Heavy industry and heavy-duty transport could reach zero emissions by mid-century

VW e-delivery truck photo
© Volkswagen

Ambitious progress is possible, even in society's hardest to abate sectors.

Whether we're talking more efficient freight ships, electric short-haul flight or the cement industry stepping up to the challenge of the Paris Climate Accord, we regularly feature stories of heavy industry and/or heavy transportation trying to tackle its gargantuan carbon footprint.

Yet for all the progress being made, we must also acknowledge that energy- and resource-intensive sectors of the economy are going to be among the hardest to decarbonize.

Nevertheless, a new report from influential think tank Energy Transitions Commission suggests that net zero emissions is achievable by roughly mid-century, even in the hardest-to-reform sectors of the economy such as shipping, freight transport, cement manufacturing, plastics and aviation. What's more, such a goal could be reached without too much of a cost burden (<0.5% of global GDP) on the economy.

Solutions and timelines vary, of course, with electrification and/or fuel cells becoming cost competitive for ground transportation by around 2030, while biofuels may be necessary for harder to decarbonize applications like long-haul flight. Meanwhile, while carbon capture is likely to be unnecessary for power generation, it may be an important component if cement production is ever going to get close to net zero emissions.

However, while progress is possible, none of it is inevitable. Indeed the report itself makes it clear that government support, public-private partnerships, robust carbon pricing and more will be necessary to create an environment where net zero emissions can actually be achieved. Adair Turner, co-chair of the ETC, puts the challenge like this:

“This report sets out an optimistic but completely realistic message—we can build a zero-carbon economy with a minor cost to economic growth. We should now commit to achieving this by 2060 at the latest, and put in place the policies and investments required to deliver it.”

I'm game. Who else is in?

Heavy industry and heavy-duty transport could reach zero emissions by mid-century
Ambitious progress is possible, even in society's hardest to abate sectors.

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