While a global transition to renewable, clean energy sources seems like an obvious solution, energy transitions are historically slow and hence the continued use of fossil fuels is expected for many years to come. Thus, the concurrent advancement of many other technologies is required. Such technologies are related to capturing CO2 from large point sources such as power plants, improving energy efficiency (for instance within industry and the building sectors), producing synthetic fuels from waste products such as CO2 and biomass, and CO2 storage, both underground and in the form of useful, value added products such as concrete. However, it must be emphasised, that all of these aforementioned approaches can only help cut existing CO2 emissions. Thus, a major part of the IPCC solution is to directly remove CO2 from the atmosphere using a range of “negative emissions technologies” (NETs), which can be incentivised through robust CO2 pricing. Still, socio-technological advances in NETs are also required to permit humanity to begin decarbonising the atmosphere and thus significantly reduce the projected impact of climate change. It is important to act now — before Earth’s climate system reaches a tipping point beyond which there is no possibility of controlling the effects of climate change.
The Paris Agreement established a global framework meant to limit global warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius”, with the ultimate goal of not exceeding a 1.5 °C increase. Despite this, studies indicate that if humanity continues emitting carbon at the current rate, there will likely be enough CO2 in the atmosphere to rapidly break through the lower 1.5°C target within the next decade.1 Thus, it is clear that urgent decarbonisation will require co-ordinated action at every scale as well as a concerted, unified effort across many disciplines, including policy, economics, industry, science, engineering, and technology. Understanding the challenges and uncertainties involved and proposing a path forward that ensures global access to renewable energy and participation in NETs through the right policies and economic incentives, is critical.2 Possible pathways to decarbonisation solutions are presented further down in the report.
In this section, we present potential technological breakthroughs related to negative emission technologies, the clean energy transition, the development and deployment of new advanced materials, and energy storage systems as key contributors to decarbonisation.
Selection of GESDA Best Reads and further key reports
Among many publications in the aforementioned areas, four documents from 2019 provide a useful overview. Luderer et al’s review the likely co-benefits of decarbonisation3; the International Renewable Energy Agency have looked at innovations in energy storage4 and the future of solar photovoltaic systems.5 Finally, there is the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s “Negative Emissions Technologies and Reliable Sequestration: A Research Agenda”.6