Embrace net zero to stop climate change

WHAT has happened to Malaysia’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40%?

Come November 2021, the Glasgow UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) meeting will discuss the next move in the plan to fight climate change. Many countries have declared that they are embracing net zero, or carbon neutrality, when no new emissions are added to the atmosphere. Emissions will instead be balanced by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere. Absorption can be done through forests sinks or carbon capture, storage and utilisation.

Failure to embrace net zero will raise global temperature to levels that would endanger the world with rising sea level and more extreme weather.

But it’s a big task, requiring ambitious actions. A key element is using clean energy to power economies. Polluting coal should be phased out. Renewable energy is now not only cleaner but often cheaper than energy from fossil fuels.

Transport is a major source of emissions. A complete switch to electric transport, powered by renewable energy, would contribute hugely to lowering emissions.

If all such net zero measures are put in place for power generation, CO2 emissions from the power sector can be expected to decline by at least 60% between 2019 and 2030. Worldwide annual solar photovoltaic additions will expand from 110 GW in 2019 to 500 GW in 2030.

The share of renewables in global electricity supply will rise from 27% in 2019 to 60% in 2030, while the share provided by coal plants without carbon capture will fall sharply from 37% in 2019 to 6% in 2030. Power sector investment will triple from US$760bil in 2019 to US$2.2 trillion in 2030 (RM3.1 trillion to RM9 trillion).

Half of all air conditioners sold globally between 2020 and 2030 would be the most efficient models available. Over 50% of passenger cars sold in 2030 would be electric, up from 2.5% in 2019.

Around 25% of total heat used in industry in 2030 would come from electricity and low-carbon fuels such as hydrogen. Global battery manufacturing capacity would need to double every two years, and hydrogen production and distribution infrastructure would need to be ramped up substantially.

Electrification is seen as central to emissions reduction but low-carbon fuels such as hydrogen are also needed. Many countries have started gearing up for the hydrogen economy that will soon grip the world.

In its World Energy Outlook report published recently, the International Energy Agency said global emissions must fall by 40% by 2030 as we approach carbon neutrality by 2050. This would involve large-scale investment in renewables and electric cars, behavioural and mindset changes, plus innovation in new technologies like hydrogen.

Malaysia will host a net zero conference in June 2021. It will provide the opportunity to hear about the advances made as the world strives to embrace net zero. Many are convinced that net zero, effectively implemented, will make global concerns over climate change go away for good.

PROF DATUK DR AHMAD IBRAHIM , Fellow, Academy of Sciences, Malaysia

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