The International Energy Agency made headlines on May 18 when it released a roadmap setting out what the world needs to do to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5°C. It’s the world’s first comprehensive energy roadmap that shows how we can get to net-zero emissions by 2050.
Why is this so big?
The IEA is the world’s most influential energy modelling agency. It was created in 1974 to respond to major disruptions in oil supply, and its mandate was to foster cooperation to plan for the future of oil. As the Globe and Mail phrased it in a recent editorial, for almost fifty years, the energy body’s “answer to most energy questions used to be ‘oil.’”
And now, in an exciting (if overdue) turn, it’s calling for no new oil and gas projects.
This is a major shift. It shows that even conservative, industry-affiliated institutions recognize the need for real and immediate climate action – and the scale of transformation needed to reach net-zero by 2050. In other words: the IEA has always presented the best-case scenario for oil and gas; their report makes it clear that even the best-case scenario for oil and gas means an immediate halt to expansion and a managed decline of existing production.
Current commitments are not enough to hold global warming to survivable levels. Despite the commitment every country around the world has made under the Paris Agreement to hold warming to 1.5°C, and the flurry of government promises within the last year to reach net-zero emissions in the next 30 years, the IEA’s report finds that countries’ current plans are nowhere near good enough to deliver. Fewer than a quarter of net-zero pledges are currently enshrined in domestic legislation, and few are accompanied by a concrete plan for how to get there. And existing pledges, “even if delivered in full, fall well short of what is necessary to reach global net‐zero emissions by 2050.” The report underscores the need for specific plans for delivering on near-term action and long-term goals, and for these to be fixed in legislation. It also encourages more countries to step up with more ambitious pledges to help narrow the gap. In the context of Canada, which has been a top-ten net emitter of GHGs for over a century, this is yet another reminder of the need to do our fair share to reduce emissions – as well as the importance of strong climate accountability legislation and detailed strategies to make sure we never miss another climate target.
The future of energy is in renewables, not fossil fuels. The IEA is unequivocal: we shouldn’t approve or invest in any new oil and gas fields or coal mines because we don’t need them. Instead, we should rapidly scale up solar and wind energy, which together could generate four times as much power in 2030 as in 2020, while increasing energy efficiency by 4% a year. Under the IEA’s vision, the 2020s are the decade of massive clean energy expansion and rapid scaling down of fossil fuel production. At the same time, governments should invest heavily in research and development of new clean energy technologies that can take us to 2050 goals.
Just transition is the new normal. “The clean energy transition is for and about people,” says Faith Birol, Executive Director of the IEA. The shift to clean energy would create 14 million new jobs by 2030, and investment in efficient technology, retrofits, and energy-efficient construction would employ another 16 million people. The report recognizes that these new opportunities might be in different locations and require different skills than the estimated 5 million fossil fuel jobs that would disappear, and that these losses impact whole communities. It emphasizes the importance of offering opportunities for retraining, locating clean energy facilities in affected areas when possible, and treating people as active participants in the transition.
This is a pathway, not a plan. The IEA report offers a vision for an inclusive transition to a clean energy future that limits warming to 1.5°C. It models a future in which we commit to fighting for a liveable planet; it’s not making predictions based on the status quo. Turning it into reality will require tremendous action from policymakers, institutions, companies, and citizens around the world, starting now. In Canada, that must start with a desperately-needed and long-delayed commitment to end our addiction to fossil fuels and grow the clean economy sectors that will provide prosperity and decent work for Canadians well into the future.