IEA (2020), World Energy Outlook 2020, IEA, Paris https://www.iea.org/reports/world-energy-outlook-2020, License: CC BY 4.0
Achieving net-zero emissions by 2050
Several countries have introduced targets to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. These targets are included and achieved in the Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS), but increasingly attention is turning to what it would mean for the energy sector globally to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. This is examined in a new case in this Outlook, called Net Zero Emissions by 2050 (NZE2050).
Decisions over the next decade will play a critical role in determining the pathway to 2050. For this reason, we examine what the NZE2050 would mean for the years through to 2030. Total CO2 emissions would need to fall by around 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, meaning that energy sector and industrial process CO2 emissions would need to be around 20.1 Gt, or 6.6 Gt lower than in the SDS in 2030.
Energy and industrial process CO2 emissions and reduction levers in WEO 2020 scenarios, 2015-2030Open
Realising the pace and scale of emissions reductions in the NZE2050 would require a far-reaching set of actions going above and beyond the already ambitious measures in the SDS. A large number of unparalleled changes across all parts of the energy sector would need to be realised simultaneously, at a time when the world is trying to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Primary energy demand in the NZE2050 falls by 17% between 2019 and 2030, to a level similar to 2006, even though the global economy is twice as large. Electrification, efficiency gains and behaviour changes are central to achieving this. Coal demand falls by almost 60% over this period to a level last seen in the 1970s.
CO2 emissions from the power sector decline by around 60% in the NZE2050 between 2019 and 2030. Worldwide annual solar PV additions in the NZE2050 expand from 110 GW in 2019 to nearly 500 GW in 2030, while virtually no subcritical and supercritical coal plants without CCUS are still operating in 2030. The share of renewables in global electricity supply rises from 27% in 2019 to 60% in 2030 in the NZE2050, and nuclear power generates just over 10%, while the share provided by coal plants without CCUS falls sharply from 37% in 2019 to 6% in 2030. Power sector investment nearly triples from $760 billion in 2019 to $2 200 billion in 2030, with more than one-third spent to expand, modernise and digitalise electricity networks.
CO2 emissions from end-uses in the NZE2050 fall by one-third between 2019 and 2030. Close to half of the existing building stock in advanced economies is retrofitted by 2030, and one-third is retrofitted elsewhere. Half of all air conditioners sold globally between 2020 and 2030 are the most efficient models available. Over 50% of passenger cars sold in 2030 are electric, up from 2.5% in 2019. Around 25% of total heat used in industry in the NZE2050 in 2030 comes from electricity and low-carbon fuels such as hydrogen, up from negligible levels today. Global battery manufacturing capacity would need to double every two years, and hydrogen production and distribution infrastructure would need to ramp up substantially.
Addressing emissions from existing infrastructure would be unavoidable in the NZE2050. In addition to investment in technologies, such as CCUS, low-carbon gases and buildings retrofits, behaviour changes would form an integral part of the emissions reduction strategy. We have examined 11 individual measures related to behaviour, which in total would reduce CO2 emissions by 2 Gt in 2030 in the NZE2050. The majority of these reductions are in the transport sector. Examples include replacing flights under one hour with low-carbon alternatives, walking or cycling instead of driving by car for trips under 3 km, and reducing road traffic speeds by 7 km/h. If implemented in full today, these measures would reduce transport sector CO2 emissions by more than 20%. These are illustrative measures, and not all of them would be possible for everyone, but they highlight the importance of behaviour changes for NZE2050, and the scale of what is needed.
Analysis of existing net-zero commitments provides a number of useful lessons for global efforts, and suggests that: a net-zero carbon power system requires careful long-term and integrated planning; electrification is central to emissions reduction efforts but low-carbon fuels such as hydrogen are also needed; it will be very difficult to eliminate emissions entirely from specific sub-sectors; there is an urgent need to boost support for technology innovation; and it will be critical to engage with consumers to ensure public acceptance and energy affordability.