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This new coalition of heavy industry companies is collaborating on net-zero tech

From shipping to chemicals to cement, heavy industry is harder to decarbonize than other sectors. But a new group is going to work together to find possible solutions.

This new coalition of heavy industry companies is collaborating on net-zero tech
[Source Image: BoeniceboY/iStock]
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It’s easier for some companies to reach net-zero emissions than others—Google was able to get most of the way there just by shifting to renewable electricity. But almost all of its footprint involves the energy used to power its offices and its servers, which is simple to convert to renewable sources. For airlines or steel or cement companies that burn a lot of fuel in their day-to-day operations, there isn’t technology available yet for them to decarbonize at the same speed.

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A new coalition called the Mission Possible Partnership, with backing from Jeff Bezos’s Earth Fund and the Bill Gates-founded VC fund Breakthrough Energy, is now bringing together partners in seven industries—shipping, aviation, trucking, chemicals, steel, aluminum, and cement—to accelerate their path to net zero.

To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid the worst impacts from climate change, the world needs to cut emissions roughly in half by 2030. The Paris Agreement is pushing countries to set critical goals to make those cuts. But industries like steel or aviation don’t fit neatly within national borders, and the Paris Agreement on its own isn’t likely to lead to the plans that those industries need now.

“These seven sectors are particularly ill-suited to being driven by a system that is kind of rigidly organized around national targets,” says Paul Bodnar, managing director at the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute, which is running the new partnership along with the Energy Transitions Commission, the We Mean Business coalition, and the World Economic Forum. “They’re organized around global supply chains, global markets, global investor groups, shared technology pathways. They’re organized horizontally rather than vertically, which is the orientation of the Paris Agreement.” (Bodnar, who previously served in the Obama administration, worked closely on the 2015 Paris Agreement.)

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The seven industries are responsible for around 30% of global emissions now, and could run through the world’s entire carbon budget by 2030 if they don’t change. The organizations behind the program saw a clear need for new systems to help make the transition happen quickly. “If you want to decarbonize global industries, you’ve got to think and act like global industries,” Bodnar says. “We’re trying to create what we think is the most important missing piece of architecture in the global climate action space, which is one that’s organized around the way these sectors actually work.”

The new partnership brings companies, their suppliers, their customers, their regulators, and their funders into a conversation about how to get to net zero so that they can make concrete plans. “You’ve seen a dramatic increase in the last couple of years in the interest in and commitment to net zero, but none of them can actually execute those commitments unless they come together in a particular configuration where they’re doing things together,” Bodnar says. The shipping industry is further ahead because it has a global regulator, but other industries need to organize in a similar way.

By the end of the year, before the next major global climate talks, the partnership wants to share how this can work in practice. “Our goal is to drive each of these seven as far as we can,” Bodnar says, “and to show the world not just a set of discrete announcements, but to actually show a model for decarbonizing global industries.”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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