Report: Action on just six issues can deliver 90% of emissions reductions needed to limit global heating to 1.5C

The Energy Transitions Commission has published a new landmark report, outlining how policymakers can deliver the deep emissions cuts needed this decade to put the world on track to deliver the Paris Agreement.

Coal is one of the six areas covered; the report argues the case for nations to go beyond commitments to no new coal and to draw up plans for closing existing plants

Coal is one of the six areas covered; the report argues the case for nations to go beyond commitments to no new coal and to draw up plans for closing existing plants

The UN recently revealed that Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted as part of the Paris Agreement would only deliver a 12% reduction in global emissions by 2030, against a 2030 baseline. This would leave the world off-course to deliver either of the Agreement’s temperature pathways; a 25% reduction would be needed for 2C and 45% for 1.5C.

The new Energy Transitions Commission’s report on ‘Keeping 1.5C Alive’, the Commission’s deputy director Ita Kettleborough told edie, should “support a process that will enable NDCs to increase in the coming years – especially by the 2023 stocktake”.

Specifically, she said, there is a need to simplify, for policymakers, the focus areas where it is feasible to deliver deep emissions cuts this decade, and to show the Government that businesses are willing to deliver change on the ground.

With this in mind, the report is backed by the leaders of more than 40 businesses, research organisations and NGOs – and it outlines how actions in just six fields could deliver more than 90% of the emissions reductions needed to deliver the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C pathway.

The six fields are reducing methane emissions; halting deforestation and scaling reforestation; phasing out coal; increasing the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs); improving energy productivity and decarbonising industry.  

In each field, recommendations are made for actions to be taken this decade, on the basis that they are possible using existing technologies; that they come at nil or low net cost; and that they deliver socio-economic benefits other than decarbonization, such as improved air quality, biodiversity restoration and job creation. Kettleborough said these considerations have led to recommendations whereby Ministers are likely to be “pushing on more of an open door”.

Key recommendations include:

  • Methane: Halving emissions from the fossil fuel sector by 2030 and delivering a 30% reduction in the agriculture and waste sectors in the same timeline. This goes further than the US and EU’s joint pledge for a 30% cut in absolute methane emissions this decade.
  • Forests: Rapidly scaling financial support to protect habitats in developing nations, particularly Brazil, Indonesia and the DRC; changing diets using supply-side and demand-side actions.
  • Coal: Closing all coal plants in OECD nations and all older coal plants (those having operated for 20 or more years) in non-OECD nations by 2030.
  • EVs: Ensuring major automakers only manufacture and sell zero-emission vehicles from 2035; corporate fleets reaching 100% EVs by 2030; introducing low-emission zones in most major city centres; improving fuel efficiency standards for vans and HGVs.
  • Energy productivity: Having all new builds meet stringent net-zero standards for operational and embodied carbon; getting cities to develop net-zero-aligned mobility plans.
  • Decarbonising industry: Bringing at least 25GW of green hydrogen production capacity online; mandates for fuel switching in aviation and maritime.

COP26 President Alok Sharma has called the report “a clear and credible action plan”. It builds on the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) roadmap to net-zero by mid-century, which is being used to inform negotiators at the conference and which Kettleborough described as "one of the starting points for assessing the size of the prize for reducing emissions through to 2030”. 

Who moves first?

The Commission has stated that the delivery of its recommendations will not require an agreement between all UN member states. Instead, they could be delivered by more discreet groups of countries and businesses, as long as actors focus on maximising emissions reductions and delivering other benefits to the environment, society and economy.

Kettleborough maintained that both international agreements and smaller collaborations are necessary to deliver decarbonisation at the scale and pace demanded by climate science. The former can level the playing field and prevent greenwashing, but the latter can deliver more rapid action. 

Kettleborough said: “The decade is now, the action needs to be taken now; where countries or corporates can go ahead, they should…. In some ways, NDCs are lagging behind global momentum.

“Agreements can be made at COP26. There are already a lot of existing initiatives and they can be strengthened and expanded. The idea is not, then, that these commitments are in a vacuum – they should enable countries to build confidence to ratchet up their NDCs in the coming years.”

Initiatives that already exist and could be boosted, Kettleborough said, include the Race to Zero, Business Ambition for 1.5C and the World Economic Forum’s Mission Possible Partnership. The latter of these initiatives is aiming to trial “breakthrough” low-carbon technologies in some of the world’s hardest-to-abate sectors this year and to develop climate action plans for the seven included sectors by the end of 2023. Chemicals, concrete, steel, aluminum, aviation, shipping and trucking are included.

Behaviour change levers

As has been said many times before, the UK’s low-carbon transition to date has mainly happened without the need for extensive behaviour change. Most emissions savings have materialised through the energy transition in power generation, and through efficiency improvements.

Looking to the future, this will not be the case, and the picture will likely be similar for other nations. As Kettleborough put it: “Net-zero means mass clean electrification. Wind and solar buildouts, improvements to transmission and distribution networks, and so on, are tricky issues with very local impacts. There are local discussions around planning and permitting.

“There is a lot of public wish to engage and decarbonise and trying to help people really understand what a net-zero economy looks like is key.”

Delivering this understanding will be key ahead of COP26; individuals, like industries, are seeking more long-term clarity on the direction of travel in areas that will affect the day-to-day. For the UK Government, this will mean publishing the long-awaited Heat & Buildings Strategy (the latest string of delays have been attributed to criticisms on how the bill will be footed by taxpayers) and the overarching Net-Zero Strategy.  

A response to the National Food Strategy is also expected, but not until after COP26 begins.

Kettleborough stated that while, in some areas, action will need to be “individual-led”, individual action at scale is “one of many levers” that must be employed to deliver the systems change needed.

Sarah George



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