Global warming could still be kept under 1.5°C due to rapid growth in clean energy technologies over the last decade, but the path is narrowing and stronger action needs to be taken swiftly, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has said.
The Paris Agreement, which was signed in 2015, saw delegates from 196 countries meet to agree to cap global warming at “well below 2°C”, with a view to limiting this figure to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
The IEA’s 2023 Net Zero Roadmap update finds there have been “significant” changes to the energy landscape in the past two years, including “extraordinary growth” in some clean energy technologies. Nevertheless, it also finds that increased investment in fossil fuels is keeping emissions stubbornly high.
Record growth in solar power capacity and electric car sales since 2021 are in line with a net zero emissions pathway by mid-century, as are industry plans for the roll-out of new manufacturing capacity for them. Those two technologies alone are estimated to deliver around one-third of the emissions reductions needed between today and 2030.
Recent calculations by the Berlin-based Mercator Research Institute found that the cost of solar power has dropped by nearly 90 per cent over the last decade. Indeed, it has become so cheap that it makes fossil fuel-generated power no longer economically viable in some cases.
In the IEA’s original roadmap in 2021, technologies not yet available on the market delivered nearly half of the emissions reductions needed for net zero in 2050. That number has now fallen to around 35 per cent in this year’s update.
“Keeping alive the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C requires the world to come together quickly. The good news is we know what we need to do – and how to do it. Our 2023 Net Zero Roadmap, based on the latest data and analysis, shows a path forward,” said IEA executive director Fatih Birol.
“But we also have a very clear message: strong international cooperation is crucial to success. Governments need to separate climate from geopolitics, given the scale of the challenge at hand.”
The 2023 roadmap suggests that an “equitable transition” to net zero would see advanced economies reach the goal sooner to allow emerging and developing economies more time.
But to stay on track, almost all countries will need to move forward with their targeted net zero dates. This also hinges on mobilising a significant increase in investment, especially in emerging and developing economies. To meet the 1.5°C goal, global clean energy spending needs to rise from $1.8tn in 2023 to $4.5tn annually by the early 2030s.
Such efforts would reduce demand for fossil fuels by 25 per cent by 2030, which would reduce emissions by 35 per cent compared with the all-time high recorded in 2022.
“By 2050, fossil fuel demand needs to fall by 80 per cent. As a result, no new long-lead-time upstream oil and gas projects are needed. Neither are new coal mines, mine extensions or unabated coal plants,” the IEA said.
However, the body admitted that continued investment is still required in some existing oil and gas assets, and has already approved projects to meet the ongoing demand.
“Removing carbon from the atmosphere is very costly. We must do everything possible to stop putting it there in the first place,” Birol added. “The pathway to 1.5°C has narrowed in the past two years, but clean energy technologies are keeping it open.
“With international momentum building behind key global targets – such as tripling renewable capacity and doubling energy efficiency by 2030, which would together lead to a stronger decline in fossil fuel demand this decade – the COP28 climate summit in Dubai is a vital opportunity to commit to stronger ambition and implementation in the remaining years of this critical decade.”
Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.