If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see? – Lewis Carrol, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Looking at the world’s capability to meet many of the emission targets set forth in the International Energy Agency’s (IEAs) Net-Zero by 2050 - A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector (Roadmap) is a bit like falling down the rabbit hole. As illustrated in IEA’s graph (below) initiatives toward net-zero are required globally and simultaneously across sectors. There is no denying, globally it is getting ‘late, for a very important date’, and the “gap between rhetoric and action needs to close”; on the flip side – 400 recommended milestones are a lot to do in a short time.i
While reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is a global issue, and one where countries around the globe have set ambitious reduction targets, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. In other words, sticking with the theme of reality versus wonderland, clean energy transitions cannot simply be ‘painting the roses red’. The world is far from being in agreement on the ‘how’ net-zero targets or fossil fuel reductions should unfold Different countries require different landscapes, but there is certainly a need to be ambitious.ii
The time has come, to talk of many things
There is ‘no time’ to sit around discuss potential ‘very merry’ plans for success. World leaders are being called upon to act now, despite the gap between rhetoric and reality. No stone can remain unturned, as Canadian Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan calls for a ‘moon-shot’ to hit federal emission targets, Indian Energy Minister Raj Kumar Singh calls the IEA report efforts “pie in the sky.”iii,iv However as countries come to the table, there needs to be clear achievable action in emission reduction technology areas that are appropriate for those regions.
With global leaders committing to even greater emission reductions than those put forward in the Paris Agreement, means that no carbon reduction, or clean technology can be off the table. When we look through the ‘looking glass’ that is the IEA Roadmap, to reach the massive level of recommended clean technology deployment, an immediate focus and attention needs to be on proven technologies. This does not discount the fact that further investment into research, development and demonstration must also continue for those not yet mature. Two prominent clean technologies in the report, wind and solar, are readily available today, however, almost half of the pathways put forward endorse reductions from technologies that are currently only at the demonstration or prototype phase.
Forward, Backward, Inward, Outward
The Roadmap sets out a global journey to net-zero by 2050 that must begin today, indicating no investment in new fossil fuel supply projects, and no further final investment decisions for new unabated coal plants (i.e., coal can be utilized if it is accompanied with abatement technologies like carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCS/CCUS)). According to the IEA, ten heavy industrial plants will need to be equipped with CCUS every month starting in 2030 onwards. To achieve a transition of such scale and speed sustained support will be required along with participation from citizens, whose lives will be affected in multiple ways.
Timing is important to reach net zero target. And, as illustrated in International CCS Knowledge Centre’s (Knowledge Centre) graph below, an aggressive timeline to deploy any CCUS project is likely to take up to six years from understanding to operation. This will also require global milestones for policies, infrastructure, and technology deployment according to the IEA for its Net-Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario. This calls for an unwavering focus from all governments, working together with industries and citizens, to ensure that the transition to global net‐zero emissions proceeds in a co‐ordinated way without delay.v
The reality is large projects take time. This is not unlike the timing for comparable power producing solar farms indicated by the Solar Energy Industries Association. It reports that, with permitting, it takes an average of six years to take a 250 megawatts (MW) solar power plant from initial planning to being in-service.vi The largest solar parks in the world right now have capacity of 2.25 gigawatts (GW) or more.
Believing in Impossible Things
To be clear, providing electricity to around 785 million people around the globe is no small feat, and will “require strong and credible policy actions from governments, underpinned by much greater international cooperation”, says Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director.vii
Different countries use different types of energy, so it is difficult to say that those using the most energy have the most emissions to reduce. For, instance in Canada 59.6% of power comes from hydro, but it also has a complicated energy mix of oil, natural gas, hydroelectricity, nuclear and more given its vast landscape.viii Regardless of the sources of energy, the reality is that demand is growing, and even sources such as coal cannot simply be looked at as an ‘off with your head’ solution.
