Report: Halving global emissions by 2040 achievable if businesses act now

Businesses must act now to halve global emissions by 2040 and "set the stage" for further reductions required in the second half of the century, according to new research from a diverse group of investors, companies and NGOs.

The ‘Better energy, greater prosperity’ report, released today (25 April) by the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC), argues that it is technically and economically feasible to grow economies, provide affordable, reliable clean energy and achieve the Paris Agreement objective of limiting global warming to well below 2C.


Annual carbon emissions can be reduced from 36Gt today to 20Gt by 2040, the ETC claims, if the business community works with governments and investors to accelerate clean electrification, decarbonise power generation and optimise remaining fossil fuel use.

“We are ambitious but realistic,” ETC chair Adair Turner said. “Despite the scale of the challenges facing us, we firmly believe the required transition is technically and economically achievable if immediate action is taken.”

Clear pathways

ETC membership ranges across representatives from the world’s largest investor BlackRock and multinational oil and gas firm Shell, through to the chief executives of construction company Saint-Gobain and private sector coalition We Mean Business. Other members include prominent politicians such as Lord Nicholas Stern and former US Vice President Al Gore.

In the report, the ETC cites four pathways as essential to help create a global low-carbon energy system by 2040. Firstly, the report highlights that half of the emissions reductions required could come from the decarbonisation of power generation and electrification of activities in the transport and building sectors.

Based on the steep fall in renewable and battery costs, it predicts that power systems will be able to rely on variable renewables for up to 90% of energy supply for a cost of less than £55/MWh.

But the report goes further by describing the need to decarbonise ‘hard-to-electrify’ sectors such as aviation, shipping and heavy industries. The ETC notes frustrating progress made by technologies required to realise that transition, such as bioenergy, waste heat and carbon capture and storage (CCS). Businesses need to make significant R&D and deployment investments to ensure these technologies become cost-effective, the report claims.

Advancements in energy productivity, described as consumption per unit of GDP, could help deliver a third of required emissions reductions by 2040, according to the ETC. However, it maintains that this can only be achieved through energy efficiency progress across the building and transport sectors, as well as less energy-intensive good and services.

Lastly, the report highlights the need to optimise fossil fuels, which would still represent up to 50% of final energy demand in the ETC’s scenario. Carbon capture must be combined with a rapid decrease in unabated coal consumption and a peak of oil in the 2020s the ETC insists.

Bending the curve

These latest findings reflect a widely-held consensus among green experts that the global low-carbon transition remains a distinct possibility, provided that current trends in renewables are matched by strong commitments from businesses and policymakers.

Former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres recently said she remained “stubbornly optimistic” that market trends are already in place to “bend the curve” on global emissions and meet the scientific goals of the Paris Agreement. Figueres’ optimism was based on evidence that low-cost renewable energy sources are reaching an all-time high deployment, while emissions have flatlined during a prolonged period of economic growth.

As mentioned in today’s ETC report, the decarbonisation process will require a phase-out of coal-fired power stations. The study comes less than a week after the UK had its first ever working day without coal power generation since the Industrial Revolution.

Major players within the business community are starting to take up the mantle. The world’s largest retailer, Walmart, for instance, last week launched a programme to slash one billion tonnes of emissions from its supply chain by 2030. If achieved, this would represent one-sixteenth of the reductions necessary to bring global emissions down to 20Gt by 2040, as set out in the ETC report.

Read the Energy Transitions Commission’s ‘Better energy, greater prosperity’ report here. 

George Ogleby

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