Priming industry for net-zero emissions

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The 2015 Paris Agreement marked a turning point in the campaign against climate change as world leaders pledged their support for adopting cleaner, more sustainable energy practices. With the 24th edition of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP24) underway in Katowice, Poland, it’s an excellent time to refine our mission and optimize our actions for success.

Research points to a opportunity

In their latest report the IPCC warned of major negative effects on humanity and the planet should global temperatures rise above the targeted 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels. And, should temperatures rise to 2℃, it warns of even more dramatic consequences. The report concludes that achieving net-zero CO2 emissions globally by 2060 is of critical importance. While this may seem like a lofty target, a long time away, the window for decisive action is rapidly closing.

Essential to the success of any such efforts is economic feasibility. With energy and industrial sectors one of the biggest pollutants, a major focus is on helping heavy-industry and heavy-duty transport sectors achieve net-zero emissions without relying on offsets from the land-use sector. It’s my view that this possible in developed economies by 2050 and developing economies by 2060.

Refining our mission for (optimal) success

As a Commissioner of the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC), I’m privileged to be part of a diverse group of energy leaders and companies who are accelerating the change towards low-carbon energy systems while enabling robust economic development.  Over the last year, the ETC has devoted itself to defining a path to net-zero emissions from harder-to-abate sectors. The result is the Mission Possible Report. Its findings show that not only is such a change possible, but affordable and potentially profitable. Current estimates suggest that by mid-century the cost to the economy will be less than 0.5% of the global GDP, with a negligible impact on consumer living standards.

With the release of the Mission Possible Report, we’ve shown that this transition (reaching net-zero carbon emissions from harder-to-abate industries by mid-century) can be accomplished through ambitious policy, accelerated innovation and investment with minimal cost to the global economy. It builds on the 2017 report, Better Energy, Greater Prosperity, and delves deeper into sectors considered today as “difficult to decarbonize” through energy efficiency and electrification alone. As the world gets more electrified, and electricity more decarbonized, the importance of these sectors grow to reach full decarbonization of the global economy by 2060.

The march to net-zero emissions

First, it explores every route of energy and feedstock supply decarbonization. It includes a thorough analysis of electrification, as well as alternatives such as hydrogen bio-energy and CCS/U. It also provides a quantified analysis of the main advantages and limitations within each sector, as well as a review on the cost competitiveness.

This leads into a definitive exploration on how to manage the transition to net-zero emissions for these heavy industries. Unlike most conventional reports it also examines how to optimize demand in order to mitigate the impact of “hard-to-abate” sectors within the carbon budget. While energy efficiency remains a key contributor, new economic models such as transportation modal shifts and circularity will have a big role to play in these sectors. In the coming years, we’re also bound to witness many breakthroughs with battery technology, electro- and biochemistry, new materials and efficient service design all holding huge potential to significantly alter the landscape of opportunities.

The final piece of the puzzle then, is us. The policymakers, investors, businesses and consumers responsible for accelerating this change. Thus, the closing section of the report looks at recommendations for policy adoption, specifically climate-driven migration, energy efficiency, demand management and power decarbonization. It also outlines the role of the private sector in the transition.

A final thought

At Schneider Electric, we develop efficiency-technologies to serve this transition from the demand-side. We’re delighted in the breadth of quantified analysis across a very complicated set of sectors that are pivotal in the push to zero-emissions. I hope that this report reignites the global debate and inspires and informs our leaders as they approach one of the most significant decisions of our time.

In the wake of the IPCC’s urgent call for action, the Mission Possible Report sends a clear signal to all: Full decarbonization is possible, and ambitious climate objectives are achievable.

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