Publication - World Energy Transitions Outlook 2023: 1.5°C Pathway

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World Energy Transitions Outlook 2023: 1.5°C Pathway
International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)
International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)
Published in
June 2023
The recent Synthesis Report of the IPCC Sixth Assessment has delivered a sobering message - our collective ability to adhere to a 1.5°C pathway hangs in the balance. This decade, our success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions will determine whether global temperature rise can be limited to 1.5°C or even 2°C. The ramifications of each fraction of a degree cannot be overstated - particularly for the world's most vulnerable populations, who are already suffering the destructive impacts of climate change. The ubiquity of climate-induced disasters - floods, droughts, or fires - demonstrates the pressing need for course correction.

Within the timeframe to 2030, we must simultaneously realize the goals of the sustainable development agenda and significantly reduce emissions. Energy plays an essential role in climate course correction and the realization of sustainable development. IRENA’s 1.5°C pathway, set out in the World Energy Transitions Outlook, positions electrification and efficiency as crucial transition drivers, enabled by renewable energy, clean hydrogen, and sustainable biomass. Increasingly, countries are positioning these technological avenues at the center of their climate action and their economic, energy security, and universal access strategies.

This volume of the World Energy Transitions Outlook 2023 provides an overview of progress by tracking implementation and gaps across all energy sectors. It shows that most of the progress achieved to date has been in the power sector, where a virtuous circle of technology, policy, and innovation has taken us a long way; but the scale and extent of implementation fall far short of what is required to stay on the 1.5°C pathway. An equally concerning trend is the geographic concentration of these deployments, which remains limited to a few countries and regions. This pattern, which has persisted for the past decade, has excluded almost half of the global population, particularly those in countries with significant energy access needs.

The business case for renewables is strong, but deeply entrenched barriers stemming from the systems and structures created for the fossil-fuel era continue to hamper progress. The World Energy Transitions Outlook sets out a vision for overcoming these barriers. It envisages three pillars that would form the foundations for a way forward: first, building the necessary infrastructure and investing at scale in grids, and both land and sea routes, to accommodate new production locations, trade patterns, and demand centers; second, advancing an evolved policy and regulatory architecture that can facilitate targeted investments; and finally, strategically realigning institutional capacities to help ensure that skills and capabilities match the energy system we aspire to create.

This also requires a realignment of the way in which international cooperation works. Multilateral financing institutions should prioritize building the infrastructure that would underpin the new energy system. This would coherently and simultaneously help deliver development and climate priorities, triggering virtuous economic and social dynamics. Importantly, this would enable private sector investment in countries and regions that currently face barriers such as high capital costs. The bulk of this funding should be in the form of concessional loans, whilst for the most vulnerable such as least-developed countries (LDCs) and small island developing states (SIDS), a share of grant funding is needed.

Our collective promise was to secure a climate-safe existence for current and future generations. We simply cannot continue with incremental changes; there is no time for a new energy system to evolve gradually over centuries, as was the case for the fossil fuel-based system.

The energy transition must also become a strategic tool to foster a more equitable and inclusive world. The upcoming 28th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP28) and the Global Stocktake must not only confirm our deviation from a 1.5°C pathway but also provide a strategic blueprint to steer us back on track. It is my belief that the World Energy Transitions Outlook can offer critical input to shaping our collective action following this important climate action milestone.