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Speakers corner 27 May 2021

EERA’s take on what is needed to achieve a net-zero society

Dear readers,

This editorial follows the publication of the very much anticipated and highly welcomed world’s first comprehensive energy roadmap to net-zero by the International Energy Agency (IEA). This report, which sets out a cost-effective pathway to a clean, dynamic, and resilient energy economy, provides clear guidance for the signatory countries of the Paris Agreement on how a 1.5°C compatible net-zero route should look.

This milestone is something to celebrate. For the first time, an international reference organisation has clearly stated that fossil fuels, in all forms, are largely incompatible with a net-zero emissions world. In fact, if we are to reach climate neutrality by 2050, investments in this field need to stop as soon as possible to preserve the paradigm of economic growth.

The IEA report’s message is loud and clear: we still can achieve carbon neutrality, but there is a rapidly narrowing window of opportunity based on particularly challenging assumptions, such as the one aforesaid. Other specific defying milestones include no investment in new coal, oil, and gas supply projects; no investment decisions for unabated coal plants; no sales of new internal combustion engine passenger cars by 2035; among 400 milestones more. These recommendations stand in stark contrast with earlier reference scenarios. They constitute a radical departure from “business as usual” and call for truly decisive and disruptive policies.

IEA’s report confirmed that most of the reductions in CO2 emissions through 2030 would come from technologies already on - or close to - the market, provided we accelerate the deployment and uptake of these technologies. Reaching net-zero by 2050 is a different story. Achieving this goal relies on the widespread use of technologies that are not yet on the market or might even not yet been identified. Therefore, current R&I funding is not aligned with the magnitude of the challenge and must be brought to another level of ambition. In addition, considering that resources allocated today might only yield tangible results in the next five to ten years, governments must invest massively NOW throughout the whole innovation value chain, from low TRL research up to demonstration and deployment facilities, to bring the required range of new technologies to market in time.

In that regard, ambitious and innovative policymaking is necessary to drive the design, development, and large-scale adoption of these new technologies. Moreover, “policies need to be designed to send market signals to unlock new business models and mobilise private spending1. Besides the above, international cooperation among governments is pivotal.  The magnitude of this global challenge calls for coordinated actions without which CO2 emissions will not fall globally to net-zero. Finally, IEA’s report also reinforced that a transition of the scale described cannot be achieved without the support and participation of citizens. This statement is consistent with more recent trends that have started to factor in the behavioural changes needed to reach carbon neutrality.

We are proud to corroborate that our EERA whitepaper, which was introduced on May 6 during the 11th General Assembly and will soon be released publicly, is ideally in line with most of the recommendations put forward by IEA. As such, it will constitute a key instrument supporting policymakers to drive the transition successfully. Furthermore, it complements IEA’s approach by adopting a holistic conceptual perspective that can be combined with the modelling practice. Specifically, it can help integrate systemic, cross-sectoral, and multidisciplinary aspects of the Clean Energy Transition in the EU and beyond, which are often difficult to capture in the models. As such, it constitutes a distinctive and complementary contribution to existing knowledge by helping to define the best pathways to transition to a just, environmentally sustainable, competitive, and climate-neutral society.

1. IEA. Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector. May 20221,