EcoAct’s Research and Innovation Team reviews the IEA latest report that features a new technology-based roadmap for net zero and warns about the emerging challenge of critical minerals
The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently published its Net Zero by 2050, A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector report, in which it calls for all new developments of fossil fuels end this year to give the world a good chance of keeping within the 1.5C limit. It details a new scenario (NZE) that would drive the energy transition to net zero emissions by 2050. NZE is a more ambitious scenario than IEA’s previous ones, such as the Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) or the Announced Pledges Scenario (APC). The report rightly acknowledges the urgency of climate action, claiming the “gap between rhetoric and action needs to close if we are to have a fighting chance of reaching net zero by 2050 and limiting the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 °C.” Today, the EcoAct Research & Innovation Team analysed the report and examined IEA’s approach to the transformation of the energy systems required for us to reach net zero.
NZE assumes strong growth by 2050: The population is expected to increase by 2 billion inhabitants, the economy to be twice as big and the energy demand to decrease by 8% only. The IEA developed a very technology-oriented scenario to reach net zero emissions by 2050 under these circumstances. Nature-based solutions are not used, and behaviour changes have very limited impacts (approximately 5% of total CO2 savings). Moreover, NZE has particularly low reliance on negative emissions technologies (BECCS, DACCS).
Electrification is the cornerstone of NZE with low-carbon electricity covering 50% of the energy demand in 2050. Three technologies are expected to surge in the next decades and to enable 65% of the CO2 savings need to reach net zero emissions by 2050:
- Solar PV and Wind energy make up 70% of electricity production in 2050
- Electric vehicles: 60% of global car sales would be electric by 2030, 100% by 2050 and 99% for heavy trucks by the mid-century
The production of electricity from nuclear would double between 2010 and 2050, but the share within the global electricity mix by 2050 would remain under 10%.
The role of critical materials in net zero transition
What is clear however, is that if the transition towards a low-carbon energy system release societies’ dependence on fossil fuels, a new resources issue emerges for critical materials. It is addressed in IEA’s report, entitled The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions, disclosed on May 5th. Solar PV, wind turbines and batteries require significant amounts of rare metals, such as cobalt, lithium, nickel, graphite. Demand in critical materials goods is expected to increase sixfold by 2040 compared to 2020:
The additional challenge is that they are not equally available in all geographies. China is the worldwide leader in processing critical materials whereas Democratic Republic of the Congo supplies 75% of cobalt extraction on the planet.
To make the net zero scenario possible, the IEA announced several key recommendations:
- Ensure adequate investment in diversified sources of new supply
- Promote technology innovation at all points along the value chain
- Scale up recycling
- Enhance supply chain resilience and market transparency
- Mainstream higher environmental, social and governance standards
- Strengthen international collaboration between producers and consumers
Bold action needed to reach net zero
This report is the IEA’s strongest warning yet on the need to drastically scale back fossil fuels if the world is to stay within safe limits of global heating and meet the goal of net zero emissions by 2050. The report calls on governments to act now, claiming that pledges made in the lead-up to the COP26 UN climate talks this November are insufficient and need to be intensified if the world is to limit temperature rises to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels. It rightly emphasises that we are in a critical year at the start of a critical decade, that transition will be “extremely challenging, requiring all stakeholders – governments, businesses, investors and citizens to take action this year and every year” to make a net zero future possible”. Now more than ever, the time to act is now.