Multipolar World

Unrealistic targets and the energy transition

Jorge Costa Oliveira

After years of dragging its feet, Western public opinion demands progress towards decarbonization. One of the best examples is the International Energy Agency (IEA) report on “Net Zero by 2050”, which recognizes “global commitments and action are growing, but they still fall well short of what is needed to limit the rise in global temperatures by 1.5°C and avert the worst effects of climate change”. But if readers were to think there is little commitment from the IEA on Net Zero by 2050, it goes on to state that “the path [to limit global warming to 1.5°C] is narrow but achievable.”

Interestingly, when comparing the established targets within the timeframe of Net Zero by 2050 with their respective execution, one gets the feeling that there is a lot of wishful thinking going on here. Let’s look at some examples of targets therein.

According to the time frame of these targets, at this point no new coal mines, power, oil or natural gas fields should be approved. Energy security, however, has led to several countries being unable to comply with these targets; several coal, gas and oil producing companies have already announced they will continue to invest in new production or processing of these fossil resources; several relevant countries have announced new coal and gas plants, and new fossil fuel refineries (in line with the IEA forecast that consumption of fossil sources will peak only after 2030…).

From 2025 on, the IEA estimates that no new fossil fuel boilers will be sold. Are the boilers going to be all electric? One certainly cannot expect a massive conversion to green hydrogen. This estimate seems unrealistic. The IEA also predicts that by 2030, 730 GW of electrolyzers will already be installed and producing hydrogen. This implies a huge investment and a challenge for the electrolyzer manufacturers, which have limited manufacturing capacity. This estimate does not seem realistic either. The IEA also predicts that by 2030 all (!) new buildings will be carbon neutral. It also considers that the use of coal in developed countries will have ended by the aforementioned time frame.

The IEA also estimates that by 2030, some 60% of new cars sold will be electric, rising to 100% by 2035. Is it realistic that by this date all new cars sold will be electric (EV)? We are doubtful that the pace of sales will keep up with this estimate. For one thing, many statistics continue to include hybrid vehicles among EVs, the vast majority of which have very limited electric range. The high cost of EVs (and the low disposable income of a large percentage of vehicle owners), the life and cost of electric batteries, problems in high-capacity EV charging systems, and the near absence of EVs with >600 km range, evidently do not support such a rapid pace.

This enshrining of unrealistic or patently unrealizable targets by governments and international agencies does not bode well, feeds deniers, and undermines credibility for the resolution of the existential issue of climate change arising from global warming.

Categories Multipolar World Opinion