News - 03 June 2021

The Wilderness Society statement on the International Energy Agency’s Report Net Zero by 2050 - A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector

The Wilderness Society welcomes the release of the International Energy Agency’s recent Net Zero by 2050 Report and especially its headline finding that the pathway to net zero by 2050 means a huge decline in the use of fossil fuels, falling from almost four-fifths of total energy supply today to just slightly over one-fifth by 2050.

We note that in this report, the IEA has now made it clear that beyond projects already committed as of 2021, no oil and gas fields approved for development and no new coal mines or mine extensions are required. We endorse this finding and call on all Australian governments and businesses to align their policies with it.

We reiterate our calls for a cessation of Australia’s mindless release of new fossil fuel acreages and the abandonment of oil, gas and coal expansions proposed in areas of outstanding biodiversity and cultural values such as the Great Australian Bight, the Kimberley, the Lake Eyre Basin and Wollemi.

We also note the IEA’s finding that governments must put in place long‐term policy frameworks to allow all branches of government and stakeholders to plan for change and facilitate an orderly transition. We consider that this is sorely lacking in Australia and call on all governments to urgently prioritise practical actions to achieve this.

The Wilderness Society also welcomes the IEA’s recognition of the significant, and necessary, constraints that must be placed on any potential contribution from bioenergy, particularly woody biomass, in meeting net zero emission targets.

In particular, we note that the IEA roadmap specifies that any bioenergy from woody biomass must be sourced from ‘sustainable forestry’, which the IEA defines as: “Sustainable forestry management ensures that the carbon stock and carbon absorption capability of the forest is expanded or remains unchanged.” Additionally, the IEA is clear that procurement of woody biomass must “not conflict with food production or biodiversity.”

These are necessary, minimum parameters.

We therefore welcome the IEA’s recognition of the carbon and biodiversity values of natural forests, the necessary constraints on bioenergy, and of the need to significantly reduce deforestation.

We consider it particularly important that the Report has specifically assessed the implications of potential overestimations of sustainable bioenergy availability.

We note with caution that the IEA proposes that one-quarter of the world’s managed forests be dedicated to the production of bioenergy (270 million hectares); it is difficult to see how this can be reconciled with non-confliction with carbon or biodiversity values.

These assessments of potential overestimation raise particular risks are important in the Australian context, given the significant impact certain forms of bioenergy production could have on critical biodiversity, cultural and other ecological values - as well as the significant carbon absorption and storage values of Australian native forests - if such limitations are not appropriately recognised.