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IEA Report: Net Zero by 2050 A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector

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Mark Silverstone's picture
Principal JMP Services AS

30+ years in Oil & Gas Industry Field of Interest: Environmental issues in general; waste management issues in particular. 

  • Member since 2002
  • 788 items added with 58,044 views
  • Jun 10, 2021

This is quite a detailed roadmap that the IEA lays out.

The list of authors is long and varied and the list of peer reviewers is even longer.  It was no small feat to reach any measure of consensus.  Overall, I found it quite hopeful and encouraging, though far from a done deal:

"Despite the current gap between rhetoric and reality on emissions, our Roadmap shows that
there are still pathways to reach net zero by 2050. The one on which we focus is – in our
analysis – the most technically feasible, cost‐effective and socially acceptable. Even so, that
pathway remains narrow and extremely challenging, requiring all stakeholders –
governments, businesses, investors and citizens – to take action this year and every year
after so that the goal does not slip out of reach."

I will just provide a few major quotes and figures to summarize the "Priority Actions" and some other stand-out points included in the "Roadmap":

"Governments need to provide credible step‐by‐step plans to reach their net zero goals,
building confidence among investors, industry, citizens and other countries."

No surprise there. Interestingly:

"There is no need for investment in new fossil fuel supply in our net zero

Beyond projects already committed as of 2021, there are no new oil and gas fields
approved for development in our pathway, and no new coal mines or mine extensions are

Indeed, later in the report, this recommendation is made stronger to suggest that, not only does there not need to be, but that there must not be new investment in fossil fuel E&P, in order to reach net zero.

"Policies need to be designed to send market signals that unlock new business models
and mobilise private spending, especially in emerging economies."

"Accelerated delivery of international public finance will be critical to energy transitions,
especially in developing economies, but ultimately the private sector will need to finance
most of the extra investment required."

"Ensuring uninterrupted and reliable supplies of energy and critical energy‐related
commodities at affordable prices will only rise in importance on the way to net zero.
The focus of energy security will evolve as reliance on renewable electricity grows and
the role of oil and gas diminishes. Potential vulnerabilities from the increasing
importance of electricity include the variability of supply and cybersecurity risks."

"Governments need to create markets for investment in batteries, digital solutions and
electricity grids that reward flexibility and enable adequate and reliable supplies of

I was somewhat surprised by what the IEA suggests will be the energy mix in 2050:  IEA Stated Policies Scenario (STEPS)

The global fuel mix changes significantly between 2020 and 2050. Coal use, which peaked in
2014, falls by around 15%. Having fallen sharply in 2020 due to the pandemic, oil demand
rebounds quickly, returning to the 2019 level of 98 million barrels per day (mb/d) by 2023
and reaching a plateau of around 104 mb/d shortly after 2030. Natural gas demand increases
from 3 900 billion cubic metres (bcm) in 2020 to 4 600 bcm in 2030 and 5 700 bcm in 2050.
Nuclear energy grows by 15% between 2020 and 2030, mainly reflecting expansions in China.

That the IEA makes separate "roadmaps" for "Advanced" vs. "Emerging market and developing countries" seems to be very constructive:

The IEA distinguishes between three  CO2 emission scenarios:  STEP vs. APC (Announced Pledges Case) vs. NZE (Net Zero Emissions)

Here, the role of China is crucial.

"The net zero pledges that have been made to date therefore make a major difference to the
current trajectory for CO2 emissions. Equally, however, existing net zero pledges fall well
short of what is necessary to reach net‐zero emissions globally by 2050."

One may well ask, as the IEA does:

"Why does fossil fuel use not fall to zero in 2050 in the NZE?"

The answer is that the model accounts for emissions from non-energy purposes for fossil fuels such as for lubricants. The process emissions are accounted for by CCUS and other measures.

In fact, in addition to policies and technologies, decarbonization depends a lot on:

" efficiency, behavioural changes, electrification, renewables, hydrogen and hydrogen‐based fuels, bioenergy and CCUS."

Emissions reduction scenarios in the NZE (Net Zero Emissions) for Advanced and Emerging market and developing economies are quite different, as one would expect.


Of course, this IEA report contains much more.  While the role of renewables, i.e. solar and wind, is clearly a major one and discussed at length, the roles of hydrogen and nuclear are also discussed, as well as CCUS, efficiency and conservation measures, aviation issues, batteries, bioenergy, taxes, the building sector and land use issues, including agriculture.

However, I do find it a bit disconcerting that a a major inflection point is projected in 2020 in the Net Zero Emissions scenario :

I think many will doubt that the effects of the pandemic signals the start of a dramatic downward trend. A similar trend in methane emissions is also projected.

