COP26: 23 nations commit to cleantech ‘missions’ on buildings, heavy industries, fuels, carbon capture

Technology focus areas will affect sectors including chemicals (pictured)

Plans will be published for priority technologies that decarbonise cities, which UN Habitat estimates account for 60% of global energy consumption annually, and 78% of global annual emissions if the full value chains of products and materials are taken into account.

There will also be plans for decarbonising heavy industrial sectors, scaling up renewable fuels, decarbonising the chemicals sector and producing renewable materials, as well as scaling up man-made carbon capture technologies.

The EU, plus 22 national governments, are participating in delivering these plans. Nations involved include historically heavy emitters like the US and Australia, emerging emitters like India and China, and nations that have reportedly been lagging in other areas at COP26, including Saudi Arabia.

Also represented are the UK, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Morocco, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates. These nations collectively accounted for 90% of global public investment in low-carbon energy innovations made last year.

“Mission Innovation mobilises governments to operate with a clear, collective voice, and helps the public sector to work together dynamically with the private sector to develop and scale-up clean energy solutions,” said the European Commission’s vice-president Frans Timmermans.

Together with sharp emissions reductions, innovation gives us a path towards the Paris Agreement. We can make clean technologies more accessible for all, and provide a platform for all countries to reach net-zero.”

The announcement is being made through the ‘Mission Innovation’ platform, which launched originally in 2015 and was expanded last week.  The initiative was convened at COP21 in Paris and has financial backing from the likes of Bill Gates and the World Economic Forum. It has the aim of making clean technologies in hard-to-abate sectors more affordable, accessible and attractive than their traditional, higher-carbon counterparts by the end of the decade.

This overarching aim and the new plans being launched today, Mission Innovation claims, are consistent with an agreement signed by more than 40 world leaders on scaling cleantech and renewable energy solutions last week, called the ‘Breakthrough Agenda’. Both initiatives focus on decarbonising hard-to-abate sectors by scaling technologies and bringing down their costs. They are also both using the IEA’s net-zero by 2050 roadmap, in which 50% of the emissions reductions needed are dependent on technologies that are not yet mature. Some nations, including Barbados, and other initiatives, such as Project Drawdown, have argued that existing technologies will play a far larger role.  

The four new missions

Last week, Mission Innovation plans were announced on decarbonising power systems and shipping, and on scaling up low-carbon hydrogen production. While all hydrogen releases zero greenhouse gas emissions when burned for its end-use, the emissions associated with production can vary. More than 95% of the hydrogen produced globally each year, at present, is grey hydrogen, meaning it is fossil-fuel based.

The first of the missions announced today is the ‘Urban Transitions Mission’, for addressing emissions from cities’ buildings, transport networks and resource consumption. This initiative is aiming to deliver at least 50 large-scale, integrated demonstration projects in urban environments around the world by 2030, with the hope that they could be scaled and installed elsewhere. The European Commission is leading this initiative in partnership with the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, and Joint Programming Initiative (JPI) Urban Europe.

The second is the net-zero industries mission, which will address emissions from the heating processes and materials used in heavy industrials including steel, cement and chemicals. Australia will co-lead this initiative and will publish technology-specific information next year. The aim is to help businesses install low-carbon technologies at the end of their next refurbishment cycles, laying the foundations for a transition to net-zero by 2050 at the latest. This is because much of the equipment used in these sectors is used for 20 years or more.

There is also an ‘integrated biorefineries mission’, which will develop drop-in replacements for fossil-based fuels in the transport and chemicals sector. India and the Netherlands are co-leading this initiative and, as with net-zero industries, more information on technologies will be published next year. Green groups will likely also want more clarity on the life-cycle environmental impacts of the fuels, to ensure they are not contributing to trends like biodiversity loss through monocropping.

The fourth and final mission focuses on carbon dioxide removal technologies and has an ambition of installing new arrays that will capture 100 million metric tonnes of CO2e globally by 2030. At present, man-made CDR solutions are estimated to be capturing just 38.5 million metric tonnes of CO2e annually; less than one-thousandth of the global total. The governments of Canada, the US and Saudi Arabia will lead this mission.

Last week, separately, the US Government’s Department of Energy set a target to bring down the cost of removing a tonne of CO2 from the atmosphere to less than $100 by 2030. The Biden Administration’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, which passed last week, details some $3.5bn for direct air capture demonstrators. 

Sarah George

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