Global emissions likely peaked in 2019, followed by an unprecedented 6% drop in 2020 due to COVID-19.
Emissions are now rising sharply again and will grow for the next three years before starting to decline.
While they are being added at great speed, renewables currently often supplement rather than fully replace thermal power generation. By 2030, global energy-related CO2 emissions are likely to be only 9% lower than 2019 emissions, and by 2050 only 45% lower. This is in sharp contrast to ambitions to halve GHG emissions by 2030 and to achieve the net zero emissions by 2050 required to limit global warming to 1.5˚C. Our forecast is that we are most likely headed towards global warming of 2.3˚C by 2100.
As CO2 emissions continue to accumulate, the window of opportunity to act narrows every year. Relying on large net-negative emissions technologies and carbon removal in the latter half of the century is a dangerous, high-risk approach. For global temperature increase, every fraction of a degree is important, and all options to reduce emissions need urgent realization
Electrification is by far the most dynamic element of the energy transition.
The share of electricity in final global energy demand is set to double from 19% to 38% within the next 30 years.
Solar PV and wind are already the cheapest form of new power almost everywhere, and within a decade it will also be cheaper than operating existing thermal power in most places. By 2050, solar and wind will represent 69% of grid-connected power generation, and fossil power just 13%. Connectivity, storage and demand-response will be critical assets in the decarbonized power system.
On the demand side, passenger and commercial EV uptake is rising quickly in Europe, China and to some extent the US. Government incentives, cost reductions and technology improvements in both batteries and charging infrastructure will drive a rapid expansion. By 2032, half of all new passenger vehicles sold globally will be electric, with some regions lagging owing to infrastructure challenges. In buildings, heat pumps use will triple, providing 42% of space heat in 2050 while consuming only 15% of energy used for space heating.
Energy efficiency is the unsung hero of the energy transition and should be the number one priority for companies and governments.
Many efficiency measures have marginal or even negative costs, but due to split incentives and/or a lack of long-term thinking, industry standards and regulations are needed to ensure implementation.
Energy intensity (unit of energy per dollar of GDP) improvements will average 2.4%/yr during our forecast period – against the 1.7%/yr average over the last 20 years. Most of the accelerated efficiencies are linked to electrification, with the remainder coming largely from efficiency improvements in end uses, such as better insulation. The largest efficiency gains happen in the transport sector, but there are significant gains also in manufacturing and buildings.
Overall efficiency gains will result in a levelling off in global energy demand despite a population increase of 22% and the global economy growing 111% the next 30 years. Global energy demand will grow only 8% from 2019 to 2035, thereafter remain essentially flat the next 15 years.
Fossil fuels have held an 80% share of the global energy mix for decades.
We forecast that, by mid-century, fossil fuels will decrease, but still hold a 50% share of the energy mix, testament to the inertia of fossil energy in an era of decarbonization.
Coal use will fall fastest, down 62% by 2050. Oil use stays relatively flat until 2025 when it starts a steady decline, to just above half of current levels by mid-century. Gas use will grow over the coming decade, then levels off for a 15-year period before starting to reduce in the 2040s. Gas will surpass oil as the largest energy source and will represent 24% of global energy supply in 2050.
Decarbonized fossil energy is an important aspect of reaching the Paris Agreement, but the uptake of carbon capture and storage (CCS) is forecast to be woefully slow, mainly for reasons of cost, with just 3.6% of fossil CO2 emissions abated in 2050.