IEA (2021), The IEA at COP26, IEA, Paris https://www.iea.org/commentaries/the-iea-at-cop26
World leaders, ministers and senior government officials are gathering for the COP26 conference in Glasgow to continue the nearly 30-year process of implementing the multilateral climate agreement known as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Much has changed over this period, with efforts over the past five years focused on building the architecture of the Paris Agreement, adopted at COP21 in 2015. That landmark agreement required each signatory to set carbon emission targets known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), and this year’s conference is the first one under their implementation period. COP26 will aim to finalise ground rules on how NDCs are to be put in action.
The IEA has been working for over a decade on security, environmental and economic issues in the energy sector, in particular its climate impacts. We have been outlining the technologies, investments, polices and measures needed to make the world’s energy system secure, reliable, affordable, but also sustainable.
The IEA is an admitted observer to UNFCCC negotiations at COP26. Jointly with the OECD, we contribute to the climate negotiations on the Paris Agreement rulebook and implementation guidelines. IEA staff have participated at every COP, and will do so again this year with the knowledge that our work enriches the COP’s discussions on ambitious climate change measures.
Meeting long-term climate objectives requires fundamentally changing the way energy is produced and used. The IEA is committed to giving decision-makers worldwide the facts, figures and insights to deliver the clean energy transitions that are essential for meeting our climate change objectives.
The IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2021 and Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector have detailed what is needed for governments, companies, investors and citizens to fully decarbonise the energy sector and put emissions on a path in line with a temperature rise within 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The number of countries pledging to achieve net-zero emissions over the coming decades continues to grow. If achieved in full and on time, already announced pledges will start to bend the global emissions curve down. But the pledges to date – even if fully achieved – fall well short of what is required to bring global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to net zero by 2050 and give the world an even chance of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 °C.
Four key policy priorities can bridge this gap: Focusing on clean electrification, maximising the potential of energy efficiency, tackling methane emissions from fossil fuel operations, and boosting clean energy innovation.
Many of the key technologies needed after 2030 for a 1.5C compatible future are currently at demonstration or prototype stage, implying major innovation efforts this decade to bring these necessary technologies to market as soon as possible. Innovation is also needed to speed up clean electrification. The IEA’s latest update to our Tracking Clean Energy Progress (TCEP) report will be launched on 4 November at the COP26. It assesses whether the deployment of critical energy technologies and sectors are “on track” with a 1.5C pathway, and by this measure, nearly all clean energy technologies are off-track.
Reaching net zero emissions by 2050 will mean the emergence of a new energy economy – but getting there requires collaboration and managing potential international tensions. We are concerned about “green” industrial innovation being limited to economies that have pledged to reach net zero emissions, without technological spill-overs or partnerships. And it would be a bad outcome if all the capital from “net zero” countries remained within that group, rather than also flowing to those undergoing slower transitions. The IEA’s net zero pathway relies on unprecedented international co-operation, especially on innovation and investment.
To reach net zero emissions by 2050, annual clean energy investment worldwide must more than triple by 2030 to around USD 4 trillion annually, with 70% of the additional spending to close the gap between announced pledges and a 1.5C-compatible trajectory needed in emerging and developing economies. This level of investment will create millions of new jobs, significantly lift global economic growth, and achieve universal access to electricity and clean cooking worldwide by the end of the decade.
Clean energy investment in emerging and developing economies must become a top global priority. While many of these nations need to carry out their own policy and regulatory reforms, public financial institutions, led by international development banks and financial commitments from advanced economies, also must help mobilise the needed financial flows.
A successful shift to clean energy technologies involves enabling citizens to benefit from the opportunities and navigate the disruptions. Energy transitions offer new careers and create new jobs – but they can also hurt workers and communities that are reliant on declining industries and fuels. For instance, a 1.5C future requires sharply reducing the use of coal. Under current pledges, its use would fall at twice the rate seen in the last decade, and the rate would nearly double again in a 1.5C compatible trajectory. While some countries have pledged to phase out coal and stop financing coal internationally, this rate of retirement requires quicker and more widespread policies and supporting measures.
Changes in fossil fuel employment and energy areas with overlapping skills in the Announced Pledges Scenario to 2030Open
Governments must cushion the social and economic impacts on individuals and communities, as well as confront issues of affordability and fairness.
The IEA’s Our Energy Future: The Global Commission on People-Centred Clean Energy Transitions brought together government leaders, ministers and prominent thinkers to explore these questions in depth, taking into account the need to see people as active participants in clean energy transitions. Their final set of 12 actionable recommendations aim to influence clean energy policies and programmes.
We are already seeing energy systems around the world struggle to cope with severe strains caused by climate change. The projected increase of climate threats means our energy systems must be more resilient, more efficient and more flexible as they incorporate rising levels of renewable power. Ensuring the security of our energy systems through adaptation and resilience requires long-term planning and stronger policy action and investment.
The risks that energy systems face from climate hazards such as flooding and heatwaves presents many opportunities to strengthen synergies between energy policy and climate adaptation planning. The IEA is actively expanding its work in this area and we look forward to discussing this with others during COP26.
The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated global disparities in wealth and energy access. A successful sustainable recovery from the crisis must address the climate crisis by investing significantly in energy transitions. However, recent updates to the IEA’s Sustainable Recovery Tracker show that only 3% of governments’ recovery spending is going to clean energy transitions, and post-Covid 19 government spending on clean energy remains insufficient to curb emissions in line with a net zero emissions trajectory.
COP will be a success when - after a year’s delay and the global upheaval of Covid-19 – it generates understanding that we are at a point of no return. The IPCC report shows that the climate crisis has begun, and that we must act fast to avoid the worst of climate change -- we can no longer avoid it altogether. The success of COP will be judged by the ambition of the actions taken. The extent of new financial proposals, the pace of the sectoral reform plans, the uptake of readily available energy efficiency standards and measures, or the scope of investment to boost energy infrastructure resilience – the list can go on. Countries can take actions today to meet or exceed their NDC ambitions.
In addition, COP will be a success if it helps build the frameworks to make the transition easier and cheaper to achieve, such as improving the scope for cost effective emissions reductions through carbon markets. It can also build trust in international collaboration by providing a space to discuss and manage tensions stemming from accelerated clean energy transitions. Delivering a net zero world in an equitable manner is heavily dependent on all governments working together. As the global energy agency, the IEA is fully committed to helping governments deliver accelerated clean energy transitions in a secure way that benefits all citizens.
The IEA at COP26
Sara Moarif, Head of Environment and Climate Change (ECC) Unit
Jinsun Lim, Energy and Environment Policy Analyst
Tom Howes, Former Head of Energy and Environment Division Commentary — 29 October 2021