Adair Turner, Chair of the Energy Transitions Commission, December 8th 2023

The accompanying presentation materials can be found here.

From the very start of its work a year ago, the COP 28 presidency has been clear that its “North star” is limiting global warming to 1.5°C, and it has sought commitments to specific actions which could reduce emissions fast enough to achieve that limit.

So just over half way through this COP – seven days down, five to go – how are we doing?

The COP started with important agreements on loss and damage and actions relating to adaptation, and as we look forward to the final communique there are important debates about whether it will include a commitment to phase down or phase out fossil fuels.

But my focus today is on the Presidency’s Action Agenda to achieve mitigation via 7 key initiatives.

Tripling global renewables installed capacity from today’s 3.5 TW to at least 11 TW by 2030, and doubling the pace of energy efficiency improvement from 2% per annum to 4% per annum – goals to which over 125 countries have now already committed.

Radically reducing oil and gas company scope 1 and 2 emissions, with 52 companies responsible for around 40 percent of oil and gas supply committing to cut Scope 1 & 2 emissions to net zero by 2050 and to achieve near zero methane emissions by 2030.

An aspirational goal to reach gigatonne-scale carbon capture

The launch of the Industrial Transitions Accelerator to drive decarbonization of heavy emitting and sometimes hard to abate sectors – such as steel, cement, shipping and aviation

Commitments and finance packages by a range of key countries to protect,  restore and sustainably manage key tropical forest basins

And over 130 countries committed to reduce food system emissions and drive sustainable agriculture

So the question is – how far could these actions – if truly implemented –  take get us towards the North Star of a 1.5°C limit

It ‘s clear what we need to achieve

The science tells us that to be on a path compatible with limiting global warming to 1.5°C, we need to both

  • Reduce CO2 emissions from today’s 41 Gt to around 21 Gt by 2030,
  • And reduce methane emissions from today’s 380 million tons to 250 million tons by 2030, a cut equivalent to 3 Gt of CO2 reductions if we take a 100 year perspective but to 9GT or even more if we focus on the vital need to limit temperature rise over the next decade.

How close would the commitments made bring us to those required reductions?

Well let me start with a prudent assessment which allows for the fact that not all countries have yet committed to these objectives, and that many countries may fail to meet the commitments they have made. This prudent assessment suggests:

  • A reduction of 8 Gt in CO2 emissions, with the biggest drivers being the tripling of renewable capacity and the doubling of energy efficiency improvement, and leaving us 12 Gt short of what we need to achieve
  • And a reduction of 55 million tons of methane emissions, deriving from the oil and gas company commitments, from food and land use commitments, and potentially from the pledge which China has made to cover methane in its next NDC Reductions which would leave us 75 million tons short of where we need to be.

But let’s be clear – even  these reductions will not be achieved unless – once countries and companies have gone home from this  COP  – they actually implement their commitments.

So for each of these 7 initiatives, I’d like to describe the actions required – actions which if pursued with full power and if endorsed by even more countries might deliver still bigger reductions.

First tripling renewables. This is an absolutely crucial and undoubtedly achievable objective and one which we could even exceed. And if we look at the current pace of solar PV deployment, we are on the path required. But wind deployments are not rising at anything like the pace needed and the target will not be achieved unless countries take 4 actions:

  • Setting clear national targets in line with the global tripling commitment
  • Reforming planning and permitting systems to allow more rapid deployment of wind and solar
  • Investing in the grids needed to connect renewable resources
  • And for the developed countries, helping to mobilise the finance needed to support renewables deployment in lower income countries, delivering on the commitments to increase climate finance made at this COP

As for energy efficiency, doubling the rate of improvement is an easy thing to say, but it’s been said before and not delivered. So let’s get specific about the actions needed to make it a reality. They will need to include:

  • Electrifying as much as possible – because replacing internal combustion engines vehicles with electric vehicles, and replacing gas boilers with electric heat pumps automatically delivers a big energy efficiency improvement. Every time you use a gasoline automobile, 75% of the energy used is turned into unwanted and wasted heat.
  • Increasing the technical efficiency of key equipment such as heat pumps, air-conditioners and refrigerators.
  • Accelerating the retrofit of existing buildings, especially in developed countries, to improve insulation and reduce heating or cooling needs.
  • Driving efficiency improvements in the gasoline and diesel vehicles which will still be on our roads for many years, which will not be possible unless we can reverse the current trend towards ever larger vehicles.
  • Or the sort of behavioral changes which the IEA considers in its Net zero report – lower driving speeds, lower thermostat settings for heating, higher thermostat settings for air conditioning.

