The twin ambitions of a net-zero global economy and a 1.5C limit on global warming remain within reach due to clean energy technologies, although the pathway is narrowing and momentum has to rapidly increase, according to an update of the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) net zero roadmap.
The new IEA report, released on Tuesday, follows last week’s Climate Action Summit held on the sidelines of the annual UN General Assembly meeting, where secretary general Antonio Guterras asserted that humanity had “opened the gates of hell” by allowing climate change to worsen.
In an opening address, Mr Guterras told a select group of “first doers and first movers” omitting the leaders of Australia as well as the US and China – the world’s two biggest polluters – that “horrendous heat is having horrendous effects”.
“If nothing changes, we are heading towards a 2.8C temperature rise – towards a dangerous and unstable world,” the UN chief said.
“But the future is not fixed; it is for leaders like you to write. We can still limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5C.
“The move from fossil fuels to renewables is happening, but we are decades behind.”
The UN Summit and the IEA update to its ground-breaking 2021 roadmap, which served as a benchmark for policymakers, industry and the financial sector, reached broadly similar conclusions on the scale of the climate challenge and the need for rapid acceleration.
Clean energy ramps up
The 2023 update incorporates significant changes to the energy landscape in the past two years, including the post-COVID economic rebound and the extraordinary growth in some clean energy technologies.
It says record growth in solar power capacity and electric car sales are in line with a net-zero pathway, as are industry plans for the rollout of the required manufacturing capacity.
This means that technologies not yet available on the market account for only 35 per cent of the emissions reductions needed for net zero in 2050, down from nearly half in the 2021 roadmap.
The new roadmap also recognises the importance of an equitable transition by saying advanced economies must reach net zero sooner to allow developing economies more time.
In the new pathway, global clean energy spending more than doubles from $US1.8 trillion a year in 2023 to $US4.5 trillion a year by the early 2030s.
The ramp-up in clean energy capacity drives fossil-fuel demand 25 per cent lower by 2030, reducing emissions by 35 per cent compared with the all-time high in 2022.
By 2050, fossil-fuel demand falls by 80 per cent.
The IEA says that, as a result, no new long lead-time upstream oil and gas projects are needed, and neither are new coal mines, mine extensions or new unabated coal plants.
The new IEA Report also say that failure to sufficiently accelerate momentum by 2030 will create additional climate risks and make the 1.5C goal dependent on the massive deployment of carbon removal technologies, which are currently “expensive and uproven at scale”.
At the UN climate summit, International Monetary Fund managing director Kristalina Georgieva said elimination of subsidies to fossil fuel companies globally would generate $US7 trillion for investment in accelerating the energy transition.
The figure included $US1.3 trillion in explicit subsidies as well as implicit subsidies, or the cost of emissions and air pollution.
Oliver Bate, chief executive of insurance giant Allianz, said the world had changed profoundly in recent years.
The long era of robust economic growth, low inflation and geopolitical stability was over, replaced by uncertainty, volatility and war.
“So, suddenly, fighting climate change has become an even greater challenge,” Mr Bate said.
“But remember, transforming our economy is actually a huge opportunity – the cost of not transforming dwarfs the investments needed for transformation.
“Not working on the transformation or slowing it down is foolish and even more irrational.”
NAB, for its part, has also recognised that speed is of the essence.
Releasing a new report last month commissioned from Deloitte, which found that Australia could reap a $435bn economic dividend by capitalising on the global race to achieve net zero, NAB chair Phil Chronican said the scale, complexity and cost of the transition was “profound”.
“The timeframe for achieving [Australia’s targets] is becoming increasingly pressurised,” Mr Chronican said.
“The cost of inaction or too little action is too great.”
Chief executive Ross McEwan said Australia had made significant progress over the last 12 months but “much more” needed to be done.
“First and foremost, we need to build, build, build,” Mr McEwan said.
“To do this, we need investment and labour to drive the projects, shorter lead-times, as well as improved consultation and a consistent national framework that delivers major green infrastructure projects that have widespread community support.”
Gearing up for COP 28
While the UN summit did not yield any major policy breakthroughs to hasten the transition to net zero by 2050, it is expected to help set the parameters and stimulate debate ahead of the COP 28 UN climate change conference.
The conference is scheduled to start on November 30 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates – one of the world’s biggest fossil fuel producers.
Previous COP meetings have underscored the challenge of achieving a political consensus around some of the world’s most pressing climate issues.
This was also highlighted in events surrounding the Climate Ambition Summit.
Only hours after Mr Guterras said humanity had opened the gates of hell, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak watered down some of the country’s key climate commitments, including a five-year delay on implementation of a proposed ban on new petrol and diesel cars.
Mr Sunak’s reversal was seen in some quarters as the start of a long general election campaign in which the political consensus on climate was likely to become increasingly fragile.
The UK PM’s response was to question “how it can be right” that British people were being told to sacrifice even more than others when the country’s share of global emissions was less than one per cent.
Despite the events in the UK, COP 28 president-designate Sultan al-Jaber told the summit that a phase-down in the use of fossil fuels was “inevitable and must go hand-in-hand with a rapid phase-up of zero carbon alternatives”.
Dr Jaber stressed the energy transformation was the “simplest, cheapest and fastest” way to dial down emissions, calling for a tripling in renewable energy capacity to 11TW by 2030.
He said COP 28 would be about tackling greenhouse gas emissions in large quantities, at the gigaton scale.
“We need to be practical, realistic and sober about what it’s going to take, to allow for the world to continue to evolve and to progress, and to grow in a way that is responsible, while also building the new energy system that will consist of zero unabated fossil fuel,” Dr Jaber said.
Mr Guterras’ stark assessment of the progress on implementation of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to less than 2C was informed by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s first global stocktake, unveiled earlier this month.
The stocktake, undertaken to intensify international pressure for COP 28 to fast-track the energy transition across all sectors, found that the world was far behind where it needed to be, with transformation required on “all fronts”.
It also stated that renewable energy had to be rapidly scaled up and deployed; carbon capture could not be used as a justification to continue using fossil fuels; deforestation had to be reversed, and climate finance was insufficient to do the job.
Mr Guterras noted his acceleration agenda called on governments to hit fast-forward, so developed countries reached net zero as close as possible to 2040, and emerging economies as close as possible to 2050.
The UN boss allowed himself a glimpse of optimism in closing the summit, saying that companies, asset owners and other financial institutions were aligning their strategies and portfolios with a 1.5C strategy.
If they could do it, everybody could follow.
“But everything that really matters needs a lot of fighting to be able to get there,” he said.
“So, to all the first-doers that are here today, and I think now it’s a matter of doing, I’d say: scale up. Bring together all those that you can bring together with you. Go for it. Take no prisoners.”