The UK’s roadmap to Net Zero

Updated: January 18, 2024
The International Energy Agency (IEA) reported that while we have a viable pathway towards Net Zero emissions by 2050, this will require unprecedented levels of transformation in the production and transportation of energy, as well as in its global use.

The world’s first comprehensive energy roadmap shows government actions to rapidly support clean energy supplies and reduce fossil fuel, which will create millions of jobs, support economic growth and keep Net Zero targets within reach.

The report is the first comprehensive study of how to achieve a Net Zero energy system by 2050, while ensuring stable and affordable energy supplies, universal access, and enabling economic growth. It sets out cost-effective and economically productive approaches towards a clean, resilient energy market dominated by renewables like solar and wind instead of fossil fuels.

Government climate pledges to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 °C could fall short of what’s necessary to bring energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to Net Zero by 2050, even if current targets are achieved.

‘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 IEA’s pathway to this brighter future brings a historic surge in clean energy investment that creates millions of new jobs and lifts global economic growth. Moving the world onto that pathway requires strong and credible policy actions from governments, underpinned by much greater international cooperation.’

Building on the IEA’s energy modelling tools, the roadmap sets out milestones in the global journey to Net Zero by 2050. These include no further investment in new fossil fuel supply projects and no further investment decisions for new unabated coal plants. By 2035, there will be no sales of new internal combustion engine passenger cars, and by 2040, the global electricity sector will have already reached net-zero emissions.

In the short term, the report describes a Net Zero journey requiring the immediate deployment of all available clean and efficient energy technology, combined with a major global push towards accelerated innovation.

The pathway calls for annual additions of solar PV to reach 630 gigawatts by 2030, and those of wind power to reach 390 gigawatts. Together, this is four times the record level set in 2020. For solar PV, it is the equivalent to installing the world’s current largest solar park roughly every day.

A major worldwide push to increase energy efficiency is also an essential part of these efforts, resulting in the global rate of energy efficiency improvements averaging 4% a year through 2030 – three times the average over the last two decades.

A transition of such scale and speed cannot be achieved without sustained support and participation from communities, whose lives will be affected in multiple ways.

‘The clean energy transition is for and about people,’ said Dr Birol. ‘Our roadmap shows that the enormous challenge of rapidly transitioning to a Net Zero energy system is also a huge opportunity for our economies. The transition must be fair and inclusive, leaving nobody behind. We have to ensure that developing economies receive the financing and technological know-how they need to build out their energy systems to meet the needs of their expanding populations and economies in a sustainable way.’

By 2050, the energy world looks to operate completely differently. Global energy demand is estimated to be around 8% less than today, but it serves an economy more than twice as big, and a population of a further 2 billion people.

Almost 90% of electricity generation will be generated by renewable sources, with a combination of wind and solar PV together accounting for almost 70% of this figure. The remainder comes from nuclear power.

Solar is set to become the world’s single largest source of total energy supply. Fossil fuels fall from almost four-fifths of total energy supply to slightly over one-fifth. Fossil fuels that remain are used in goods where carbon is embodied in the product such as plastics, in facilities fitted with carbon capture, and in sectors where low-emissions technology options are scarce.

‘The pathway laid out in our roadmap is global in scope, but each country will need to design its own strategy, taking into account its own specific circumstances,’ said Dr Birol. ‘Plans need to reflect countries’ differing stages of economic development: in our pathway, advanced economies reach net zero before developing economies. The IEA stands ready to support governments in preparing their own national and regional roadmaps, to provide guidance and assistance in implementing them, and to promote international cooperation on accelerating the energy transition worldwide.’

The full report is available for free on the IEA website, along with an online interactive form which highlights some of the key milestones in the pathway that must be achieved over the next 30 years in order to reach Net Zero emissions by 2050.

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