A Transition to Net-Zero Will Require Unprecedented Investments in Energy Tech

A new report harmonizes energy projections from organizations around the world that envision a rapid expansion of renewable energy and clean energy technologies, but a foggy future for fossil fuels and the climate at large.


April 2, 2024

News Type

Press Release

What’s the story? 

The Global Energy Outlook, an annual analysis from Resources for the Future (RFF), charts a wide range of pathways for the world’s energy future. The newest report harmonizes energy projections from organizations around the world that envision a rapid expansion of renewable energy and clean energy technologies, but a foggy future for fossil fuels and the climate at large.

What are the key findings? 

The report comes to several conclusions based on 16 scenarios published by the International Energy Agency, US Energy Information Administration, bp, Enerdata, Equinor, ExxonMobil, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, and Shell.

  • Consumption of coal, oil, and natural gas is expected to peak before 2030 but remain at or near a plateau through 2050 in many scenarios. Achieving international climate targets will require a peak followed by a rapid decline in fossil fuel consumption.
  • Carbon dioxide removal technologies are deployed rapidly and at scale in every scenario that limits global warming to 1.5°C or 2°C by 2100. This suggests the need to quickly establish robust monitoring, reporting, and verification standards as these technologies develop further.
  • Demand for metals and minerals needed for clean energy technologies is expected to rapidly expand, raising important questions about the cost of supplying these materials, along with the environmental, social, and geopolitical consequences of rapidly growing supply chains.
  • Achieving clean energy deployment goals set at the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28), such as tripling nuclear capacity by 2050 and renewable electricity capacity by 2030, would require unprecedented growth in both sectors.
  • In China, the world’s top greenhouse gas emitter, projected energy demand has been substantially revised downward as a result of the country’s slowing economic growth and declining population.

Author Perspective

“It is impossible to predict exactly what will happen in the future, but the projections consistently show that rapid deployment of existing energy technologies, along with new innovations, will be vital to keeping climate change in check. Wind and solar are changing the game because the world invested in them. But we need to do much more if we want to ensure a safe climate, which is a prerequisite to a strong economy.”

—Daniel Raimi, RFF Fellow and Director of the Equity in the Energy Transition Initiative

Why is this report noteworthy? 

Each year, top energy organizations release long-term projections for the world’s energy future. These projections have different methodologies and assumptions, which make them hard to compare. The Global Energy Outlook harmonizes these projections to offer a broad understanding of how different levels of climate policy may influence the global energy system.

The report categorizes each projection by its energy and climate policy assumptions: reference scenarios assume limited or no new climate policies; evolving scenarios assume that announced policies will be implemented and that technologies will develop according to recent trends; and ambitious scenarios are built around the goals of limiting global mean temperature rise to 1.5°C or 2°C.

What’s next? 

Ambitious climate scenarios depict a world that is entering a new frontier for innovative climate technologies. As the world works to reduce emissions, new and adapted policies around energy efficiency, carbon dioxide removal, critical minerals, hydrogen, and nuclear capacity are all needed at scale. Although some of these technologies are controversial, the outlooks show clearly that every tool in the toolbox is needed.

Notably, most projections predict that fossil fuels will decline, but due to the rising importance of negative-emissions technologies like direct air capture, they continue to play a meaningful role in the energy system even under ambitious scenarios. However, the scale of this demand varies widely: the range of projected fossil fuel demand between the most optimistic and most pessimistic projections is roughly equivalent to the entire global consumption of fossil fuels in 2022.

Like in past Global Energy Outlook reports, uncertainty is still the name of the game. But it is increasingly clear that the world will need to rapidly reduce fossil fuel use, scale up renewables, and make huge policy strides to meet international climate goals.

Where can I learn more? 

For more information, read the report, Global Energy Outlook 2024: Peaks or Plateaus? by RFF Fellow Daniel Raimi, Senior Research Associate Yuqi Zhu, President and CEO Richard G. Newell, and Fellow Brian Prest. The report has more information about the harmonization process and methodology.

Be sure to check out the update to the interactive Global Energy Outlook data tool.

The authors will share more about the report during an RFF Live event on April 2 at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. A panel discussion about long-term outlooks for energy markets will follow the authors’ presentation. You can RSVP for virtual or in-person attendance via the event webpage.

Resources for the Future (RFF) is an independent, nonprofit research institution in Washington, DC. Its mission is to improve environmental, energy, and natural resource decisions through impartial economic research and policy engagement. RFF is committed to being the most widely trusted source of research insights and policy solutions leading to a healthy environment and a thriving economy.

Unless otherwise stated, the views expressed here are those of the individual authors and may differ from those of other RFF experts, its officers, or its directors. RFF does not take positions on specific legislative proposals.

For more information, please see our media resources page or contact Media Relations and Communications Specialist Annie McDarris.

Related Content