IEA (2020), World Energy Outlook 2020, IEA, Paris https://www.iea.org/reports/world-energy-outlook-2020, License: CC BY 4.0
There are two key themes in this World Energy Outlook 2020 (Outlook): the impact of Covid-19 on the energy sector and the prospects for accelerated energy transitions. These themes are interlinked and subject to major near-term uncertainties, in particular relating to the duration and severity of the pandemic, its economic implications and the extent to which energy and sustainability are built into recovery strategies. We explore the pathways out of today’s crisis in multiple scenarios and cases, with a focus on the next ten years.
Our updated assessment of the immediate effects of the pandemic on the energy system shows expected falls in 2020 of 5% in global energy demand, 7% in energy-related CO2 emissions and 18% in energy investment. Oil consumption is anticipated to decline by 8% in 2020 and coal use by 7%. Renewables, especially those in the power sector, are less affected than other fuels by the pandemic and its aftermath.
The Stated Policies Scenario (STEPS) is based on today’s policy settings and an assumption that the pandemic is brought under control in 2021. In this scenario, global GDP also returns to pre-crisis levels in 2021, and global energy demand in early 2023, but outcomes vary sharply by fuel. Renewables meet 90% of the strong growth in global electricity demand over the next two decades, led by continued high levels of solar PV deployment, but global coal use never gets back to previous levels. By 2040, coal’s share in global energy demand dips below 20% for the first time in modern energy history.
In the Delayed Recovery Scenario (DRS), the same policy settings lead to different energy outcomes because a prolonged pandemic has deeper and longer lasting economic and social impacts. Global GDP does not recover to pre-crisis levels until 2023, and global energy demand only returns in 2025. Oil demand flattens out below the 100 mb/d mark, some 4 mb/d below the level in the STEPS. Behavioural changes due to the pandemic affect the oil outlook in multiple ways, but the DRS, like the STEPS, does not yet show oil demand reaching a clear peak.
Today’s policy settings, as modelled in the STEPS and in the DRS, produce a much slower rebound in emissions than was seen after the 2008-09 financial crisis. However, they do not deliver a decisive break in the trend for global CO2 emissions. A slightly lower trajectory for emissions in the DRS than in the STEPS is due to reduced economic activity, rather than structural changes in the way that energy is consumed or produced. A higher carbon intensity of the economy in this scenario illustrates the peril of mistaking low growth for a solution to climate change.
A structural transformation of the energy sector will require massive investment in new, more efficient and cleaner capital stock. Drawing on the IEA Sustainable Recovery Plan, the Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) sees a near-term surge of investment in clean energy technologies over the next ten years. Along with action to reduce emissions from existing infrastructure, this is enough to make 2019 the definitive peak year for global CO2 emissions. In the SDS, CO2 emissions are nearly 10 Gt lower than in the STEPS by 2030, and reductions in air pollutant emissions produce significantly cleaner air than experienced during the 2020 lockdowns.
Progress towards universal access to electricity and to clean cooking facilities risks being slowed or reversed, notably in sub-Saharan Africa. While many major economies are set for an extended period of very low borrowing costs, access to finance in many developing economies could be more constrained, especially in the DRS, complicating the outlook for energy investment.
The pandemic has intensified the uncertainties facing the oil and gas industry. The timing and extent of a rebound in investment from the one-third decline seen in 2020 is unclear, given the significant overhang of supply capacity in oil and gas markets, and uncertainties over the outlook for US shale and for global demand. Pressure is meanwhile increasing on many parts of the industry to clarify the implications of energy transitions for their operations and business models, and to explain the contributions that they can make to reducing emissions.
The SDS sets out a possible pathway for a very ambitious transformation of the energy sector which incorporates full implementation of existing net-zero pledges for 2050 and earlier. The Net Zero Emissions by 2050 (NZE2050) case, explored in detail for the first time in this Outlook, sets out what additional measures would be required over the next ten years to put the world as a whole on track for net-zero emissions by mid-century. Achieving this goal would involve a significant further acceleration in the deployment of clean energy technologies together with wideranging behavioural changes.