As of January 2021, there were 201 coal plants under construction, including 92 in China, 30 in India and 24 in Indonesia, according to Global Energy Monitor. There are also 345 coal-fired power plants in the pre-construction phase, including 135 in China. Russian officials have also confirmed the country is pursuing maximum possible efforts to develop oil and gas, under the expectation that global demand will remain stable until at least 2040.
The world currently consumes about 100 million barrels of oil a day.ix Fossil fuels will still likely provide 60% of energy into 2040.x According to the IEA, net zero means that, fossil fuels that remain in 2050 are used in goods where the carbon is embodied in the product such as plastics, in facilities fitted with CCUS, and in sectors where low‐emissions technology options are scarce.xi
It is clear that our pattern of fossil fuel use needs to shift in order to meet any emission reduction targets. The Knowledge Centre believes the impossible isn’t actually impossible at all. In fact, it is proven to BE possible. There needs to be accelerated progress in the commercial-scale deployment of CCS across a wide variety of applications, including power generation (coal and natural gas), industrial processes (like cement and steel), and fossil fuel produced hydrogen; in addition to bioenergy production. CCS is recognized as one of the measures offering the most significant impact on sectoral GHG emission and estimated mitigation impacts for 2020 and 2030.xii
The Hurrier I Go, the Behinder I Get
While we attempt to use low-cost fuels like natural gas, coal and extract low price oil, this hurried approach to powering the growing energy supply continues to increase our global emissions For instance, oil will continue to meet rising demand for petrochemicals (used to make everyday products ranging from smartphones to running shoes) and to fuel transportation. But this is setting us behind on climate action. A transition is needed.
In Canada, over 35Mt of carbon dioxide (CO2) has been sequestered over two decades through enhanced oil recovery (EOR) processes. Allowing oil wells to use CO2 to maximize production in a cleaner fashion that traditional extraction is a smart solution in the western provinces. While looking critically at the life cycle analyses, production produces 30% less GHG emissions, and with EOR results in a 37% reduction in CO2 emissions per barrel of oil produced as compared to conventional oil production.xiii
But there is movement away from this transition as well. An outlook on future needs without transition accommodation has seen Europe and other countries demanding pure sequestration as the only option for CO2 storage. And for Canada, with its long history of experience in EOR, not including EOR as part of an Investment Tax Credit exemplifies the hurried approach that conflicts with transition.
One side of the Mushroom will make you Grow…
A transition of such scale and speed cannot be achieved without sustained support and participation from citizens, whose lives will be affected in multiple ways. Such a transition needs to have people, and jobs, at the heart of any net-zero system. Financing and knowledge sharing need to be front and centre to build out energy systems in developing economies in a sustainable way. The costs of such large-scale shifts will need to be around $40 billion (B) a year, equal to around 1% of average annual energy sector investment says the IEA.xiv
Smaller and Taller
However, around five million oil and gas related jobs are lost in the IEA’s net zero pathway, resulting in lasting challenges for affected communities. While the IEA pathway sees increased jobs in non-fossil fuel resources, such opportunities are often in different locations, skill sets and sectors than the jobs lost. The IEA’s scenario sees per capita income from oil and natural gas in producer economies falling by about 75% by the 2030s, which it says, “could have knock-on societal effects.” In its net zero pathway, tax revenue from oil and gas retail sales falls by about 40% between 2020 and 2030.
The contraction of oil and natural gas production will have far-reaching implications for all the countries and companies that produce these fuels. No new oil and natural gas fields are needed in the net zero pathway, and supplies become increasingly concentrated in a small number of low-cost producers. In the agency’s net zero world, in 2050 Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) nations like Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Venezuela hold more market share than ever before. The IEA sees OPEC meeting 52% of global demand in 2050 compared to about 37% today, pushing out oil from other jurisdictions that likely have stronger and more transparent performance in terms of environmental, social and governance (ESG) measures.
