Mega Trend: Global actions for zero emissions

Mega Trend: Global actions for zero emissions

Timeline of international agreements

Since the 1980s, international attention to greenhouse gas emissions, global warming, and climate change has been rising in prominence for scientific research, political action, and industrial response. A timeline summary is shown in Table 3 (right).

Table 3: A timeline of climate change and emission actions 1988-2021

Climate change and emissions actions timeline
1988IPCC - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change established
1992UNFCC - United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted
1995COP1 - Conference of Parties held in Berlin
1997COP3 held in Kyoto
Kyoto Protocol adopted to start in 2005
2001USA withdrew from Kyoto Protocol
2015UN SDGs Sustainable Development Goals
COP21 held in Paris
Paris Agreement adopted to start in 2016
2020USA withdrew from Paris Agreement
2021USA re-joined Paris Agreement
IPCC issued Sixth Assessment Report
COP26 held in Glasgow

In 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change outlined means for nations to limit climate change through an international treaty. In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol treaty named the main Green House Gases (GHGs) and bound signatory countries to limit GHG release to the environment. The year 2015 marked two key developments. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) stated goals for social and economic development in the 2015-2030 timeframe such as ‘affordable and clean energy’, ‘industry, innovation and infrastructure’, and ‘climate action’. This present report’s delivery is approximately halfway through the SDG timeline.

The Paris Accord in late 2015 established targets to hold global temperature increase to below 1.5°C to 2°C above preindustrial levels. This range was believed to be sufficiently safe to human development that climate change might be stabilised at the elevated higher temperatures. The Paris Accord established a process for each country to announce Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). These non-binding national plans aim to control GHGs through reductions, policies and government actions.

In 2021, Glasgow hosted the 26th UNFCC Conference of Parties. COP26 was overshadowed by the global covid pandemic. The American President announced that “Renewed US Leadership in Glasgow Raises Ambition to Tackle Climate Crisis”, but climate scientists were disappointed that the final commitment from the conference was weak.

Glasgow Climate Pact 2021 (COP26)

The Glasgow Conference ended with a communique calling for the “phasedown of unabated coal power and phase out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”. Some observers criticised weakening the language from “phasing out” of coal and fossil fuels, but optimistic observers noted that it was the very first COP that specifically mentioned fossil fuels in the final declarations for action.

The Glasgow Pact “reaffirmed” the global commitment to the Paris Accords. The Paris NDCs were updated, but notably Australia, Brazil, and Russia made no further increases in commitments.1

Presently, global average temperatures are at 1.2°C above preindustrial levels.2 At the Glasgow Conference, scientists estimated temperature rise may plateau at 1.8°C to 2.4°C.3 Recent effects such as bush fire damage, unusual flooding incidents, damage to the Great Barrier Reef, and melting of the polar ice caps have intensified public attention to climate change.

Scientists consistently and repeatedly warn that human and environmental systems may not adapt to higher temperatures.4 They warn that exceeding critical “tipping points” in physical climate and ecological systems may lead to irreversible harm to the planet. Many climate scientists believe that the current trajectory of action will lead to collectively overshooting the 2°C maximum target.

Major plans: International, national, state examples

The United Nations Net Zero Coalition supports the Paris Agreement and calls for a 45 percent reduction in GHGs by 2030 and net zero by 2050. The International Energy Agency (IEA) calls for Net Zero by 2050. The Australian Government in its pre- election 2022 campaign supported a Long Term Emissions Reduction Plan to deliver net zero emissions by 2050. The NSW Government is currently implementing a Net Zero Plan Stage 1 for 2020-2030 action.

Societal attitudes towards climate change are strongly supporting action and urgency, but the supply chain disruptions from the covid pandemic and global energy shortages exacerbated by the Ukraine war have frustrated and present challenges to governments, business and industry.

Within industry, there is a clear mega trend to undertake industrial decarbonisation. Previous reports by the ICAA on The Copper Technology Roadmap 2030 5 and The Zero Emission Copper Mine of the Future 6 Phase 1 report outline this trend.

Numerous recent developments reinforce this trend, and further technical and economic data appear throughout this report, both within the mining sector and beyond mining across industry and society. A few of these trends noted are:

  • Actions to reduce fossil fuel combustion

  • Electrification to reduce fossil fuels

  • Deployment of battery storage and battery charging systems

  • Research, development and demonstration projects to produce and store hydrogen gas including projects that test ‘green’ hydrogen routes with ammonia or other energy carrier gases or liquids (for example, toluene / methylcyclohexane cycles 7).

  • Natural gas (and LPG) as a transition fuel replacing coal or diesel (but fugitive emissions of methane have greenhouse gas effects).

  • The redesign of automobiles and heavy vehicles for electrification and zero emissions energy

  • A zero emission “clean tech” sector has emerged. New companies are taking advantage of climate technology opportunities. The structures of some industry sectors are changing. 8 The economy of scale for new technologies and the economy of scope are creating new competitors who are challenging incumbent companies. There are innovation leaders, fast followers, and laggards on the “diffusion of innovation curve”.9 This is obvious in the automotive sector where the industry was previously divided into legacy corporations (for example in the USA, Ford and General Motors) and disruptor entrants such as Tesla, Nikola, and Rvian who challenge the ambition of the sector.10

  • Capital is flowing away from incumbents toward the disruptor companies.

  • Heavy vehicles are following parallels to consumer automobiles, but fundamentally, there are challenges for lithium battery mass and inefficiencies related to the upper limits of mass.

  • In the construction and mining sectors, companies like Caterpillar, Komatsu and Hyundai are introducing electric, battery, and hydrogen machines. Like the automotive and vehicle transportation sectors, new zero emission companies are challenging established suppliers.