ECR Net Zero Conference 2024 – Cost of net zero transition (ECR Meeting Fund)

Roberto Loza (Cardiff University) and Ibrahim Kadafur (Heriot-Watt) share their takeaways from the parallel session on “Cost of net zero transition” at the ECR Net Zero Conference 2024.

The ECR Net Zero Conference 2024 in Birmingham served as a great platform for networking and exchanging knowledge among researchers across various disciplines and institutions. The conference, which incorporated multiple research centres spanning carbon capture and storage, energy, hydrogen, renewables, policy, and social sciences, provided a rich environment for collaboration.

On Wednesday 28th February, the conference started with three parallel sessions. The one titled “Cost of net zero transition” was conducted entirely by early career researchers (ECRs) and it was really interesting due to the multifaceted topics, addressing the hurdles and complexities associated with the costs involved in steering the world towards a Net Zero future.

The Cost of Net Zero: Trade-Offs and Tricky Decisions

Dan Taylor, the inaugural speaker from Aston University’s Systems Research Group, explored the intricate landscape of trade-offs and challenging decisions associated with the cost of achieving net zero. Drawing from estimates by the UK Climate Change Committee (CCC), Dan delved into various cost scenarios dependent on the population’s behavioural change and the level of innovation required for groundbreaking technology to reach net zero (Fig. 1). His thought-provoking discussion addressed the responsibility of certain nations in cutting global emissions, questioning which nations should bear more significant cost contributions. For instance, the UK has benefited from the large CO2 emissions during the industrial revolution to develop its economy since the boom of coal burning, prompting contemplation on fair cost distributions. The talk left attendees with lingering thoughts and it set the stage for engaging discussions.

Figure 1. Dan Taylor explaining the UK carbon budget scenarios

Wood value chains in the net zero transition

Eilidh Forster, the second speaker from Bangor University, explaining the carbon fluxes in forestry value chains. Focusing on the rising global demand of wood, Eilidh highlighted the environmental impact of wood imports, particularly in countries like the UK, where a substantial portion is sourced from places like Canada, contributing to increased CO2 emissions (Fig. 2). Advocating for a circular economy in wood use, Eilidh outlined strategies such as expanding local forests, efficient wood usage to reduce demand for virgin woods, and reduction of wood imports to mitigate environmental consequences.

Figure 2. Eilidh Forster explaining the rise of global demand for wood

Dynamic “Fishbowl”

The final segment of the parallel session introduced a “Fishbowl” dynamic, where attendees actively posed questions to be later discussed by a panel of voluntary experts within the ECR community (Fig. 3). Researchers raised diverse questions, from relatively straightforward questions about which sectors need the most significant investment to achieve net zero on time, to challenging questions about the compatibility of the current economic system with the net zero transition in mind. Panellists facilitated engaging and diverse discussions, dissecting and analysing questions from various perspectives.

Figure 3. Panel of volunteers discussing net zero challenges during the “Fishbowl” session

To conclude, the “Cost of Net Zero Transition” parallel session not only unveiled the challenges and complexities of the journey to net zero, but it also highlighted the crucial role that early career researchers play in finding solutions for a net zero future. The collaborative, interdisciplinary and interactive nature of these discussions showcased the depth of insights brought by the emerging voices of future leaders in the field.