The message from the IEA (International Energy Agency) is crystal clear: “There is no need for investment in new fossil fuel supply in our net zero pathway.” As the world begins to shift to a net-zero future, there simply is no room for the further expansion of fossils.
TIME’S UP for Fossil Fuels
“The I.E.A. is finally recognizing the lock-in risk of new fossil-fuel extraction. It’s clear that what’s already developed is enough to meet demand in a world aligning with 1.5 Celsius… Further fossil-fuel expansion just isn’t compatible with a working planet,” wrote Bill McKibben in The New Yorker recently.
The time’s up for the fossils—no TMX or Line 3 pipelines, no new exploration, no LNG (liquified natural gas) projects. None of it.
Getting to 2050, Five Years at a Time
The report lays out the IEA’s pathway to zero in five-year chunks – from The Energy Mix
- In 2020, emissions stood at 33.9 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide or equivalent, with building retrofit rates below 1%, solar and wind delivering nearly 10% of the world’s power generation, electric vehicles accounting for 5% of global auto sales, and fossil fuels providing nearly 80% of total energy supply. Staying on a net-zero path will require “the massive deployment of all available clean energy technologies—such as renewables, EVs, and energy-efficient building retrofits—between now and 2030,” the agency writes. “For solar power, it is equivalent to installing the world’s current largest solar park roughly every day.”
- As of 2021, no new oil and gas projects, coal mines, or unabated coal power plants are approved for development, and global sales of fossil fuel boilers end by 2025.
- By 2025, emissions fall to 30.2 billion tonnes, all new buildings in advanced economies are zero-carbon-ready, solar and wind hit 20% of global power production, and the last unabated coal plants under construction are completed.
- By 2030, emissions fall to 21.1 gigatonnes, 60% of global car sales are electric, global coal demand has fallen 50% since 2020, advanced economies have phased out unabated coal power, solar and wind are adding 1,020 gigawatts of new capacity per year, 850 gigawatts of hydrogen electrolyzers have been deployed, and everyone in the world has access to energy, in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
- By 2035, emissions are down to 12.8 Gt, global fossil fuel use is down 50% since 2020, electricity generation in advanced economies has hit net-zero emissions, internal combustion cars are no longer available, 50% of heavy truck sales are electric, all new industrial motors are best in class, and the model calls for four billion tonnes of carbon capture.
- By 2040, emissions stand at 6.3 Gt, oil demand is down 50% since 2020, all unabated coal- and oil-fired power plants have been phased out, half of all existing buildings have been retrofitted to zero-carbon-ready levels, about 90% of today’s heavy industrial equipment has been replaced as it reached the end of its investment cycle, half of aviation fuels are low-emission, and global electrolyzer capacity has reached 2,400 GW. With electricity assuming a dominant role in buildings, transport, and industry, countries “will require huge increases in electricity system flexibility—such as batteries, demand response, hydrogen-based fuels, hydropower, and more—to ensure reliable supplies.”
- In 2045, emissions fall to 2.5 billion tonnes, new energy technologies are widespread, and low-emission industries are flourishing. Half of global heating demand is met by heat pumps, and natural gas demand has fallen 50% since 2050. The nuclear industry is somehow adding 24 GW of new capacity and supplying more than 5,000 terawatt-hours of electricity per year, while hydropower output hits 8,000 TWh.
- In 2050, the IEA sees emissions falling to zero, with more than 85% of buildings zero-carbon ready, nearly 70% of global power generation coming from solar and wind, more than 90% of heavy industry deemed low-emission, and 7.6 billion tonnes of carbon capture per year.
“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. 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,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director.
“The world must stop digging new holes, and focus instead on managing a rapid and equitable wind down of already developed extraction,” wrote Kelly Trout in her IOC blog post.
“Big Oil and Gas companies and the governments of fossil fuel-producing countries have lost one of their key covers for claiming that developing new oil and gas reserves is fully consistent with their commitments to “net zero” or the Paris Agreement. People around the world who have been demanding that governments, banks, and other financial institutions stop enabling the expansion of oil, gas, and coal extraction can point to the IEA’s “authoritative” analysis reaching the same conclusion.” — IOC, Kelly Trout
It would seem reasonable to think that the IEA has just given a huge boost to campaigners working to stop the fossil fuel industry and its financial backers. But not so fast. As it goes down its death spiral, count on the fossils to double down and fight for its survival to the bitter end.
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