July 18, 2023

The road to net zero emissions by 2050

Rhonda Wormald
7 Communications
Operations Assistant

As of the spring of this year, more than 70 countries have joined the Paris Agreement, which requires a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050. These countries represent 63% of global emissions.

The net zero by 2050 commitment demonstrates that countries around the globe have taken a significant step forward in the fight against climate change. Reaching net zero emissions requires substantial investment in clean energy, energy efficiency and changes to how we live and work. A lofty but not impossible goal to prevent the worst effects of climate change and create a more sustainable future.

“Government or private sector commitments to net-zero cannot be a mere public relations exercise.”

— ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, United Nations Secretary-General, November 8, 2022

An electric charger plugged into vehicle.

Transitioning to a net zero world is an electrifying challenge. A radical shift in production, consumption, and mobility systems necessitates worldwide collaboration and innovation.

Ultimately, we must find ways to reduce and remove carbon from the atmosphere. Some of the most promising options include:

1. Electric

According to a study by the University of Toronto, almost 25% of all vehicles on the road account for 90% of the pollution caused by tailpipe emissions. Electric energy produces zero emissions when operated and can be powered by renewable energy sources. Adoption of electric vehicles has the potential to contribute to a cleaner and healthier planet.

The question remains: How much does electric really contribute to the environment vs. potentially damaging it? Supporters of “big oil” will say that the process of creating batteries is worse for the environment than the impact of producing oil plus the tailpipe emissions fossil fuels create. Our CEO, Larry Futers, is exploring this one as I write and will be posting a blog about it later this summer.

2. Renewable Energy

The switch to renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydropower means no greenhouse gas emissions. Eco-friendly renewables decrease our carbon footprint. Enhancing the energy efficiency of our transportation, homes, and businesses can be aided by requiring utilities to generate a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources. Renewable energy costs have been falling rapidly in recent years, making it more affordable for countries to invest in these technologies.

Solar and wind are viable options but suffer from intermittency—a lack of power being produced when there is no sun or wind. Water runs 24/7, yet hydropower accounts for about 7% of global electricity generation. It is believed it can provide up to 24% by 2050.

Its cost has decreased in recent years, making it more competitive with other forms of energy generation. Six countries have more than 50% of their electricity generated by hydropower, with Norway and Brazil leading the pack at 98.5% and 65% with Canada at 60%. Other countries, such as the United States and Mexico, have a lower percentage of hydropower (7% and 3%, respectively) because of an over-reliance on fossil fuels for electricity generation.

3. E-Fuels / Synthetic Fuels

Made by capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and combining it with hydrogen, e-fuels are thought to produce zero emissions when burned, making them a potential alternative to gasoline and diesel. Adopting e-fuels while electric energy gets a foothold worldwide could help reduce emissions from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.

Despite the potential benefits of e-fuels, their inefficient production is more likely to be used in industries that are difficult to convert to electric engines, such as trucks, shipping, or planes. E-fuels are a promising technology, but likely not for long-term mass-market use.

4. Energy Efficiency Measures

Reducing our emissions—using less energy to heat, cool, and light our homes and businesses — improves energy efficiency, as do other energy-efficient measures (such as energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs and improving insulation).

Governments need to encourage this by offering consistent incentives for energy-efficient upgrades, setting energy-efficiency standards, and funding retrofit programs.

5. Support R&D

Many new or emergent technologies have the potential to help us reach net zero emissions. Supporting research and development would get these technologies to the point that they can be commercialized and deployed at scale. For example, carbon capture and storage (CCS), technology that captures carbon dioxide from large point sources, is helping to reduce emissions from these sources. It is a complex and expensive technology with great potential to contribute fundamentally to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Two construction workers positioned on rooftop, engaged in the installation of solar panels.

In addition to the countries committed to net zero, more than 1000 cities have also pledged to the Race to Zero campaign, agreeing to take immediate and rigorous action to halve global emissions by 2030. Adding to this are more than 3,000 businesses globally that have committed to reducing their carbon footprint in line with climate science.

As the world wakes up to the climate crisis, governments, businesses, and individuals must continue working together to achieve net zero by 2050.