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CATF Experts on the IEA’s Net-Zero by 2050 Report

The IEA released a special report on Tuesday that charts the course for the global energy sector to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, marking “an historic inflection point in the global climate solutions debate,” according to Clean Air Task Force Executive Director Armond Cohen, whose full statement you can read here. The report, Net-Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector, explores what actions global governments and industries must take to decarbonize the energy sector to keep global warming below 1.5 Celsius. Here are thoughts on the report’s findings from a range of Clean Air Task Force experts who are working to reduce harmful pollutants and decarbonize the global energy system.

Jonathan Banks, International Director, Super Pollutants:

“IEA’s Net Zero Roadmap shows a dramatic decline in fossil fuel use and fossil fuel methane emissions. But it’s important to note that while replacing gas, oil and coal on a global scale is one of the biggest ways we can move the needle on climate, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have to clean up their emissions in the short term. The vast majority of IEA’s projected methane emissions reductions will come from decisions made by policymakers, not a drop in demand. Methane reduction provides the ‘on-ramp’ on the road to 1.5 degrees and the Paris Agreement; we cannot afford 15-20 more years of unabated methane emissions.”

Lee Beck, International Director, Carbon Capture:

“The new report highlights that it is important to keep all major decarbonization technologies on the table, including carbon capture, removal, and storage. It clearly spells out that delaying carbon capture progress could impede its scale-up altogether and be detrimental to delivering on net-zero emissions. The message to policymakers globally is clear: We need to invest in carbon capture, removal and storage today to have the technology available at a scale and in a timeframe meaningful for protecting the climate – particularly for industrial and power sector decarbonization as well as carbon removal. To mobilize private sector investment, governments need to lay out clear near-term strategies that involve capture incentives and investment in geologic storage commercialization. With emissions on track to rebound to their highest level yet as businesses reopen and travel resumes, we need these policies immediately. Setting more stringent emissions reductions target demonstrates political will, but clearly defining the policy and technology pathways to reach them is most important right now to unlock climate action.”

Mike Fowler, Director, Advanced Energy Technology Research, Zero-Carbon Fuels:

“Hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels are recognized in the IEA’s Net-Zero by 2050 report as one of the pillars to achieve decarbonization of the global energy system. In the IEA net-zero emission by 2050 scenario, hydrogen-based fuels will supply close to one quarter of the energy needed for global road transportation and more than half of the energy needed in shipping, while serving a vital role in the chemicals and iron and steel sectors, among other uses. IEA notes that these fuels will be traded globally as the energy sector transitions to low-carbon energy systems. This will require investing in hydrogen infrastructure and cross-border cooperation, including in and around ports. It is time to get started.”

Jonathan Lewis, Director, Bioenergy and Land Use Change:

“The extent to which bioenergy can contribute to—rather than undermine—climate stability and energy decarbonization depends in very large part on the amount of land that is committed to the production of biomass feedstocks. IEA recognizes as much in its new report. It acknowledges that emissions reductions attributed to the use of biofuels and biomass-based power systems are clouded by uncertainty, and it takes pains to note that the bioenergy demand scenarios in this report are smaller than those found in recent IPCC reports. Nevertheless, Net-Zero by 2050 is over reliant on bioenergy. It projects 60% growth in bioenergy production and a 24% expansion in land use, and it unfortunately leans on the oft-heard but agronomically-suspect explanation that much of that land use expansion will occur on ‘marginal lands.’ The most engaging part of the new report’s assessment of bioenergy might be when it asks whether net-zero emissions by 2050 are possible without expanding land use for bioenergy. The answer, says IEA, is yes: bioenergy production could be constrained to the 330 million hectares it currently occupies, but doing so would raise the overall cost of the clean energy transition by 3%. CATF looks forward to examining that analysis more closely.”

Lily Odarno, Director of Energy Development and Climate in Africa:

“The IEA’s Net-Zero Emissions report defines a potential course for shifting the world to a net-zero trajectory by 2050. While this ambitious pathway is great news from a climate perspective, it raises a lot of questions and concerns in other parts of the world, particularly in Sub-saharan Africa — which is home to 33 of the 47 least developing countries in the world. It has an average per capita CO2 emissions of 0.8t CO2 compared to 8t CO2 in advanced economies. Chad, Burundi, Niger, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Ethiopia, Malawi, Rwanda and Uganda have per capita emissions ranging from 0 – 0.1t CO2. From the African perspective, the question is not whether a global net-zero emissions pathway is possible given present and future technological advancements. Rather, how will the poorest and soon-to-be most populous region in the world, lift its people out of poverty while navigating a net-zero transition?”

Brett Rampal, Director of Nuclear Innovation, Nuclear Energy:

“The evaluations included in the IEA’s Net-Zero by 2050 report recognize the role of existing nuclear, as well as the future role of advanced nuclear, to achieve deep decarbonization of our energy and electricity systems. Throughout the report, the IEA predicts that nuclear energy working in combination with renewables will displace most fossil fuel use by 2050.  Furthermore, the IEA finds that nuclear investment and generation will both double by 2050 and that nuclear energy will play a role as a low emission source of electricity for the creation of clean hydrogen. The IEA predicts that the majority of new nuclear energy generation will be built in emerging economies, and IEA NetZero analysis shows the role of nuclear energy is critical to decarbonization around the world.”

Clean Air Task Force (CATF) is a non-profit organization working to safeguard against the worst impacts of climate change by catalyzing the rapid global development and deployment of low-carbon energy and other climate-protecting technologies. We work towards these objectives through research and analysis, public advocacy leadership, and partnership with the private sector. With nearly 25 years of nationally and internationally recognized expertise on clean air policy and regulations and a fierce commitment to fully exploring all potential solutions, CATF is an environmental advocacy group with the bold ideas needed today to solve the climate crisis. CATF is headquartered in Boston, with staff working virtually around the U.S. and abroad. For more information, please visit www.catf.us

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