top of page
  • Raghav Sand

Net Zero by 2050: Realistic Target or Wishful Thinking?

The International Energy Agency (IEA) released a special report on May 18 titled, ‘Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector’. Its press release carried a very subtle message – “Pathway to critical and formidable goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 is narrow but brings huge benefits”. The rate at which we are consuming fossil fuel and subsequently emitting hazardous gases into the atmosphere is already showing its effects. Rise in temperature, erratic weather and frequent storms have caused huge losses and displaced millions.

What Does Net Zero Emissions Mean?

‘Net zero emissions’ refers to achieving an overall balance between greenhouse gas emissions produced and greenhouse gas emissions taken out of the atmosphere. Think of it like a set of scales: producing greenhouse gas emissions tips the scales, and we want to get those scales back into balance with no new greenhouse gas being added to the atmosphere in any given year. Eventually, we will probably need to tip them the other way to repair past harm. Once we stop emitting greenhouse gases from fossil fuels, we still need to deal with all the emissions we’ve already pumped into the atmosphere over the years. That’s the difference between zero and net zero.

Getting to net zero means we can still produce some emissions, as long as they are offset by processes that reduce greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. For example, these could be things like planting new forests, or drawdown technologies like direct air capture. The more emissions that are produced, the more carbon dioxide we will eventually need to remove from the atmosphere (this is called sequestration) to reach net zero.

However, to meet the goal of net zero, new emissions of greenhouse gas must be as low as possible. This means that we need to rapidly phase out fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – and transition to renewable energy.

The energy sector is the source of around three‐quarters of greenhouse gas emissions today and holds the key to averting the worst effects of climate change, perhaps the greatest challenge humankind has faced. Global emissions fell in 2020 because of the Covid‐19 crisis but are already rebounding strongly as economies recover. Further delay in acting to reverse that trend will put net zero by 2050 out of reach.

Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector Courtesy: IEA

The report is the world’s first comprehensive study of how to transition to a net zero energy system by 2050 while ensuring stable and affordable energy supplies, providing universal energy access, and enabling economic growth. It sets out a cost-effective and economically productive pathway, resulting in a clean, dynamic and resilient energy economy dominated by renewables like solar and wind instead of fossil fuels. The report also examines key uncertainties, such as the roles of bioenergy, carbon capture and behavioural changes in reaching net zero.

In the near term, the report describes a net zero pathway that requires the immediate and massive deployment of all available clean and efficient energy technologies, combined with a major global push to accelerate 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.

Courtesy: IEA

Most of the global reductions in CO2 (Carbon dioxide) emissions between now and 2030 in the net zero pathway come from technologies readily available today. But in 2050, almost half the reductions shall come from technologies that are currently only at the demonstration or prototype phase.

Despite the pledges and efforts by governments to tackle the causes of global warming, CO2 emissions from energy and industry have increased by 60% since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed in 1992. Global commitments are growing and most are being honoured, but they still fell short of what is needed.

Importance of International Co-operation

In 2019, we released more CO2 than ever before, putting us on course of 3 degrees Celsius global temperature rise this century. This could bring about devastating changes in the Earth’s ecosystem. The choices we make with respect to what we eat, how we eat, what we wear and how we travel and transport goods will define our medium and long-term future.

Making net‐zero emissions a reality hinges on a singular, unwavering focus from all governments – working together with one another, and with businesses, investors and citizens. All stakeholders need to play their part. The wide‐ranging measures adopted by governments at all levels in the net zero pathway help to frame, influence and incentivise the purchase by consumers and investment by businesses.

OPEC’s Global Forecast

In the years to come, road transportation is forecast to witness a strong decoupling between oil demand on the one hand, and commercial transport services and the number of vehicles on the road on the other. This will primarily result from efficiency improvements driven by technological developments, the tightening of energy policies, and an increasing penetration of electric vehicles (EVs), natural gas vehicles (NGVs) and to some extent hydrogen-based vehicles.

India’s average annual oil demand is projected to rise for the next two decades, while demand for oil in OECD countries and China will fall.

Of the total of 2.6 billion vehicles on the road by 2045, around 430 million will be EVs, clearly constituting the second-largest group after internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. The share of EVs is projected to reach around 5% in 2030, 13% in 2040 and more than 16% in 2045. NGVs will number around 120 million by then but are overtaken by EVs around 2030.

bottom of page