IEA (2020), World Energy Outlook 2020, IEA, Paris https://www.iea.org/reports/world-energy-outlook-2020, License: CC BY 4.0
Lockdown measures and the economic fallout from Covid-19 mean that CO2 emissions are expected to decline by 7% in 2020 and investment in clean energy is expected to fall by 8%. In the Stated Policies Scenario (STEPS), CO2 emissions rebound in 2021, exceed 2019 levels in 2027, and rise to 36 Gt in 2030. This is far from the immediate peak and decline in emissions needed to meet climate goals, including the Paris Agreement.
The pandemic has also had an impact on progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Past progress on energy access in Africa is being reversed: the number of people without access to electricity is set to increase in 2020 after declining over the past six years, while basic electricity services have become unaffordable for up to 30 million people who had gained electricity access.
In the STEPS, the economic fallout from Covid-19 adds to the difficulties faced by governments and other actors in expanding access, leaving 660 million people without access to electricity in 2030, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa, and close to 2.4 billion people without access to clean cooking globally.
Our bottom-up country-by-country analysis of energy infrastructure both in operation today and under construction shows that, if all the assets in question were operated in line with past practice until the end of their lifetimes, they would generate a level of CO2 emissions that would lead to a long-term temperature increase of 1.65 °C (with a 50% probability). In the STEPS, these emissions and those from new infrastructure lead to a long-term temperature rise of around 2.7 °C in 2100.
But this future is not set in stone. Governments may decide to change the policies they have already put in place or announced, and thus change the outlook. The Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) shows a possible future course: it works backwards from the achievement of energy-related UN SDGs and shows what would be required to meet them. The Sustainable Recovery Plan, introduced in the recent Sustainable Recovery: World Energy Outlook Special Report, is fully integrated into this Outlook’s SDS. So is the achievement of the targets to achieve net-zero emissions announced by a number of jurisdictions. Existing carbon-intensive assets are operated in the SDS differently from in the past and there is a systematic preference for the development of new low-emissions infrastructure.
As part of post-Covid economic stimulus packages, the SDS sees $40 billion average annual investment towards energy access through to 2030, three-times more than in the STEPS, with universal access achieved by 2030. This is predicated on strong policy support and international co-operation, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
Concentrations of the major air pollutants drop dramatically in the SDS: energyrelated emissions of NOX, SO2 and PM2.5 fall by 40-60% by 2030, leading to 2.5 million fewer premature deaths from air pollution in 2030 than in the STEPS. This results in significantly cleaner air in major cities than was the case during lockdowns in 2020.
CO2 emissions in the SDS fall to less than 27 Gt in 2030, around 9 Gt lower than in the STEPS. By 2030, low-carbon sources of electricity account for almost two-thirds of total generation worldwide; the emissions intensity of industrial activity is 40% lower; and electric cars make up about 40% of new car sales. Rapid progress is also made in innovation and the deployment of low-carbon fuels and energy technologies, including hydrogen, carbon capture utilisation and storage, direct air capture and small modular nuclear reactors.
The SDS also leads to significant reductions in methane emissions, especially from oil and gas operations. There are many abatement options available at very low cost. Methane emissions are reduced in the SDS by 75% from 2019 levels by 2030.
Investment in clean energy and electricity networks rises in the SDS from $0.9 trillion in 2019 to $2.7 trillion in 2030. Nearly 70% of clean energy and grid investment to 2030 comes from private sources, with public finance and policy design playing a vital role in mobilising it. Recent efforts to incorporate sustainability into decision making in financial markets may in time increase the availability of private finance, but they have not yet translated into an acceleration of clean energy capital expenditure.