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IEA Report Lays Pathway to Net-Zero Emissions by 2050

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has released a comprehensive report laying the pathway to reaching net-zero emissions from energy by 2050, a feat previously thought to be impossible. While it can be accomplished, the IEA’s plan is arduous and would require a total overhaul of the global energy industry.

Based in Paris, France, the IEA was formed out of the creation of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OCED) to research the global energy industry and consult member-states on energy issues. There are presently 30 countries with full membership, eight association countries and three accession countries within the IEA. Though created in response to the oil crisis of the 1970s, the IEA has become the preeminent source of energy-related research at the global level.

In the latest report, the IEA explores achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 globally in order to curtail the warming of the earth to under 1.5 degrees Celsius. “Net-zero” is a term that has grown in popularity and use in the last decade as efforts to curb emissions and reverse global climate change gained traction and entered common discourse. Net-zero is achieved when total output of emissions is completely offset by the total amount of emissions removed from the atmosphere.

The IEA’s road map’s effect on the world is widespread and drastic, accelerating the decline of fossil fuels, and transforming the energy generation sector to rely almost exclusively on power from renewable energy. According to the report, which can be read in its entirety here, sales of gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles must cease by 2035, which will be replaced by electric vehicles (EV). Last year, EVs made up just five percent of global auto sales. The IEA’s plan calls for EVs to rise to 60 percent of total vehicles sold by 2030.

On the energy generation side, the IEA’s plan calls for the total and “inevitable” phase out of fossil fuels. Future developments in natural gas production would be unnecessary as the use of natural gas would need to fall by five percent annually within the 2030s. The reduction in use includes the movement and sale of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as well, with the pathway calling for a 60 to 65 percent reduction in LNG sales from 2030 through 2050.

Though heavily reduced, the use of natural gas does have a place in the IEA’s long-term plan. The road map estimates that by 2040, total reduction in natural gas use will slow, and 50 percent of natural gas will be used in facilities that harvest hydrogen from raw natural gas. The hydrogen will then be used for power generation.


The IEA’s report follows the growing trend focusing on climate change issues. With the United States rejoining the Paris Accord, proposing new legislation like the Green New Deal, and rolling back deregulatory efforts of the previous presidential administration, the IEA’s roadmap could play a significant role in shaping future policy both domestically and internationally.

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