World Energy Outlook: Time is running short

In its World Energy Outlook 2021, the International Energy Agency (IEA) looks at what impact current emissions pledges around the world will have and issues an urgent warning: the commitments made to date are not enough.

Symbolbild Energie© International Energy Agency

For the delegations attending the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland earlier this month, difficult negotiations were in store. According to the World Energy Outlook 2021, the commitments made thus far by the 200 countries attending will be far from sufficient in order to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 and thus help to limit global warming. The annual report, which was also considered an important recommendation for action for the conference, was presented together with its main conclusions to the Federation of German Industries (BDI) on 16 November 2021, by the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), Dr Fatih Birol, in cooperation with the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. The State Secretary responsible for energy policy, Andreas Feicht, also spoke at the event.

Three scenarios for making the most accurate forecasts

In order to make the best possible forecasts, the report examines different developments based upon three different scenarios. In the first scenario (Net Zero Emissions by 2050), it is assumed that the goal of climate neutrality can be achieved by 2050. This part of the report had already been published in May of this year and sets out what more is needed beyond current government commitments in order to achieve the goal of climate neutrality and keep warming below 1.5 degrees. “The Net Zero by 2050 report shows that the objective of global greenhouse gas neutrality is highly ambitious, but possible”, said State Secretary Andreas Feicht.

Climate neutral by 2050: planned measures are not enough

The new Announced Pledges Scenario (APS) looks at the national measures that countries have announced and assumes that all of the climate pledges made by governments around the world are fully implemented in a timely manner. If the all of the countries succeeded in this, carbon emissions could be reduced by up to 40 per cent worldwide. However, the average global temperature would still increase by 2.1 degrees Celsius and would thus still be too high (target: 1.5°C). The target for the world to be climate-neutral by 2050 would not be met either.

The third scenario, the Stated Policies Scenario (STEPS), bases its forecast solely on the measures and initiatives that are currently in place. It therefore predicts that if nothing were to change, emissions would remain at the same level as today. Under this scenario, global warming would rise to 2.6 degrees by 2050.

More clean energy worldwide, but also rising carbon emissions

In 2021, global coal and oil consumption again rose sharply. As a result, annual carbon emissions are heading towards their second highest level in history, despite the progress made in renewables and electric mobility. While the IEA's report describes renewable energy, electrification and other low-emission technologies as a promising and successful sector of the economy, it also makes clear that progress and growth in these areas is too slow to bring carbon emissions down sufficiently towards meeting the 2050 targets.

"The world’s hugely encouraging clean energy momentum is running up against the stubborn incumbency of fossil fuels in our energy systems”, said Dr Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the IEA.

The IEA therefore calls for worldwide climate efforts to be significantly accelerated and identifies four key areas for action to close the gap by 2050: clean electrification, curbing energy demand through materials efficiency and behavioural change, reducing methane emissions from fossil fuel use, and boosting innovation in clean energy.

The IEA’s Dr Birol also said that governments need to find solutions to the problem of high fossil fuel emissions and send “a clear and unmistakable signal that they are committed to rapidly scaling up the clean and resilient technologies of the future”. He also stressed the importance of investment in this area, saying that this would have to be more than tripled over the next ten years. This is because nearly half of the savings by 2050 in the Net Zero Emissions 2050 scenario come from technologies that are at the demonstration stage today. Around 70 per cent of the additional spending required will be needed in emerging and developing countries.

To read the Executive Summary of the WEO, please click here (German version, PDF download, 383 KB). The full report in English can be found here.