So, while there may be cautious optimism afoot, I am not sure how we are going to get there from here.  I think one thing is clear: There needs to be a major reduction, if not total stop, to further exploration and production efforts for fossil fuels. 

At the very least, any new E&P needs to be in favor of substituting existing production, e.g. gas production with high levels of associated CO2 that will be emitted during production, with new production with reduced carbon intensity. And coal generation has to be reduced to zero. Those are tall orders, to be sure.

The NZE  (in the Net Zero Emissions scenario) summarizes the situation regarding projected trends in energy sources:

In any case, I imagine this report will be referred to often and discussed at length in the coming months and years. There is a great deal to digest. and, of course, it will likely be updated with respect to actual data and new projections and recommendations will be made. I just hope that this is a good first step in defining the challenges and suggesting the way forward, for now.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Jun 11, 2021

Since I believe you to be a thoughtful, younger innovator, please allow me to suggest ideas off the well beaten path.

Forests and agriculture here are changing fast. How do we develop tools and methods for sustainability??

We get requests to harvest our timber, now mostly poplar. But the methods used will kill all the baby oaks and other vital biodiversity, and only grow new poplar. How can we gently manage forests?? I believe this is where EV micro-tractors are a must!

Gentle, agile, light weight battery powered land management equipment are a radical departure from our recent past. Innovation and change is unstoppable, regardless of political policy and expert opinion.

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Jun 11, 2021

Thanks Rick - The IEA document discusses forestry management in quite some detail. I think the core of it is this (page 92):

"There is no overall increase in cropland use for bioenergy production in the NZE (Net Zero Emissions) from today’s level and no bioenergy crops are developed on forested land in the NZE. As well as allowing a much greater level of bioenergy crop production on marginal lands, woody energy crops can produce twice as much bioenergy per hectare as conventional bioenergy crops."


"The certification of bioenergy products and strict control of what land can be converted to expand forestry plantations and woody energy crops nevertheless is critical to avoid land‐use conflict issues. Certification is also critical to ensure the integrity of CO2 offsets (see Chapter 1), the use of which should be carefully managed and restricted to sectors that lack alternative mitigation options."

If I understand correctly, I think the use of EV micro-tractors will help to maximize the value of these bioenergy products. 

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Jun 11, 2021

Indeed, thank you Mark.

There is a lot of very new EV product emerging if you search under "EV ATV." The company "Polaris" is a Minnesota company and there is a youtube about their business activity and history. They began by making simple, light snowmobiles that were utility favorites years ago. Then the speed freaks took over the market, and remain in control.

A pure fuel engine machine has many serious disadvantages with electric farm machines. Levers, gears, clutches, hydraulics, plus the engine itself are far too prone to breakdown and the machine usually ends up in the weeds as next years fix-up project. Most of the farm auctions around here are full of junk that was in somebody else's auction last year.

Small area forestry and agriculture requires modern, small, simple machines. Somebody will discover that global market, just like the microcomputer.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Jun 14, 2021

After downloading and reading a little of your document, page 77 discusses the end of firewood as we know it ("traditional biomass"). I have mentioned "solar-biofuel" before, and the Stanford University Center for Quantum Molecular Design (CQMD), but usually suggest simply "copy fire" photochemistry. Direct storage of solar photons in converting solid biomass to better fuels might be behind some of this new optimism.

My only real agenda is to advocate quality science education and open minds. I'll never regret my best effort. The pandemic, climate, food, energy, etc., reminds us to respect complexity, science skills, and new ideas.

I wish I were 50 years younger and could join the opportunities ahead. And I wish I had young help, a robot, or an EV micro-tractor to clean up tons of dead sticks doing the woods no good.

Thanks for the great reference.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Jun 14, 2021

The alleged threat (too much CO2 in the atmosphere) remains conjecture and, in any case, does not merit the hysterical overreaction of net zero CO2 emissions.

Stop attempting to fleece the consumer and taxpayer to enrich the already well off. Instead, let competition in energy markets lead to better economy for all. Emissions will go down as a happy byproduct of the effort.


Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jun 14, 2021

Emissions will go down as a happy byproduct of the effort.

Can you expand on this? How are emissions going to go down if it's not prioritized either through regulation or economics? 

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Jun 15, 2021

"Stop attempting to fleece the consumer and taxpayer to enrich the already well off. Instead, let competition in energy markets lead to better economy for all. Emissions will go down as a happy byproduct of the effort."

I agree. But doubling atmospheric CO2 is creating at least a plant growth rate that exceeds water supply in many places. Wildfire is expensive economics. Many of the "bio" issues discussed in the linked reference were introduced on their economic merits before "climate change" became a "hot" topic.

Mark Silverstone's picture
Thank Mark for the Post!
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