Carbon neutrality: a societal project

The international energy agency has just outlined the roadmap for the decarbonisation of our society. Nothing says that we will be able to follow it in the allotted time.

This will be the favorite expression of participants at the next UN climate summit (Cop 26): “carbon neutrality”. Introduced in the Paris agreement, this concept stipulates that after having significantly reduced their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the signatory countries of the 2015 agreement store their incompressible carbon emissions. For example by planting forests, real CO sponges2.

Magnitude of effort

During this famous Cop 26, a good hundred governments will have to describe the path that will lead them to this climatic nirvana. The International Energy Agency (IEA) chews up their work. Working for OECD countries, this club of energy and climate policy experts published a carbon neutrality roadmap on May 18. In short: what is the scale of the efforts that each sector of activity will have to accomplish by 2050 to decarbonise itself.

Do not make the suspense last: there is a crazy job! At the moment, three quarters of the energy we consume is of fossil origin. In less than a generation, we must be cured of this addiction to oil, gas and coal. Possible, but not won.

5 times less oil

The IEA is not in the lace. The Paris-based agency offers no more and no less to stop investment in fossil fuels. Right now ! In 2050, oil companies will not have to extract more than twenty million barrels of crude per day: five times less than today.

Because in 30 years, global GDP is expected to grow by 40% and the population to grow by a third, more energy will have to be produced. And above all much more electricity, the only one capable of decarbonising many uses, starting with transport.

In this regard, electric cars should represent 60% of new vehicle sales from 2030, against 5% in 2020. The production of heat engine vehicles should be banned from 2040, estimates the IEA.

Quadruple investments

Decarbonizing electricity production will require unprecedented efforts. Every year, electricians around the world will have to commission 630,000 MW of solar power plants and 390,000 MW of wind farms. These powers are four times greater than those inaugurated during the year 2020, recalls the IEA. Creating more and more power plants and draw-off points (like charging stations for electric cars) requires the development of electricity transmission and distribution networks. The IEA proposes to quadruple investments in these two often neglected activities,

Job destruction

The rapporteurs recognize unabashedly that not all uses will be able to do without fossil fuels. For example: recently fired coal-fired power stations. Hence the importance of equipping them with CO capture systems2, coupled with geological carbon storage facilities. Energy star of the moment, hydrogen will have a role to play in decarbonizing certain highly carbon-intensive activities, such as the production of steel or fuels.

The transformation to be accomplished is far-reaching. However, nothing says that we will be able to carry it out. Reducing the consumption of fossil fuels will destroy 5 million jobs in the oil and coal industries. And drastically reduce the income of producing countries. What feed the protest and the reluctance of politicians.

Are we ready ?

The IEA also stresses the importance of reducing wasted energy. By boosting engine efficiency, reducing urban lighting, reducing our mobility needs. In 2030, experts point out, we must improve our energy efficiency by 4% per year: three times better than the average observed over the last 20 years. To do this, it will be necessary to deploy technologies that do not yet exist or that are being tested. Will they be ready on time?

A strong development of renewable energies and electricity storage systems will more than quadruple, in 30 years, the consumption of ores: copper, lithium, cobalt, rare earths. Production rarely very ecological. How will our behavior change as well? Travel, food, energy performance of our home: 55% of future emissions will be the result of our consumption choices.

Depending on the choices we make, the road to carbon neutrality will be shorter or longer. Are we really ready to change ? Only, no doubt, if we are sold the climate transition as a social project. Joe Biden aside, no politician is yet capable of doing so.

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