Vision 2050 Energy Pathway: We can power a net-zero world


01 November, 2021




By Claire O’Neill, Managing Director, Climate & Energy at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

The 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) will be a pivotal moment for global leaders to recognize the urgency of the climate crisis and bring forward plans to demonstrate their commitment to the Paris goal of holding temperature rises to 1.5°C.

The UK Presidency has outlined four goals for COP26, including securing global net zero by mid-century, adapting to protect communities and natural habitats, mobilizing finance, and working together to deliver and finalize the Paris Rulebook. At WBCSD, we are looking forward to working with our members at COP26 to showcase the positive actions they are taking to accelerate climate recovery, ranging from reducing methane emissions, to phasing out coal from their supply chains.

These outcomes are essential to driving real transformation of our societies and the businesses that serve them. They provide foundations upon which ambition and action can be massively increased, in line with the urgency of the challenges that we face. WBCSD has been doing its bit to significantly increase corporate ambitions, working to help business understand the contributions it can, and must, make to create a net-zero, nature-positive, equitable world.

At COP26, we will continue this work by advocating for a clean energy transition. We want to make coal history by phasing out coal-powered electricity generation by no later than 2030 for OECD countries and 2040 for non-OECD countries. We will also focus on powering-up green global grids and calling for investment in green energy grids able to support the decarbonization of energy needed to reach net zero, while meeting electricity demand for reliable and affordable power.

We recognize the important role that energy sources like hydrogen can play in this transition. We want to deploy decarbonized hydrogen by accelerating the decarbonization of existing hydrogen and rapidly deploying new hydrogen sources with the lowest possible verified carbon intensity to target 20% of final energy demand by 2050. In short, to accelerate the clean energy transition, we want to focus on cutting the largest pools of carbon emissions to halt damaging temperature rises, while simultaneously aiding the process of climate recovery.

Earlier this year, WBCSD launched Vision 2050: Time to Transform – a framework for business action. It offers companies comprehensive, reliable and ambitious guidance on how companies can lead the transformations needed to bring about this world – one in which 9+ billion people can live well, within planetary boundaries, by 2050.

At the heart of Vision 2050 are nine transformation pathways covering the areas of business activity that are essential to society. As the world focuses on COP26, I wanted to take the opportunity to give you an overview of Vision 2050’s Energy pathway, looking at the societal energy needs that we must deliver on, the transitions that are required, and the actions that business can take today to transform the energy system. 

Our 2050 vision is that we build “a sustainable energy system providing reliable and affordable net-zero carbon energy for all”. The vision expands on how the societal needs from the energy system will be met in 2050, requiring business to ensure that: 

  1. Everyone has access to reliable & affordable energy.
  2. The demand for and delivery of net zero carbon energy is met.
  3. The energy system becomes largely electric, digitized and efficient.
  4. The transformation of the energy system is built on the foundations of a just and fair transition.

In order to achieve this 2050 vision, we must make progress on comprehensive set of transitions: we need zero carbon electricity generation technologies to be further innovated and adopted globally at speed so that net-zero carbon energy becomes affordable, reliable and resilient; heavy industries and heavy-duty transport must decarbonize while unavoidable emissions need to be tackled via natural and industrial carbon removal and storage solutions; at the same time, we need to see electrification, circularity and digitalization making all sectors highly energy efficient while shifts in behavior and demand accelerate the transition to net-zero carbon energy; finally, we must ensure that the energy transition leaves no one behind.

Our work advocating for a clean energy transition directly supports several of these critical shifts, for instance on powering-up green global grids and on the wide-spread deployment of decarbonized hydrogen. The pathway further outlines 10 prioritized action areas for business to focus on over the course of the next decade, both to significantly accelerate the pace and scale of change, as well as to support the achievement of the SDGs. The action areas span innovative products, services, technologies and business models, as well as ways that companies can help create the right enabling conditions for change. They cover the most urgent and important priorities in the crucial decade ahead and, whatever the outcomes from COP26, WBCSD will be working with its members to drive progress against these. Vision 2050’s 10 business action areas through to 2030 for the Energy pathway are:

  1. Construct no new coal power plants. Plan and implement a phase-out of all unabated coal power generation by 2040 and reduce the share of coal in total global electricity generation to less than 10% by 2030.
  2. Advocate for policies, such as carbon pricing, that will lead to the effective removal of fossil fuel subsidies and will integrate environmental externalities into market prices to an extent that favors low- and zero carbon solutions.                            
  3. Send a strong demand signal by sourcing net-zero carbon energy for all operations while encouraging and supporting supply chains and customers to do the same.
  4. Collaborate with peers, cities and governments around the globe to align on common net-zero carbon ambitions, set science-based targets, and drive implementation accordingly.
  5. Ramp up investment and accelerate innovation to drive down the cost of existing solutions, commercialize breakthrough technologies, and digitalize the energy system. In particular, invest in the development and deployment of energy storage technologies and robust power grids to cater for increasing demand.
  6. Transition to circular designs and business models to reduce energy demand and resource use across the value chain.
  7. Electrify energy end-use wherever possible in buildings, mobility, and industry, while also scaling up development and deployment of sustainable fuels to provide the high- temperatures required for industry and long-distance transport.
  8. Support information-sharing and education initiatives to increase people’s understanding and energy-aware behavior.
  9. Invest in high quality nature-based solutions to remove emissions from the atmosphere while also enhancing biodiversity and ecosystem services. When fossil fuels cannot be displaced by low-carbon energy carriers, deploy carbon capture and storage technologies.
  10. Mobilize coalitions with policymakers and other stakeholders to develop comprehensive strategies that ensure respect for human rights throughout the energy value chain and support a just and fair energy transition while phasing out fossil fuels.

We have an enormous amount of work to do, and it is more important than ever that we succeed in driving and accelerating action that creates a sustainable energy system providing reliable and affordable net-zero carbon energy for all. It is possible; it is necessary; it is an amazing opportunity for business. We can power a net-zero world, and I look forward to working with individuals, innovators, businesses, and policymakers around the world to make this happen.