No Match Found
Global ambitions to reduce emissions aggressively have thrown into sharp relief large gaps between existing crucial technologies, infrastructure and investment—and the higher levels we’ll need in the immediate future.
The energy and mobility transitions are underway. In response to the dangers and disruptions posed by climate change, the world has made a great deal of progress in building consensus around long-term solutions and scaling up the innovative technologies that will help decarbonise our energy, industrial and transport systems. Many governments and institutions have agreed to the targets of the 2015 Paris Accord, which aim to keep global temperature increases well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and have committed to the ambitious goal of achieving net-zero emissions. There is a clear and shared sense of urgency.
Governments, utilities and companies have made plans to shift toward 100% emissions-free energy systems. But establishing goals is, in some ways, the easy part. For there’s a significant gap between the world’s current emissions level and trajectory and its 2050 targets. And there’s an immense amount of work to be done to ensure an orderly transition to a new energy paradigm that’s both just and sustainable, and that accommodates and enables economic growth.
The path to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions lies largely in decarbonising the global energy system. The world currently consumes a staggering 624 exajoules of energy per year, equivalent to four times China’s annual energy consumption. This encompasses a wide range of uses, including electricity, heat, transport and activities such as the manufacturing of plastics and fertilizers using hydrocarbons. As economic development rapidly accelerates across Asia and Africa, millions of people each year are connecting to the energy system for the first time—acquiring their first vehicles, gaining access to lighting, taking their first aeroplane flights. Global demand for energy is expected to rise by up to 1% per year, the equivalent of the annual energy demand of Italy. By 2050, demand could be up to 20% higher than in 2021.
Energy consumption accounts for approximately 73% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Our energy systems are composed of molecules and electrons. Currently, about 80% of primary energy demand is met by molecules, the majority of which are supplied by hydrocarbons such as oil, gas and coal. The remaining 20% is supplied by electrons—i.e., the electricity sector. Already, 38% of electricity is created through technologies that don’t emit CO2, such as nuclear, hydropower, solar and wind.
Constructing an energy system that’s reliable, affordable, and cleaner and that can enable and respond to economic growth is challenging. Much of the research and rhetoric centres on the end state—where we’ll wind up in 30 years. But there’s been less focus on understanding the size of the gaps that need to be bridged in order to arrive there. Across the board, there are significant gaps between where we are today, the progress that will be made if all existing pledges are adhered to, the targets set by existing policy and the ultimate goal of reaching net zero by 2050.
The most notable and truly global gaps apparent in the coming decades are in power generation, transportation and distribution grids, storage, conversion, critical minerals, and funding. These gaps are closely intertwined. To make progress, leaders must identify and quantify the gaps, understand the levers that they can pull to accelerate the construction of the bridges, and engineer a strategy to span those gaps. And they must summon the collective will and marshal the necessary execution powers to make all the projections a reality.
Building a bridge brings together many disciplines and professionals: architects and engineers, environmentalists and financiers, steelworkers and crane operators. In the same mode, bridging the gaps that stand between us and a decarbonised future will require an immense amount of collaboration, faith and mutual goodwill. Successful execution will require constructing a huge coalition of public, private, and financial sector leaders, as well as engaging broader society and key industries. This starts with clearly explaining the impact of climate change and the shared challenges we face recognizing the role of energy in modern life and economies, involving people in developing concrete road maps for their regions and countries, and ensuring they reap the benefits.
In the face of the global net-zero challenge, we must remember that we all share a common goal: a sustainable future for our planet.
Visit our content hub to discover more about fuelling a resilient future through powerful alliances, greener investment and greater use of renewables.
Find out about potential pathways for private financing, amid a familiar divide between rich and poor countries.