Feb 16, 2022 - Science

A staggering picture of the net-zero challenge

Average lifetime per capita CO2 emissions in net-zero scenario
Data: IEA; Chart: Baidi Wang/Axios

A new analysis offers a sobering window into the challenge of slashing emissions enough to meet the temperature-limiting goals of the Paris Agreement.

Driving the news: The International Energy Agency explores per-capita emissions of people born in different decades that would be consistent with a pathway to net-zero global emissions by 2050.

Younger generations' CO2 output would need to fall massively compared to their elders. IEA analysts say kids born today would emit "10 times less carbon during their lifetimes than their grandparents" under the Paris-based agency's net-zero roadmap.

The big picture: Net-zero by 2050 is a target that scientists say provides a fighting chance of holding temperature rise to around 1.5°C above preindustrial levels. That would stave off some of the most dangerous climatic changes.

Why it matters: Those massive generational emissions changes are only possible under a sweeping transformation of global energy systems, far beyond anything in evidence today.

  • The net-zero roadmap released last year would see a quadrupling of annual solar PV and wind power capacity additions by 2030 and 4% yearly gains in the world economy's energy efficiency this decade.
  • There's also electrification of transport, buildings and industrial motors. And almost half the emissions cuts come from tech that's just in early R&D stages.

The bottom line: IEA said young voices must be heard in today's policy decisions: "Younger generations have the most at stake, and they also have the most to gain from successful energy transitions."

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