IEA looks at efforts needed by sustainable recovery


Reaching net zero emissions will call for governments, energy companies, investors and citizens to come together and make unprecedented contributions, a report has said.

On 12 October, the International Energy Agency (IEA) published its World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2020, stressing the need for a “surge in well-designed energy policies” to put the world on track for a resilient energy system to meet climate goals, amid the deep disruption and uncertainty caused by Covid-19. It predicted that 2020 will see a 5% fall in global energy demand, 7% in energy-related CO2 emissions and 18% in energy investment.

While greenhouse gas emissions are forecast to bounce back slower than they did following the financial crisis in 2008-2009, the IEA warned the world is still a long way from a sustainable recovery and a step change in clean energy investment offers a way to boost economic growth, create jobs and reduce emissions. The IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) would allow for the world to get back on track to achieving sustainable energy objectives in full and reach net zero globally by 2070.

Its Sustainable Recovery Plan would provide a pathway to put the global energy recovery on a different post-crisis path, seeing rapid growth of solar, wind and energy efficiency technologies in the next 10 years, along with a major scaling up of hydrogen and carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS).

Key to placing the world on a sustainable path will be focusing on reducing emissions from existing energy infrastructure. While emissions from the power sector are forecast to drop 40% by 2030 under the IEA’s SDS, the harder tasks for the transformation of the energy sector will stem from industrial sectors such as steel and cement, as well as long-distance transport. It noted that despite a projected 2.4 gigatonne fall in annual CO2 emissions, taking them back to where they were a decade ago, initial signs indicate there will not be a similar fall in 2020 in emissions of methane from the energy sector.

If energy infrastructure continues operating in the same way as it has done so far, the report warned that it will lock in a temperature rise of 1.65 °C.

To avoid this, the report called for the maintaining of a strong pace of emissions reductions after 2030 alongside a focus on energy and material efficiency, electrification and a key role for low carbon liquids and gases. This is where low carbon hydrogen and CCUS will scale up significantly, according to the IEA, following a decade of rapid innovation and deployment in the late 2020s.

The pathway is reliant on countries and companies meeting their net zero targets “on time and in full”, as by doing so, they can accelerate progress elsewhere to bring down technology costs and develop regulations and markets for low emissions products and services.

It will call for a collective effort, with governments, energy companies, investors and citizens all having to be committed and all having to make unprecedented contributions. Companies will require clear long-term strategies backed by investment commitments and measurable impact. The finance sector will have to facilitate a dramatic scale up of clean technologies, while also aiding the transitions of fossil fuel companies and energy intensive businesses, as well as bringing low cost capital to the countries and communities that need it most. The engagement and choices of citizens will further be a key component, such as how they heat or cool their homes, and opt to travel.

To reach net zero globally by 2050, the report stressed it would call for a “set of dramatic additional actions” over the next decade. To deliver a 40% reduction in emissions by 2030 would require low emission sources to provide almost three quarters (75%) of global electricity generation in 2030 – up from less than 40% in 2019 – and more than 50% of passenger cars sold worldwide to be electric – up from 2.5% in 2019. Electrification, significant efficiency gains and behavioural changes will all play parts, as would accelerated innovation across a wide range of technologies, including hydrogen electrolysers and small modular nuclear reactors.