I’m not the same person I was yesterday
There is no question that fossil fuels, with their high emissions, need to clean up their act. The industrial revolution was yesterday, and the green revolution is now. CCUS plays a role in the new global “self-identity”. Investments in CCUS projects can have significant impacts on labour markets and GDP; By way of example, construction of the Boundary Dam 3 CCS facility required unprecedented coordination of resources and expertise. Utilizing more than 60 contracted companies and employing about 1,700 contractors and SaskPower employees who worked around the clock for a total of nearly five million man-hours with no lost time injuries.
When we look at the last 12 months, all sectors have been hit hard with job losses. The fossil industry lost 17,500 jobs, due to a combination of cratering oil prices and a pandemic-induced recession; other sectors however have created 42 jobs for each one lost in the fossil industries.xv Several oil companies have already announced accelerated structural changes in global energy as cost reductions in renewable energy technologies, including wind, solar, electric vehicles, and renewable hydrogen progress.
According to the IEA, 14 million new jobs will be created from investments in clean energy by 2030, and another 16 million from investments in efficient appliances, electric and fuel cell vehicles, and building retrofits and energy-efficient construction.xvi As noted in IEA’s graph (below) the global energy sector (bioenergy, electricity, coal, oil and gas) can increase employment in net-zero emissions (NZE) initiatives by 9 million, outpacing job losses due to the decline of fossil fuel jobs. It should be noted that there are varying results for different regions, with job gains not always occurring in the same place, or matching the same skill set, as job losses.
Is it Only a Dream
While the IEA Pathway is one informed way to try and make our net-zero dreams come true, in actual fact, each country will need to design its own strategy. The IEA’s special report is designed to inform the high-level negotiations that will take place at the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) of the United Nations Climate Change Framework Convention in Glasgow in November 2021. The world has a huge challenge ahead of it to move net-zero by 2050. Global CO2 emissions are already rebounding as economies recover from pandemic-induced shock. It is past time for governments to act, and act decisively to accelerate clean energy transformation plans.
iiiThe Energy Mix. “O’Regan’s Net-Zero ‘Moon Shot’ Emphasizes CCS, Hydrogen, Small Modular Reactors.” (June 23, 2020) O’Regan’s Net-Zero ‘Moon Shot’ Emphasizes CCS, Hydrogen, Small Modular Reactors - The Energy Mix
ivIEA-COP26 Net Zero Summit. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t19lph0j4jQ&t=3185s
v(Net Zero by 2050 – Analysis - IEA) page 152
viiInternational Energy Agency. Press Release “Pathway to critical and formidable goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 is narrow but brings huge benefits, according to IEA special report.” (May 18, 2021) https://www.iea.org/news/pathway-to-critical-and-formidable-goal-of-net-zero-emissions-by-2050-is-narrow-but-brings-huge-benefits
viiiGovernment of Canada. NRCan “Electricity Facts”. https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/science-data/data-analysis/energy-data-analysis/energy-facts/electricity-facts/20068
xiNet Zero by 2050 – Analysis - IEA pg 18
xiiThe International CCS Knowledge Centre. “Incentivizing Large-Scale CCS in Canada: A White Paper.” Incentivizing Large-Scale CCS « International CCS Knowledge Centre
xiiiClean Air Task Force, “CO2 EOR Yields a 37% Reduction in CO2 Emitted per Barrel of Oil Produced” (2019), https://
xivInternational Energy Agency. Press Release “Pathway to critical and formidable goal of net-zero emissions by 205 is narrow but brings huge benefits, according to IEA special report.” (May 18, 2021). https://www.iea.org/news/pathway-to-critical-and-formidable-goal-of-net-zero-emissions-by-2050-is-narrow-but-brings-huge-benefits
xvFossils Create Less than 1% of Canadian Jobs, Making 20-Year Phaseout ‘Very Feasible’, Study Concludes - The Energy Mix