Zero-carbon power: a key milestone on the route to net-zero

G7 countries target clean electricity at Leaders Summit for Climate

by | Apr 22, 2021

[PRESS RELEASE]

An analysis of official energy scenarios for the United States, European Union and United Kingdom reveals an ‘unspoken consensus’ that securing clean electricity in the mid 2030s is crucial for net-zero by 2050. 

The finding comes as the three regions raised their ambitions to reduce emissions this decade at the Leaders Summit for Climate convened by President Biden. Major economies around the world including China, Japan, South Korea, Germany and Canada underlined their commitment to phasing out fossil fuels and accelerating the deployment of clean electricity. 

The report by energy think tank Ember analysed the latest energy scenarios published by the European Commission and UK Climate Change Committee and compared these with Biden’s pledge for zero-carbon power by 2035. The analysis reveals that the US is not alone in targeting carbon-free electricity in the 2030s, with carbon intensity of electricity declining rapidly this decade in all three regions.

“The idea that clean electricity can be a foundation for economy-wide decarbonisation is not new,” said Ember’s Dr Chris Rosslowe. “But this is the moment it enters mainstream thinking.”

The Leaders Summit for Climate saw the United States raise its emissions target, underpinned by Biden’s plan to create a ‘carbon pollution-free’ power sector by 2035. In his speech at the summit, President Biden explained how clean power will unlock jobs on the pathway to halve emissions this decade and reach net zero by 2050. 

The importance of clean electricity was highlighted by the majority of world leaders in their speeches during the plenary, including China’s President Xi Jinping, Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stating that “we’re not going to stop until we get to 100% emissions-free electricity.”

Ramping-up renewables

Ember’s analysis reveals that wind and solar become the dominant source of electricity in the EU and UK after 2030. A detailed study by UC Berkeley shows that a 70% share for wind and solar by 2035 is possible for the US, which would be enough to overtake the EU and match the UK pathway. Biden’s administration has already taken steps towards this with a commitment to expand offshore wind.

Exiting fossils

At the Leaders Summit for Climate, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated the requirement for wealthy nations to phase out coal by 2030, and elsewhere by 2040. 

The scenarios analysed by Ember show that the US, EU and UK are united in a rapid end to coal-fired electricity, with large reductions coming before 2030. In the UK, coal power has been largely phased out and this will be completed by 2024 at the latest. The US target implies coal phase-out before 2035, and a recent review of energy modelling studies concludes this could and should happen by 2030. The EU Commission scenarios see coal providing only 2% of EU-27 power generation in 2030.

Electricity generation from fossil gas declines in all regions in the next decade. A complete phase-out of unabated gas by 2035 is recommended by the UK government’s climate advisors and the same is implied by the US target. The EU sets out a more retracted phase-out, with fossil gas falling from 20% of power generation in 2020 to 15%  in 2030.

Zero-carbon power 2035

President Biden’s summit and the subsequent G7 and COP26 meetings are an opportunity for nations to align their near-term plans with long-term climate targets. 

“This is an ideal moment for a high-ambition coalition on zero-carbon power by 2035 to emerge,” said Ember’s Dr Chris Rosslowe. “By signalling a clear direction of travel for the power sector, climate front-runners like the US, EU and UK could play a pivotal role in ensuring policy and finance begin to align with this objective.”

Twenty-nine countries are committed to net-zero, including ten G20 members and over half of the OECD. However, these mid-century targets are not universally founded upon low carbon electricity commitments in the next decade. 

“For any wealthy nation targeting net-zero, rapid power sector decarbonisation is becoming a hallmark of serious strategy, “said Ember’s Dr Chris Rosslowe. “Leaders committed to mid-century climate neutrality should heed the emerging consensus and join the US in a commitment to zero-carbon power by 2035.”

“The EU’s rapid retirement of its coal fleet, once core to its foundation as a Community of Coal and Steel, has been one of its best kept secrets,” said E3G’s Pieter de Pous. “This report shows the secret is out and confirms 2030 as the global benchmark for zero coal in OECD in countries, but also that the EU needs to play catch up in planning for an end to unabated gas in the power sector by 2035.”

-ENDS-

 

Notes to editors

The report can be viewed online at https://ember-climate.org/project/zero-carbon-power/

Methodology

Ember reviewed energy scenarios published by the UK’s Climate Change Committee (‘Balanced pathway’) and the EU Commission (‘MIX scenario’). These scenarios provide the evidence base for the latest emissions targets in the EU (2030) and UK (2030 & 2035). The US has not yet published how it plans to achieve carbon pollution-free power by 2035, so Ember considered numerous models focused on net zero by 2050, including the ‘2035 report’ by UC Berkeley.

Media enquiries

Hannah Broadbent: Head of communications, hannah@ember-climate.org

About Ember

Ember is an independent, not-for-profit energy think tank that produces cutting-edge research and high impact policies that aim to accelerate the global electricity transition from coal to clean. @EmberClimate Ember-climate.org

Key announcements at the summit

  • United States announces it will cut CO2 by 50-52% by 2030, supporting the President’s existing pledge to create a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035.
  • United Kingdom has accepted the CCC Sixth Carbon Budget, which sets out a new goal of cutting carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels. To achieve this, the CCC recommends that “UK electricity production is zero carbon by 2035”.
  • European Union has finalised a deal on the climate law to enshrine more ambitious targets in law, including a 2050 net zero target and emissions reduction target of ‘at least 55%’ by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.
  • Japan announces it will cut emissions by 46% by 2030, previously 28%, as well as announcing a US-Japan clean energy partnership.
  • Canada announces it will cut emissions by 40-45% by 2030, previously 30%
  • Korea announces it will stop financing coal overseas
  • China announces it will phase down coal consumption over 2026-2030

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