In a nutshell: Why we can never reach Net Zero by 2050—and shouldn’t try

To replace fossil fuel energy worldwide would require the equivalent of 22,000 Site C dams and severely damage our living standards, says Fraser Institute study

By Fraser Institute, June 12, 2024

Canada and other developed countries have committed to achieving “net-zero” carbon emissions by 2050.

… but is there any chance we’re actually going to hit that target?

Right now, in 2024, we are at the halfway point between the Kyoto Protocol (the first international treaty to set binding targets for cutting emissions) and that 2050 target.

And, despite all the government spending, regulations, and grandstanding, global fossil fuel consumption surged by 55% between 1997 and 2023.

Yes, you read that right – at the halfway point between Kyoto and 2050, fossil fuel consumption is not down, but rather way up.

Yet politicians around the world continue insisting that “net zero” by 2050 is achievable.

A new Fraser Institute study (“Halfway Between Kyoto and 2050: Zero Carbon Is a Highly Unlikely Outcome”) shows just how unlikely that is.

Consider this: the 19th-century transition from wood to coal and hydrocarbons replaced about 1.5 billion tons of wood, equivalent to 30 exajoules. The current transition will require at least 400 exajoules of new non-carbon energies by 2050.

Generating this amount of clean energy would require the equivalent of about 22,000projects the size of British Columbia’s Site C dam.

The Site C dam took 10 years to plan and pass environmental regulations, plus an additional decade to build, and is expected to cost $16 billion.

Again, we’d need 22,000 of those. You do the math.

Net Zero means major decline in living standards

And that’s to say nothing of critical industries that still rely heavily on fossil fuels with no viable alternatives readily available for large-scale adoption.

Nor of the unprecedented demands for minerals vital for renewable energy technologies, such as copper and lithium, which require substantial time to mine and develop.

Nor of the cost of overhauling existing energy infrastructure! Countries like Canada would need to allocate 20-25% of their annual incomes to the transition. That would obviously mean a major decline in living standards.

And even if a large number of countries could solve those challenges and invest the many trillions of dollars they necessitate, achieving net zero would require extensive and sustained global cooperation.

Given the conflicting political, strategic, and economic interests, it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which the European Union and the United States (who are already reducing emissions) get on the same page as China and India, who are still increasing their coal combustion and have decades of emissions growth ahead of them.

For a longer presentation of the Fraser Institute report, click here.

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