ECR Net Zero Conference 2024 – Global net zero ambitions (ECR Meeting Fund)

Mohsen Lotfi (Teesside University) and Kristofer Poirier (Teesside University) share their takeaways from the Plenary session 2 on “Global net zero ambitions” at the ECR Net Zero Conference 2024.

Attending the recent Early Career Research (ECR) Net Zero Conference in Birmingham on 27-28 February 2024 was very inspiring. As PhD students working at the Net Zero Industry Innovation Centre at Teesside University, this conference was essential to meet fellow researchers working on state-of-the-art technologies to achieve the Net Zero Goals. This conference included keynote speeches, poster presentations and plenary and parallel sessions to showcase the recent progress and key findings from a variety of topics focusing on carbon capture, renewable energies, clean technologies and novel strategies.

Plenary session 2 on Wednesday 28 February presented the current global net zero objectives and opportunities on a global scale with a comparative focus on African and Western countries. This talk was given by incredible speakers: Charlotte McLean, Nadine Moustafa, Yacob Mulugetta, Imogen Rattle and Richard Simon.

A first introduction to carbon emissions reduction strategies was given by showcasing maps comparing CO2 emissions from different countries under different perspectives. Highest emissions were mainly coming from the US, China and India, while African countries were generally amongst the lowest emitters. Globally, all countries have Net Zero commitments but their strategies tend to differ significantly depending on a wide range of factors such as location, existing energy infrastructures, natural resources, landscapes, policies, economics, public acceptance, energy independance goals and geopolitics. Those strategies mainly focus on the development of small- or large-scale renewable energy systems, nuclear power plants, heat pumps, hydrogen, carbon capture, utilisation & storage (CCUS) as well as new incentives and policies.

This session also included a great Q&A discussion with Imogen, Richard and Yacob about their views of the industry when it comes to achieving Net Zero targets on a global scale, with a deeper look into the opportunities and challenges in the UK and African countries. A roadmap to achieving Net Zero was given and includes the following milestones:

  • Clean energy growth,
  • Cutting development of fossil fuels
  • Transformation of transport systems through mainly electrification.

Figure 1. Roadmap to achieving Net Zero by 2050

It was found that clean technologies evolve at uneven paces which renders adequate decision-making on a case-by-case basis and requires sufficient funding. Universities and industries are working together to develop Net Zero technologies through research programmes in the UK but also abroad like in Africa using open-source tools, summer schools, and training initiatives. Research themes include energy, transport, and economy and are progressing rapidly.

The Q&A session provided key questions and answers from the experts as follows:

Do we have the technologies to reach Net Zero targets?

For the industry, it depends on the application. Energy-intensive technologies need more research, especially for high temperatures or electrification. Innovation is crucial to develop new energy systems and improve existing ones. The UK has dedicated a lot of funding for innovation in the sectors of CCUS, hydrogen, renewables and heat pumps. Researchers and industries “have the tools to innovate”. But still some challenges remain to apply them everywhere at all scales.

What are the challenges to deploy and finance the technogies for Net Zero?

Social acceptance can be an obstacle, especially for large-scale projects. “We also need the people who have the expertise to deploy the infrastructures”, especially for hydrogen and CCUS systems. Additionally, the supporting infrastructure can be difficult to adapt and can sometimes take years to develop in remote areas. High required capital investments are also important obstacles that can affect profitability. Politics and elections can also affect decisions to achieve Net Zero, particularly in the US. Some countries are also in great debt or suffer from other urgent crises which hinders investment in the development of new clean technologies.

What are the benefits and the opportunities of achieving Net Zero in Africa?

“The benefits of developing clean energy systems in Africa are huge” as they can improve lives of people by developing new infrastructures and improve access to resources. Improved health standards, safety, clean cooking, time saving, gender equality, comfort, constant and reliable electricity supply, energy and resource independence, access to water and food, access to critical minerals, global equity are all examples of the potential benefits of Net Zero in Africa that aim at improving working and living quality. But more investment is needed urgently. “A big paradigm shift in politics is needed” to develop industries and new jobs. There are massive opportunities in Africa especially in terms of supply and value chains. As such, improved life quality and reduced carbon emissions are both co-benefits of Net Zero.