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Hopeful news from the International Energy Agency (IEA): the goal of a carbon-neutral energy system by 2050 is still within reach. But some crucial measures must now be speeded up, the agency says. These include tripling the amount of renewable energy by the year 2030 and improving energy infrastructure. And, the IEA stresses, significantly more financing.
The IEA published its conclusions in a new report, the "Net Zero Roadmap. This is an updated version of a report published in 2021, in which IEA researchers laid out what was needed to make the energy system carbon neutral by 2050. Since then, the researchers saw the energy system moving in the right direction, but nature was also sending increasingly strong signals. For example, August this year was the hottest ever, and we have seen more and more natural disasters around us in recent years.
To meet the 2050 target, the IEA says countries must first achieve a number of milestones by 2030. First, the amount of renewable energy must triple, which would bring global renewable energy capacity to 11,000 gigawatts (in 2022 it was about 3,600 gigawatts). This will focus on solar and wind power, with technologies that are easily scalable and inexpensive.
The improvement in energy intensity must also double. Energy intensity is a statistic that reflects the degree of energy efficiency of an economy, and consists of the amount of units of energy needed to generate a unit of economic value. In 2022, the global improvement in energy intensity was 2 percent; by 2030 it should rise to 4 percent. One way to do this is to optimize the efficiency of electric motors, switch to more efficient fuels, and use materials more sparingly.
Methane not forgotten
It still appears important to drastically reduce methane emissions. In 2022, 122 megatons of methane were emitted, and these emissions must be reduced to 30 megatons (a 75 percent reduction) by 2030. The IEA indicates that this is a cost-effective way to meet the 2050 CO2 target. If methane emissions from the fossil industry are not reduced, CO2 emissions must be net-zero as early as 2045 to stop global warming.
In order to transport the sustainably generated energy in a decent way, a strong growth of energy infrastructure is needed. That is, the transmission and distribution of energy. The IEA estimates that growth at 2 million kilometers per year through 2030. A challenging process, the researchers stress, because expanding infrastructure is a time-consuming process, due in part to required permits.
More money needed
Finally, the IEA, now among many, points to the importance of financing. According to forecasts, the world total of climate finance will reach $1.8 trillion ($1,800,000,000,000 or 1.7 trillion euros) this year. This must rise to $4.5 trillion (4.25 trillion euros) a year by 2030 to meet the 2050 goals, according to the researchers.