Electricity powers the world as we know it, and in countless ways has changed people’s lives for the better. But the burning of fossil fuels that provides most of this electricity is also changing the climate, contributing around 23% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Of these GHG emissions, carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most prevalent in power system emissions. Over the last two decades, CO2 emissions from electricity production have increased on average by 0.2 gigatonnes each year.

Global CO2 Emissions From Power

To prevent increasingly dangerous climate impacts, a fast transition to clean energy sources is crucial. To limit warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F), the power sector needs to achieve net-zero emissions before 2050. This transition also provides opportunities to use clean energy to reduce air pollution, create jobs and bring electricity to all. 

Opportunities to align the power system with the Paris Agreement

Achieving net-zero emissions will require implementing a range of solutions across the power system, including ramping up the use of renewables, deploying energy-efficient technologies and designing systems to better manage and balance electricity.

The exponential growth of solar and wind energy in relation to key milestones

Adapting industry, transport and heating to run on clean energy is also essential to reach net-zero goals. At the same time, energy access must be extended to the 733 million people who lack it today.

Transitioning to a zero-carbon power sector must happen in a just and equitable manner. This includes respecting human rights and addressing equity across multiple dimensions. From mining key materials needed for the clean transition to decommissioning carbon-intensive power generation plants, the livelihoods of workers should be respected and efforts should be made to transition fossil fuel workers to new jobs.

Achieving a transformed power system by 2050

To meet global climate goals by 2050, the power system needs to be run by renewables and other zero-carbon sources, and electricity from “unabated” coal and gas (burned without the use of carbon capture and storage to trap emissions) should be completely phased out. 

Ramping up renewable energy is not the only challenge in the power sector. Achieving a balanced electric grid that minimizes fossil fuel use will also require a large-scale rollout of other technologies and practices, including energy storage, demand-side management, energy efficiency and new ways of connecting power systems.

The shift 4 shifts needed to transform the Power system

Click each shift to explore more detail and learn about key actions driving progress.

Phase out unabated coal and fossil gas electricity generation

Ending the current reliance on coal and fossil gas is crucial to achieving climate goals. This shift requires rapidly phasing out these fuels, relocating workers to new sectors, and eradicating public and private financing for fossil fuels, among other key actions.

Rapidly scale up zero-carbon electricity generation

Collectively, governments, businesses and households must prioritize a rapid transition to more sustainable forms of energy, unlocking myriad benefits such as lower CO2 emissions, cleaner air and a net-benefit to the global economy.

Modernize power grids, scale energy storage and manage power demand

Scaling up efforts on power transmission and distribution, demand-side response and storage will require new policies to mobilize capital for new infrastructure; it will also create the market conditions for demand management programs and technological innovation.

Ensure energy access and a just and equitable transition for all

Too many of the world's poorest communities have been negatively impacted by fossil fuel power or do not have energy access. The transition of the world’s energy systems toward decarbonized, highly electrified models must benefit all people equitably.

Progress toward targets

Systems Change Lab has identified indicators to track progress toward targets. Hover over a chart and click to explore the data.