IEA WEO shows COP pledges need to address electricity decarbonisation head-on

IEA WEO shows COP pledges need to address electricity decarbonisation head-on

The IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2021 sets out the organisation’s view of the energy transition landscape.

Dave Jones

Head of Data Insights


13 October 2021 | 2 min read

The IEA puts a 1.5 net-zero pathway front and centre in its flagship modelling. No one can now say that keeping global heating to 1.5℃ is impossible: the 386 pages give a robust, upbeat insight into how this can be achieved. It is no longer a scenario; it is where we need to be heading, and a must-read for anyone serious about the energy transition. The key milestones on how to get to 1.5 degrees are similar to those set out in the IEA’s ‘Net Zero by 2050’ report published in May. They include:

  • “No new oil and gas fields are required beyond those already approved for development”
  • “Electricity sector emissions reach net zero in advanced economies collectively in 2035 and in all countries in 2040.”

The report makes clear the urgency of working towards clean power: “the electricity sector decarbonisation is the biggest single lever for closing the 2030 ambition gap”. The IEA’s number one solution is for a massive push to clean electricity, showing the need to double solar and wind power this decade relative to policies already announced. Crucially, this increased wind and solar will reduce coal generation. Alongside methane reductions, replacing coal with solar and wind is the biggest zero-cost CO2 emissions reduction available this decade, the IEA shows.

In the roadmap set out by the report, the power sector becomes net zero by 2035 in OECD countries and globally by 2040. That means not only the phase out of coal, but also of unabated gas in the electricity sector. The electricity sector is responsible for 36% of global CO2 emissions today, which is more than any other sector. And emissions need to fall faster than any other sector: by 60% by 2030; announced pledges will only cut emissions by 20%, so more action is needed.

COP26 will be defined by what commitments are forthcoming for 2030, so the fact that the power sector is where the biggest gap lies means COP commitments for 2030 need to address clean power head on. Indeed, the IEA’s publication to the G7 next week will likely show that the G7 needs to commit to close to 100% clean electricity by 2035.

The report talks enthusiastically about the progress of the clean energy transition, but the opening statement lays the challenge bare: “every data point showing the speed of change in energy can be countered by another showing the stubbornness of the status quo”. Frustration seeps through when talking about the current energy crisis, saying that governments haven’t invested enough in new clean energy: “if the road ahead is paved only with good intentions, then it will be a bumpy ride indeed”. We have a long way to put us on track for a stable, fair and rapid clean transition.

It’s great this is the IEA’s first “free” WEO. We applaud the IEA in making this report free for the first time, which builds on their work over the last few years of opening up their analysis. We ask the IEA to make all their data free and available; much of it still sits under a paywall, hindering analysis by experts across the world, which in itself slows the electricity transition. The IEA’s data – like their analysis – should be free to the world.