IEA's Net Zero by 2050

IEA’s Net Zero by 2050

A groundbreaking roadmap for Net Zero by 2050

Dave Jones

Head of Data Insights


18 May 2021 | 3 min read

The IEA calls time on fossil fuels and demands a global switch to clean electricity by 2040. Wind and solar will power our way to a 1.5C world.

Today the International Energy Agency sets out a groundbreaking roadmap for the global energy system for Net Zero by 2050.

  • Zero-emissions electricity worldwide by 2040 & in OECD countries by 2035
  • Three-quarters of new electricity generation will be solar and wind
  • No investment in new fossil fuel supply beyond projects committed in 2021

Ember quoted in the Financial TimesBloombergForbesReutersAFPAssociated PressAl Jazeera

The IEA sets out a positive and achievable roadmap to net zero and a 1.5C world. This is led by a clean electricity revolution. It clearly shows a net zero 2050 global economy depends on a net zero 2040 global power sector, and even 2035 for OECD countries. 75% of the new electricity generation added to 2040 will be from solar and wind. Phasing out coal power is not enough, the world must also phase out gas power. The US is already pushing for 2035 clean power, so clean power targets will inevitably feature in G7 and G20 discussions this year. We hope this report will focus more countries to set clean power targets. The IEA shows that inefficient coal power plants need to close by 2030; this will be a huge step-up in ambition for so many countries, especially China; India and South Africa will need international assistance to meet this goal. The sentence that will probably be recited most from this report is this: “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 required”. The implications of that sentence are far-reaching; this is truly a knife into the fossil fuel industry. Although the IEA has embraced wind and solar less than other models, for example by the Energy Transitions Commission, the IEA has really stepped up on this report. This is a complete turnaround of the fossil-led IEA from five years ago.

Dave Jones Global Programme Lead, Ember

This is the real deal – a comprehensive vision for net zero. It is 1.5-degree aligned, and it’s based on mostly reasonable assumptions compared to scenarios analysed by the IPCC, and does not gamble our future on risky technologies. The IEA shows us not only that it is achievable, but also that it’s desirable, boosting jobs and growth. They have pledged to include the net zero scenario in future work. The IEA says it’s a pathway, not the pathway. The IEA is also working to make sure this is the must-read document in the build-up to COP26: their “Summary for Policymakers” shows this is not just a modelling exercise, but a call to action.

The IEA shows that at the heart of this is a one-off 15-20-year spending spree to convert the world to 100% clean electricity. Half of the CO2 cuts this decade are from the power sector; and the power sector collapses from the biggest-emitting sector in 2020, to the only zero-emissions sector in 2040. The IEA shows investment in electricity generation will need to rise to $1.6 trillion per year by 2030 – double what the world spent on all fossil investment last decade. They say “as the electricity sector becomes cleaner, electrification emerges as a crucial economy-wide tool for reducing emissions”. The IEA recommends governments set dates to get to 100% clean power: 2035 for OECD countries, and 2040 for the rest of the world. Finally, the IEA shows inefficient coal power plants need to close by 2030. Of the new clean electricity generation from now to 2040, an impressive 75% is from solar and wind alone. However, the IEA lags compared to other models, in that it relies less on electrification in the longer term and relies more on CCS and bioenergy. Despite this, IEA scenarios in the report show that wind and solar could form an even higher proportion of overall energy consumption, at the expense of CCS and bioenergy, if wind and solar become even cheaper and ubiquitous than they model.

The IEA shows it needs everyone to make this happen. They highlight “the transition is for and about the people”. A lot of government policies are needed, say the IEA, so public support is paramount. Also the public are asked to make smart consumer choices; change in behaviour is less important in the way IEA have modelled emissions (the IEA estimates the “consumer choices” will contribute 55% of emissions reductions, compared to 4% for “behavioural changes”, although they highlight behaviour changes as a key uncertainty). By definition of it being a global study, it relies on every country doing its part. It needs international cooperation; the IEA mentions international assistance for developing countries. It will create net new jobs, but some jobs will cease to exist, so policies must be “people-centred” and “just”. It will also require huge amounts of human brainpower to spur innovation; 80% of the CO2 cuts this decade are from “technologies in the market”, but over half of CO2 cuts after 2030 are from “technologies under development”.

The IEA boldly states “there is no need for investment in new fossil fuel supply in our net zero”. It carries on: “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 required”. This is new, because by 2050 it assumes less fossil use than most IPCC scenarios. The IEA stops short of recommending to stop new fossil investment, or to saying that new fossil investment would undermine clean investment.


On Tuesday 18th May 2021, Ember hosted a 1-hour webinar to discuss the IEA’s Net Zero Roadmap 2050. There was a brief presentation of the key findings of the IEA report, remarks from the panel and a Q&A.


Recording and slide deck available below.

Ember quoted in the Financial TimesBloombergForbesReutersAFPAssociated PressAl Jazeera