Interventions in key industries could support rapid net-zero drive

Small interventions in three key areas – electric vehicles (EVs), ‘green ammonia’ and plant-based proteins – could support faster changes in other parts of the economy.  

These ‘super tipping points’ could encourage effective climate action, allowing other industries to accelerate towards net-zero, according to the report presented at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland.  

A mandate for the sales of EVs, mandate requiring ‘green ammonia’ be used in fertilizer manufacturing and the public procurement of plant-based alternatives to meat could target sectors which cover 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions.  

Tipping points occur when zero-carbon solutions start to outcompete high-carbon methods, providing cheaper and more efficient alternatives. As sales rise, this reinforces ‘feedback loops’, driving growth and the adoption of low-carbon solutions, as old solutions decline.  

cars passing through north and south

Lead author of the report Simon Sharpe, who worked in collaboration with Systemiq, the University of Exeter and the Bezos Earth Fund, said: ‘High-emitting sectors of the economy do not exist in isolation – they are deeply inter-connected, and zero-emission solutions can influence transitions in multiple sectors simultaneously.’  

We are already reaching tipping points in some sectors, such as the electricity industry, as solar and wind accounted for more than 75% of new global capacity built in 2022. Renewable energy and battery storage is also set to become cheaper than new gas or coal in most regions within the next two to three years.  

EVs are close to a tipping point too, with estimates that they will account for 70% of battery capacity in 2030. This could drive down battery costs and, in turn, reduce the cost of renewables and electricity storage.  

Introducing a mandate for green ammonia would require no change in equipment to manufacture fertilizer and could unlock tipping points in aviation and construction. Green ammonia could then be used for shipping and reduce green hydrogen costs for steel production.  

Thirdly, plant-based proteins are close to being equal with meat on cost, taste and texture, meaning a tipping point could soon be reached through public procurement and investment in research and development. This could boost the proteins’ market share to 20% by 2035, tackling the 15% of global emissions released by the agricultural industry.  

Supporting the growth of meat alternatives could also free up approximately 400-800 million hectares of land, the equivalent of 7-15% of agricultural land, which could be converted to protect habitats.  

Action in these areas must outpace the rise in global temperatures, as the world heads towards a series of climatic tipping points, such as the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which could cause irreversible damage.  

‘With time running out, there is a need to be targeted,’ said Mark Meldrum, Systemiq partner and a lead author of the report. ‘Our report spotlights key opportunities to effect change that can produce huge returns in terms of decarbonisation. It identifies positive tipping points in the highest-emitting sectors of the global economy, and analyses the conditions required to trigger them.’  

Photo by Aleksandr Popov


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