Without some combination of these actions – this energy efficiency improvement objective will not be achieved.

Turning to oil and gas Scope 1 and 2 commitments, we have known for years that there are technically feasible solutions, but they will not be implemented unless we put in place:

  • Independent verification of accurately measured emissions
  • Strong and tightly enforced regulations
  • Or economic incentives such as the methane tax included within the US Inflation Reduction Act

…. measures which must be applied in companies and countries across the world, not just in developed economies

On CCUS, the objective is a gigatonne of CO2 captured per annum by 2030, but the current project pipeline will not get us near that, and cost are not falling as fast as we hoped. So this objective will only be met if we have:

  • Stronger policies to make CCUS economic, whether via subsidies, regulatory requirements or carbon prices
  • Coordinated action to develop the shared infrastructure of transport and storage
  • And big investments, reaching $70 billion per annum by 2030, a 10 times increase from current levels

As for the so called hard to abate sectors, the Industrial Transition Accelerator does not in itself include any new commitments to reduce emissions, but it puts in place a potentially powerful mechanism to drive progress in future. To grasp that potential will require four things

  • Increased and more widespread commitments from companies and sectors to reduce emissions by specified amounts by 2030 en route to net zero by 2050
  • A critical mass of early demand for low carbon products – such as green steel, green shipping and the green hydrogen needed to deliver them – even if that initially means paying a price premium
  • Targeted public subsidies, financial institution support and value chain coordination to stimulate the initial projects – steel plants, using hydrogen DRI, ships burning ammonia or methanol, cement plants applying CCS – which will put us en route to widescale subsequent deployment
  • And the long-term economic incentives – such as carbon prices or volume mandates – which will be essential if the wave of initial projects is to be followed by complete sector decarbonization in subsequent years

Finally on deforestation, agriculture and food together, turning the commitments made at this COP into reality will require:

  • Strong policies designed and enforced at national level
  • Flows of finance – grants and concessional payments – from higher to lower income countries
  • Research, development and deployment of alternatives to the meat and dairy products which produce CO2 emissions from land use change and methane emissions from enteric fermentation.
  • And action at local level to spread and require best sustainable practice, including driving innovation in fertilizer application and cutting methane emissions

It’s a big agenda, and its ambition should be reflected in the global stock-take to which all countries must agree at this COP.

But it could be achievable if countries turned the commitments they have made into detailed national targets and supporting policies. Actions and policies which should ideally be specified in detail in the next NDC updates, due by 2025.

And if all these actions were taken to the full extent possible and with still more countries committed to them in the final days of this COP – the prize would be a still faster pace of emissions reductions.

  • Potentially reducing CO2 emissions from 41Gt to 27 Gt
  • And methane emissions from 380 million tons to 280 million

That would reduce the gap versus the 1.5°C North Star to 6 GT for CO2 and 30 MT of methane, a gap which could be closed by further commitments to achieve even faster growth of renewables, particularly in south east Asia, India and Africa, to drive a faster close down of existing coal power plants, to scale up carbon dioxide removals and to reduce methane emissions from both working and abandoned coal mines, as well as from oil and gas.

And if these actions were delivered, they would automatically reduce fossil fuel use, because the actions which deliver the big emissions reductions shown on this chart necessarily imply reduced fossil fuel demand.

  • If renewable capacity is tripled and 4GT of CO2 emissions are eliminated, coal and gas use will fall
  • And if we accelerate electrification of road transport and heating, oil and gas demand will fall

Overall indeed we estimate that if this agenda is fully delivered, coal use would fall by around 30% by 2030, natural gas use by around 15%, and oil use by a perhaps surprising 25%, because more rapid vehicle electrification, increased ICE efficiency, and changes in consumer behavior, could have a big impact fast on oil demand.

A rapid phase down of the use of fossil fuels is possible if governments deliver on the commitments made.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Energy Transitions Commission is publishing a document which sets out the assumptions and mathematics behind the figures I’ve shown you today.

But I‘d like to end by stressing the big picture.

We can get to a zero carbon economy by midcentury, and achieve significant emissions reductions by 2030, if we:

  • Electrify as much as possible and increase energy efficiency
  • Decarbonize electricity production primarily via renewables
  • Drive faster decarbonization of the heavy industry and long-distance transport sectors
  • Reduce the impact of agriculture and food systems on the world’s forests and methane emissions
  • And ensure that carbon capture and storage develops to play its vital but limited role

This COP 28 program of mitigation actions recognizes each of these priorities –we now have to deliver them to the maximum extent possible and raise ambition still further at future COPs.

Read the blog post with the underlying analysis here.