Many energy experts and climate researchers are wondering whether it is possible to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Today the world’s leading energy institution offered a counter-argument.
In a 227-page report, the International Energy Agency said it was possible to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and limit warming to 1.5 ° C. Starting today, however, the world’s energy system needs a major overhaul.
According to the IEA, dramatic measures will be required over the next decade to reach a net zero target by 2050. Where electric vehicles account for 5% of global automobile sales today, they must account for 60% of new car purchases in 2030. Annual renewables, which hit a record 280 gigawatts last year, must exceed 1,000 GW. And energy efficiency improvements must grow by 4% annually, which is roughly three times their current rate.
These developments must be complemented by massive investments in technologies such as carbon capture, hydrogen electrolysers and bioenergy. These are needed to clean up hard-to-clean sectors of the economy after 2030, the agency said.
“The magnitude and speed of the effort required to achieve this critical and daunting goal – our best chance to combat climate change and limit global warming to 1.5 ° C – make this perhaps the greatest challenge facing humanity has ever posed, “said Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the IEA in a statement.
The results of the IEA are important on several levels. Net-zero roadmaps are traditionally the origin of scientists, modelers from the International Panel on Climate Change and green-colored think tanks. The IEA, an agency founded in response to the 1973 and 1974 oil crisis, has long been denounced by the Greens for failing to accurately capture the growth of renewable energies and reluctantly embracing the energy transition.
With that in mind, today’s report is an endorsement from the energy company and reaffirms the industry’s idea that it will be possible to substantially eliminate emissions from the world’s energy system over the next three decades.
“The IEA analysis was used to prop up the fossil fuel system,” said Kingsmill Bond, energy strategist at Carbon Tracker, a London-based think tank that studies the financial implications of climate change. “The fact that the IEA specifically provided this analysis, which suggests that changes are possible, is extremely significant.”
What is in the report is just as important. Many analysts wonder if it is possible to limit warming to 1.5 ° C by 2100 (Climate wire, June 5, 2020). Part of this skepticism is due to the world’s dwindling carbon budget. The planet has already warmed by more than 1 ° C compared to pre-industrial levels.
Some of the doubts also stem from energy models that rely heavily on unproven negative emissions technologies to offset pollution from large parts of the economy. The strong dependence on technologies for negative emissions was a prerequisite for many of the 1.5-C paths modeled by the IPCC (Climate wireDecember 22, 2020).
The IEA’s net-zero path, however, is not particularly based on negative emissions. Experts said the change was in large part due to the rapid decline in renewable energy costs, which has allowed energy modellers to envision much deeper emissions reductions by expanding wind and sun.
The report also shows that it is possible to achieve much of the required emission reductions through the use of large amounts of already commercial technologies such as wind and solar in the energy sector, electric vehicles in transportation and heat pumps in buildings.
The remainder, which accounts for a little less than half of the emissions reductions required, must come from developing technologies such as hydrogen electrolysis and carbon capture.
However, possible is not the same as simple. For example, IEA projects must stop selling traditional gasoline and diesel powered cars by 2035, and coal-fired power plants without carbon capture must close by 2040. 85 percent of all households must be carbon by the year zero in 2050 with electric heat pumps that cover around half of the heating requirement.
Greening the industrial sector could be even more difficult.
The IEA estimates that between 2030 and 2050 the world will need to install 10 carbon capture industrial plants, three hydrogen-powered plants and 2 GW of hydrogen electrolysis capacity, ie plants that generate hydrogen with clean electricity, every month. China built an average of 12 industrial plants per month between 2000 and 2015, the agency said.
“The report makes it clear that the window of opportunity to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 is tight, but – and importantly – it is still achievable,” said Costa Samaras, professor of energy systems at Carnegie Mellon University. “What the IEA is telling us here: In order to achieve our climate goals, we have to provide, provide, provide.”
Whether the world is ready for the deployment challenge is an open question. A wave of countries pledged to go to zero last year. Those commitments now cover 70% of global emissions, yet still lag behind what is needed to limit warming to 2 ° C by 2100, the IEA said.
The agency found that even if the commitments were successfully implemented, around 22 billion tons of CO would be left over2 Emissions in 2050, which led to a temperature increase of around 2.1 ° C. Global emissions from fossil fuels totaled 34 billion tons in 2020.
“While it is useful to have this scenario of how we can achieve a 1.5C target, it is still important to stress that it will be a huge boost and a lot more political will from countries around the world starting tomorrow World will require more than has been proven to date, ”said Zeke Hausfather, a climate researcher who leads the climate and energy program at the Breakthrough Institute.
Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2021. E&E News provides important news for energy and environmental professionals.