When we talk about the journey to net zero emissions, the scale of the problem looms so large it can start to block out the view of the path ahead. The IEA estimates that global investment in clean energy needs to swell by more than double its current rate to reach the $5trn needed annually to keep us on track by 2030, which is alarmingly close and getting closer every day.
It’s easy to be daunted by figures of such magnitude but achieving our collective goal of carbon neutrality requires a cool head and a rational approach. This becomes critically important in sectors like transport, heavy industry, and energy, where the shift needed to decarbonise is less a step and more a total paradigm shift. Some have argued for immediate divestment from industries like these, but the best gains for carbon reduction are to be made in precisely these spaces. Should we not be encouraging them to transform their business models rather than starve them of the ongoing investment they need to take the leap?
In the last few days, the International Council on Mining and Metals, which represents the world’s leading mining companies, agreed to a goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest. The Global Cement and Concrete Association quickly followed suit, and in one fell swoop the two groups made a significant step towards accelerating our journey to net zero. Together, cement and mining are responsible for between 11- 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and there are few other industries able to make such a significant impact so quickly. This illustrates just how important it is to bring everyone along on the journey towards a clean energy future, and how easily we might hamstring ourselves if we unilaterally cut off support from the most challenging parts of the energy landscape.
Of course, throwing arms open to corporates and blindly trusting their reports of progress on emission reduction is no guaranteed recipe for success. ‘Greenwashing’ has become a commonly cited barrier to progress in sustainable investment, and businesses are rightly being expected to demonstrate the validity of their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) credentials in a space that until recently was largely lacking in any standardised regulation. Calls for science-based climate targets are getting louder as investors and consumers alike demand that major companies set independently verifiable emission reduction goals or risk both reputational damage and competitive advantage. Soon it may well be these metrics, rather than the sector an organisation is situated within, that counts for the most when it comes to climate credibility.
In terms of both infrastructure and capital investment, much of the legwork necessary to get us where we need to be by 2050 will need to be put in over the next decade, so the message is clear: there’s no time to delay. If we’re to get the job done in the limited time available, not only do we need to continue pushing for rigorous regulation and global standardisation of metrics across the entire sustainability system, but we need to couple it with an open-minded approach that welcomes progress regardless of where it originates from. Only by pursuing these twin goals will we be able to harness the high impact, large-scale transformative change of the hardest-to-reach sectors whilst giving consumers, corporates, and investors the confidence they need to drive the clean energy revolution.
Now more than ever, it’s time to keep eyes firmly planted on the big picture and focus on constructive action. The next few years are certain to be full of innovation and progress, and we’ll achieve much more, much quicker, if we make room at the table for everyone.