere at scale. This underscores the importance of innovation in the SDS in the decades before 2040. Further, the science around emissions trajectories and climate implications is still evolving, and IEA scenarios will continue to be updated in light of the latest science.

The Paris Agreement is also clear that climate change mitigation objectives should be fulfilled in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty. The Sustainable Development Scenario explicitly supports these broader development efforts (in contrast to most other decarbonisation scenarios), in particular through its energy access and cleaner air dimensions.

Note: Scenarios projecting a median temperature rise in 2100 of around 1.7 °C to 1.8 °C are those following Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 2.6 in the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSP) database. See

Achieving three objectives in parallel

There is no trade-off between achieving climate objectives and delivering on energy access and air pollution goals.

Good policy design can exploit synergies between the three parallel objectives of the SDS.  Achieving universal access to modern energy only leads to a small increase in CO2 emissions (0.1%), the climate effect of which is more than offset by lower methane emissions due to a reduction in use of traditional biomass cookstoves.

Further, the transition to a low-carbon economy leads to a more efficient energy system that relies less on fuel combustion; this plays a major role in improving air quality, reducing both outdoor and household air pollution. The achievement of universal energy access all but eliminates household air pollution by 2030, due to reduced smoke from cooking fires. To reduce outdoor pollution further, the SDS includes policies that mandate the installation of advanced pollution control technologies and mechanisms for monitoring and enforcement.


The transition requires only a modest increase in investment, with renewables and energy efficiency leading the way,

The SDS presents an energy transition where renewables and energy efficiency lead the charge in reducing CO2 emissions as well as reducing pollutants that cause poor air quality.  Renewables become the dominant force in power generation, providing over 60% of global electricity generation by 2040.Wind and solar PV, in particular, soon become the cheapest sources of electricity in many countries and provide one-third of all electricity in 2040. Emissions reduction in transport, industry and buildings are achieved largely through greatly enhanced energy efficiency and increasing levels of electrification of end-uses.  Overall, achieving the vision of the SDS would require an increase of only around 15% in energy investment globally, relative to NPS.