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Reaching net zero by 2050 is going to take much more than we're giving

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Christopher Neely's picture
Independent Local News Organization

Journalist for nearly a decade with keen interest in local energy policies for cities and national efforts to facilitate a renewable revolution. 

  • Member since 2017
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  • Dec 24, 2021

Last year was among the worst on record for energy efficiency growth. Global energy intensity, an important variable in measuring the economy's efficiency, only improved by 0.5% (which, in energy efficiency terms, means it fell by 0.5%). In 2021, it is expected to improve by 1.9%, which tracks with the trends over recent years. 

However, global energy intensity improvement has been on a downward trend since 2011. According to the International Energy Agency, between 2011-16, global energy intensity improved by 2.3% on average per year. Since 2016, it has only improved annually by 1.3%, on average. This is more concerning when, to reach net-zero by 2050, it is estimated that we need to see annual 4% improvements on average throughout this decade. 

Part of the reason why energy efficiency improvements were so minuscule in 2020 was due, in part, to global energy demand tanking amid the pandemic. Global energy demand is expected to rebound, and in 2021 is expected to increase by 4%. The increase in demand is a good sign for energy efficiency, as is increased investment in government use of efficiency policies and incentives, and spending. 

Yet, in order to reach net zero by 2050, we're going to need to be doing a lot more, according to a new report from the IEA. Government policies across the globe are expected to help increase investments in efficiency by 10% to $300 billion. While that growth and that number sound substantial, net zero by 2050 requires that investment to triple by 2030, which means more governments outside of Western nations are going to need to take a leadership role. 

"Approved energy efficiency spending by governments is regionally unbalanced, with the majority of spending coming from advanced economies," the report reads. "There remains considerable potential for governments elsewhere to use recovery packages to boost spending, which would create jobs and promote economic growth."

Here is perhaps where advanced economies can step in and take on the sensitive role of encouraging energy efficiency investments in developing nations. The IEA report says investments in energy efficiency can add four million more efficiency jobs in the next decade. A lot of economies are focused on up-skilling within their own workforces. However, if we're to reach net-zero, which is a global goal, then it could require international workforce development programs, led by advanced economies and implemented in developing nations.

That is some sensitive geopolitics, but it might be worth figuring out, and could be an important step in reaching this ambitious global goal. Otherwise, our goals may need reality checks. 

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Dec 24, 2021

That is some sensitive geopolitics, but it might be worth figuring out, and could be an important step in reaching this ambitious global goal. Otherwise, our goals may need reality checks. 

Well put-- it's one of those areas where we see that the tech is there, but it's not as easy as that!

Clifford Spilsbury's picture
Clifford Spilsbury on Dec 28, 2021

A fundamental change is on its way. Enabling technology. The reconfiguration we will need to make, will happen because the driving factor PRICE just tripled 


Jasmine Lyn's picture
Jasmine Lyn on Jan 25, 2022

Great article, thanks 

Christopher Neely's picture
Thank Christopher for the Post!
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