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Some promises are made in good faith. Then, as often happens in our lives, another commitment that we consider more important or urgent sabotages our best intentions. This appears to be the case with pledges made by several of the 196 countries at the 2015 Climate Change Paris Agreement to lower their greenhouse gas emissions. What is alarming is that existing pledges, even if fully honored, fall short of attaining global net zero emissions by 2050. If we the people of Earth are to maintain habitable conditions for our species, we must get our priorities straight.

On May 18, 2021, the International Energy Agency (IEA), made up of 30 member countries and 8 association countries committed to shaping a secure and sustainable energy future for Earth’s inhabitants, released a special report that is intended to put us on track. Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector is a comprehensive study of the way forward to a global Net-Zero Emissions Scenario (NZE) by 2050 with an emphasis on economic growth for all.

With just 29 years left for us to catch up, after decades on the path to planetary ruin, the NZE roadmap is no stroll along the beach or jog in the park. It calls for vast amounts of investment, innovation, implementation of skillful policy design, technology deployment, infrastructure building, international cooperation, and much more across all sectors. World War NZE 2050. A war for human survival. Success depends upon an unprecedented level of international cooperation.

What is important with the IEA NZE 2050 roadmap, in my view, is that the fossil fuel industry will lose its stranglehold on national and global economic policies. The roadmap acknowledges what climate scientists have been warning us for decades about the danger of fossil fuels. The IEA special report makes clear that the energy sector holds the key to averting the worst effects of climate change because it holds responsibility for around three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions. To achieve global net zero emissions by 2050 demands immediate and massive deployment of all available clean and efficient energy technologies. The good news is that these technologies already exist. Some, like solar and wind power energy, must be scaled up by four times the levels set in 2020. Others, like advanced batteries and hydrogen electrolysers, must be made available on the market for widespread use.

The energy sector in the NZE 2050 roadmap is based largely on renewable energy. The use of fossil fuels plummet from almost four-fifths of current total energy supply to slightly over one-fifth by 2050. While investments in new fossil fuel supply dry up, opportunities arise in generating clean energy, network infrastructure, and end-use sectors. By 2030, global economic growth soars with the injection of US$5 trillion in clean energy investments.

The decline of the fossil fuel industry disrupts the countries and companies that produce these fuels. Workers in the industry are hard hit. Around 5 million workers lose their jobs, many of which are well-paying jobs. But all is not bleak. The transition to net zero will create 14 million new jobs by 2030. Consumption of more efficient appliances, electric and fuel cell vehicles, retrofitted and energy-efficient homes and commercial buildings will require a further 16 million workers. Securing these jobs will require retraining and relocating to another city, region, or state—a difficult prospect for older workers and those nearing retirement.

World War NZE 2050 will also impact our lives in other ways, especially those of us who live in urban centers and advanced economies. To reduce our individual carbon emissions, we must replace our car trips with walking, cycling, or public transport. It means avoiding long-distance air travel for business and leisure. Changing our behavior is achievable, as demonstrated by the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The fractures revealed in our response must be addressed.

We humans tend to cling to the known and familiar that give us a sense of security and control in our lives. Embracing the IEA NZE 2050 roadmap demands that we not only change our individual behavior, but also the way we view ourselves as a species on a shared planet.

To read a summary of the IEA special report, check out their press release.

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