Report: Net-zero transport and heavy industry sectors ‘possible by 2060’

It will be "technically and financially" possible for the global transport and heavy industry sectors to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2060, new research from the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) has concluded.

Published today, the Commission’s “Mission Possible: Reaching net-zero carbon from harder-to-abate sectors by mid-century” report reveals that decarbonising the two industries could cost less than 0.5% of global GDP – with the cost of the low-carbon transition falling further still if sectors bolster energy efficiency efforts, use carbon-intensive resources more sparingly and limit demand for carbon-intensive logistics.

The document, which was developed over a six-month period and includes contributions from more than 200 industry experts, outlines possible routes to fully decarbonise six industries that currently account for 30% of global carbon emissions – namely cement, steel, plastics, trucking, shipping and aviation.

It predicts that electric trucks and buses are likely to become cost-competitive with petrol and diesel models by 2030, while the aviation sector is likely to switch to zero-emission bio or synthetic fuels by 2060, as opposed to adopting electric aircraft.

As for the heavy industry portion of the report, a shift towards circular economy principles will reduce the sector’s direct emissions by as much as 40% by mid-century. The remaining emissions reductions needed to reach carbon neutrality could be achieved through the adoption of heat technologies that use electricity or hydrogen, alongside the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS).

ETC co-chair Adair Turner said that achieving the scenarios outlined in the report would be “optimistic but completely realistic”.

“Climate change imperatives, underlined most recently in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report to limit global warming to 1.5°C, require the world to move to near-zero carbon emissions by the 2060s or so – when many of the investments we make today would still be operational,” ETC co-chair Ajay Mathur added.

“The ETC report provides pragmatic steps to move towards zero-carbon technology options in these hard-to-abate sectors, providing both hope as well as strategic directions in these sectors.”

Turner and Mathur have expressed hopes for the report to act as a “key reference point” for the EU Commission, Members of Parliament and member state governments as they refine Europe’s 2050 roadmap towards a low-carbon economy at December’s COP24 conference in Poland.

One of the key aims of the three-week conference is for delegates to create a “rule book” for the Paris Agreement, detailing how much climate funding nations should commit to and how their funding levels will be adjusted to support progressive emission reductions.

Transport transitions

The launch of the ETC report comes at a time when the electric vehicle (EV) revolution is gathering pace within the car sector, with the first signs of progress towards sustainable transport beginning to emerge in the shippingaviation and heavy road transport sectors.

And in a further sign of the low-carbon transition’s acceleration in the transport sphere, the UK Government this week announced a partnership with the Polish Government in order to foster technological and organisational changes to spur the development and uptake of zero-carbon vehicles.

Called the driving together partnership, the initiative will create a network of partnerships between cities, regional and national governments and NGOs with the aim of sharing best practice on electric mobility.

As part of the partnership, which will be cemented at COP24, the two governments have additionally called on other UN member nations to set more ambitious targets on zero-emission transport, while implementing policies to enable the achievements of such aims.

The announcement comes shortly after one of the busiest weeks the European EV market, with top brands including BMW and Harley-Davidson unveiling new models for zero-emission cars and motorcycles.

This month has also seen the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre (UKBIC) achieve planning permission to build its flagship research and development facility in Coventry, and the University of Warwick unveiling plans to launch a “smart” mobility centre along with Jaguar Land Rover.

Elsewhere, British Gas has launched its first electricity tariff aimed at EV drivers, offering discounts to those who charge their cars overnight, while grid demand is low. Called the Green Drive Tariff, the plan offers discounted rates for charging between 12.30am and 7.30am.

Sarah George

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