Signals of change: Why a net zero world by 2050 is within reach

By Talal Rafi | June 8, 2022

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that in order to limit the temperature increase to 1.5℃ below pre-industrial levels, emissions would have to peak before 2030 and globally net zero emissions need to be attained by 2050. Net zero is defined when total emissions are less or equal than the emissions removed from the environment.

But setting net zero targets, compared to achieving them, is the easy bit. Fortunately, the conditions and support required to see these targets through is strengthening daily. And with such momentum in place, there is every chance that we secure a net zero world by 2050. We have no choice but to.

Climate change is considered by many as the biggest threat facing humankind in the 21st century. Its effects are already being felt widely. Economic disruptions, political unrest, wars, increasing natural disasters, weather extremes and food and water security are just some of the effects of global warming. The longer the world takes to achieve net zero, the harder it will become to reverse climate change, making this quite literally a race against time.

Benefits of decarbonization

Decarbonization is not only about saving the world from climate disaster but also can be a driving force in creating profits and leading to long term sustainable growth. A greener operation model also results in a leaner process with less waste and greater efficiency.

In a globalized world, with many countries setting net zero targets, decarbonization is needed for survival. Many governments and large multinationals with global supply chains have committed to carbon neutrality for their supply chains. And thousands of non state actors, from banks to cities, have joined the Race to Zero.

There are multiple positive signals of change. The demand for environmentally sustainable products is increasing among consumers especially with the younger generations, with 73% of Gen Z consumers willing to spend more for sustainable products.

The challenges

Energy storage is a major challenge which affects decarbonization especially in the energy and mobility sectors. Renewable energy production from solar and wind are not available all the time in a consistent amount. Climate reporting can be complicated with different frameworks being used. Even though 90% of executives in the private sector believe sustainability is important, the strategies of large corporations can often be geared towards short term profits and growth targets making long term decarbonization a challenge. Lastly, green investments can have delays ranging up to two years due to government regulations.

Despite rapid exponential change in the renewable energy sector, energy storage is remains a major challenge / Unsplash.

Decarbonizing key sectors

Power & Energy – Decarbonization in this sector will require building power systems that can meet the demand and also scaling up renewable power generation. Solar and wind costs have reduced substantially over the last decade resulting in renewables being able to compete economically with coal and natural gas. Large oil companies can make a big change as they have the operational expertise, supply chains and capital to create renewable power generating initiatives. The energy security factor that has come to the forefront with the Russia-Ukraine war, and the rising oil prices, will make the transition to net zero more politically and economically attractive in the coming years.

Mobility – The shift towards electric cars is gaining momentum, not only with interest shown but also with investment flow. According to PwC, about two thirds of climate tech investment went into mobility and transport. But to decarbonize the mobility sector a number of large scale transitions are needed. Manufacturing capabilities, human talent and new supply chains are needed. The transition of this sector to net zero hinges on building a network of charging stations and improved battery storage — certain raw materials for car batteries come from a few countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo which has 50% of global cobalt reserves and 58% of global lithium reserves found in Chile.

Agriculture & Food – According to a new United Nations study, 31% of global human caused greenhouse gas emissions originated from agri food systems and 80% of global deforestation is as a result of agricultural production. There is a steady shift towards plant based meat which is expected to be a $160 billion industry by 2030 and the cultured meat industry to be worth over $90 billion by 2030. Vertical farming can be an effective way to decarbonize this sector as it emits 70% less carbon compared to traditional farming and as it is located in cities, it does not need much transportation. There is investor interest in agtech with a climate focus as there is a demand for climate friendly investments and food security.

Decarbonization is essential in the global drive towards net zero. It has many challenges but with increasing support for environmental sustainability, green investments and climate innovation, key sectors can decarbonize and move towards a net zero.

Talal Rafi is a global consultant on sustainable development and is based in Sri Lanka. Talal is on the Deloitte Global Team on Climate & Sustainability and he is a member of the Expert Network of the World Economic Forum. His work has been published by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank, World Economic Forum, London School of Economics and Forbes.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions.






COP27: Day 10

Across the two weeks, non-State actors offered a wide range of actions, announcements, and events across thematic areas. This included the launch of the African Cities Water Adaptation Fund, an African-led insurance commitment to provide cover for up to USD 14 billion in climate losses, and the Sharm-El-Sheik Adaptation Agenda in partnership with the COP27 Presidency.