By Will Mathis and Akshat Rathi
As the rapid acceleration of wind and solar farms have significantly decreased emissions from electricity, other emissions-heavy industries still need to develop new technologies to reduce their carbon footprint. To scale up fast enough to reach mid-century climate goals, governments will need to ramp up spending on clean energy research and development by 2030, the IEA’s executive director Fatih Birol said in an interview.
“In the absence of much faster clean energy innovation, achieving net zero goals in 2050 will be all but impossible,” Birol said. “Setting ambitious climate goals is a courageous policy decision, but realizing them requires more than courage.”
While many technologies to reduce carbon emissions from high-polluting sectors like steel and chemical production and shipping already exist, they will need funding to develop to the point that they’re ready to be deployed at industrial scale, according to IEA’s special report on clean energy innovation. More than half of the emissions reductions needed to get the world on a sustainable path will come from technologies that are currently at the prototype stage, including producing steel without the need for coal, or early-adoption stage, such as producing hydrogen from splitting water in electrolyzers.
Heavy industries generally invest in 25-year cycles, with the next round expected to begin around 2030. As governments around the world look to invest billions or trillions of dollars to pull economies out of the coronavirus-triggered slump, aligning those investments to create markets for new clean technologies can avoid locking in emissions that would delay the timeline for hitting crucial climate goals. As much as 60 billion tons of emissions, about twice what the world spewed out in 2019, could be prevented if money is spent in these new markets, the IEA’s report said.