Briefing Note 12 - What Are the Opportunities and Challenges of Ending Our Contribution to Climate Breakdown?


How Can We Save on Emissions from the Energy Sector?


The potential of energy savings keep expanding, currently contributing more than the growth of renewable energy. Energy savings also cost less, since they require fewer devices and use existing infrastructure. Integrated design and cost-effective retrofits in buildings can help in energy savings, which are technologies that existed over a decade ago.


Renewable energy has grown substantially, but saved energy has had 30 times larger impact on carbon abatement than if there were no efficiency developments. The US Government suggested that GDP $/kWh could never decrease, but has dropped by 60% from 1975 to 2020, and is suggested that it could fall by 75% by 2025.


If these energy efficiency savings are realized, then it’s cheaper to leave fossil fuels in the ground. If the reserves that are uneconomic to dig up are smaller than the carbon budget, then economic competition becomes important. By next year, renewables will be the cheapest new build in every region of the world. Although storage is an issue it is starting to get cheaper, such as solar storage.


How Can Fossil Fuel Companies Achieve Net Zero and Are They Moving Fast Enough?


Shell is addressing the issue of how to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, when emissions are still rising. They have released a new scenario that said all the aspects needed to achieve net zero emissions are on the table today. However, emissions still continue to rise. We not only face the challenge of applying that set of technologies, but doing so in a timely manner as this is ultimately what we are up against.


Net zero is an achievable goal, but the timing of progress towards it isn’t currently fast enough. We are aiming for 2050, but it is suggested it may only be reached by 2070, as it’s argued that the policy frameworks for the Paris Agreement aren’t there yet. This means there is significant responsibility on governments to pull this together a lot faster than the current pace, as the required policy frameworks aren’t currently there. All of the ‘pieces’ are there, so it is now a matter of implementation.


What Is the Role of the Urban Population in Achieving Net Zero?


The global urban population is expected to reach 80% by 2050. Cities contribute 75% of GHGs, and also 75% of GDP. They are the sites where supply and demand meet. We need to shift our attention from the supply of coal and gas to look at what we need that energy for, as reaching net zero is not possible without addressing urban demand. This includes buildings, transportation, food and commodities.


Shifting energy use to provide the same services can be achieve through transitioning to electric vehicles, and changing the provision of protein from non-meat diets. These two examples are mediated over different time periods. Longer term requires structural change, such as buildings and transportation to become low carbon. They pre-shape our solution space, as well as our preferences. But how do we achieve them?


It is not a case of us not knowing how technology should be used, but rather a complicated interface between technology, infrastructure, institutions and behaviours. These aspects need to be worked through and asks the question of how we interact with the systems and technologies that are available to us.


What Does Achieving Net Zero Conclude and Recommend?


  • Energy savings using existing technologies have achieved significant CO2 abatement and show the importance of realising these savings for economic competition


  • The current pace of action towards net zero by 2050 is completely inadequate and places significant responsibility on governments to rapidly implement the necessary policies to achieve this goal


  • Achieving net zero is not possible without rapid changes in energy use within cities, some of which require long term structural changes