The World Is Moving Toward Net Zero Because of a Single Sentence


In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Global Warming of 1.5°C report stated, to have a shot at achieving the Paris Agreement’s stretch goal of limiting warming to 1.5° Celsius above pre industrial levels, every nation must cut its carbon-dioxide emissions in half by 2030—and neutralize them by 2050. Two years later, eight of the 10 largest economies have pledged to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century. Twenty-nine countries, plus the European Union, have net-zero pledges for either CO₂ or all greenhouse gases, accounting for 14.5 percent of global emissions. About 400 companies, including Microsoft, Unilever, Facebook, Ford, Nestle, Pepsi Co, and Brunswick Group, have signed on with the Business Ambition for 1.5°C pledge, which is built on the IPCC’s analysis. To learn more, read The World Is Moving Toward Net Zero Because of a Single Sentence.”  Reading this article could require a subscription to the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • Like most statements the IPCC sets down, the most important sentence ever written is just terrible—clunky and jargon-filled. What it says, in English, is this:
    • By 2030 the world needs to cut its carbon-dioxide pollution by 45%, and by midcentury reach “net-zero” emissions, which means any CO₂ still emitted would have to be drawn down in some way.
  • The half-by-2030, all-by-2050 guidance is keyed specifically to emissions of CO2, by far the biggest contributor to warming.
  • According to the World Resource Institute’s Kelly Levin, “Countries with the highest emissions, greatest responsibility, and capability should adopt the most ambitious target time frames.”
  • Since the Clean Energy D.C. Act became law in early 2019, it has been joined by dozens of other national or subnational jurisdictions trying to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The IPCC’s statement has proven to be a catalyst that sparked a sense of urgency for government leaders, corporate decision makers and utilities. Renewable energy goals are taking many forms, but they have similar targets and deadlines which can only be achieved through commitment, continued research and collaboration. The renewable energy future has not yet been achieved, but with the growing number of investors, innovators and subject matter experts working towards this goal, the path to decarbonization is coming into focus.


Photo: Alexander Tsang on Unsplash

Pathways Toward 100% Carbon Reduction for Electric Utility Power Systems

Many states, cities, towns and utilities are committing to a 100% clean energy future. This push toward 100% is ubiquitous in the news, academia and politics. However, there is no clear or commonly accepted understanding of what this means. For example, what is the difference between 100% carbon-free and 100% carbon-neutral?

A recent Wärtsilä whitepaper, “Pathways Toward 100% Carbon Reduction for Electric Utility Power Systems,” breaks down these terms and examines the costs and carbon reduction trajectories associated with these 100% targets. It explores what these different definitions imply for utility systems as they transition from fossil-dominated to clean energy dominated.

The findings of the whitepaper point toward utilities leveraging power-to-gas (PtG) technologies to meet net-zero carbon emission goals, rather than 100 percent carbon-free. In examining the cost of a carbon-free system versus a carbon-neutral system, the analysis concludes that electric utilities can achieve 80 percent carbon reduction based purely on economics, with no subsidies, mandates or renewable requirements by leveraging PtG.

Carbon free may be the ideal solution for utilities that have ready access to hydro or other carbon free resources that can provide firm capacity when wind and solar falter. But most utilities do not fall in this camp and must explore a wider array of technical solutions to meet decarbonization goals. PtG provides an additional degree-of-freedom in the planning process that unlocks new and exciting pathways towards decarbonization. This work shows PtG pathways provide the lowest cost for ratepayers while simultaneously attending to climate change concerns.

The United States can lead in the path to a 100 percent renewable future by investing in PtG to provide a cornerstone of the path towards what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is calling for: carbon-neutrality. In general, PtG will be a large part of decarbonization for flights, sea-freight and domestic shipping and automotive, supplementing the strides we are making with electric vehicles. The investment in power-to-fuels is already starting and will accelerate.

This will provide positive feedback loops and interplay among the liquid fuels industry, the natural gas fuel industry, and the electric utility industry that will be beneficial for all three in meeting decarbonization targets. What may still be needed, is the legislative and regulatory vision to make this possible, or at the least, not stifle it.

For example, many states openly allow biofuels to count as “renewable” for power generation. Allowing the same for renewably generated power-to-gas would provide a great deal of incentive in the adoption of this technology and hopefully accelerate a 100% renewable future.