Economies need custom strategies to meet net-zero goals, experts say

Developed economies play a critical role for world to meet climate goals within deadlines, forum hears

Wind turbines operated by ScottishPower Renewables seen at Whitelee Onshore Windfarm on Eaglesham Moor, south-west of Glasgow. AFP

No single programme or strategy is enough to meet the net-zero goals of different countries and businesses, with each having different circumstances, resource endowments and geography, industry experts have said.

Economies must be flexible as they design and enact net-zero plans to achieve the best outcomes, the experts said at an online forum on Friday evening.

The “size and urgency of the task that we have in front of us are huge … there is not going to be a one-size-fits-all approach in achieving net zero targets,” Sama Bilbao y Leon, head of the World Nuclear Association, told the panel.

“Countries need to pick the energy mix that fits them the best … [according to] their social-economic situations and cultural preferences, there is going to be huge diversity,” Ms Bilbao y Leon said.

She was speaking at a “Pathways to Net Zero” discussion held as part of the Global Energy Forum at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week.

Net zero — meaning an economy either emits no greenhouse gases or offsets all of its emissions — is now the accepted standard for countries and companies setting climate targets.

Net-zero pledges have increased rapidly over the past couple of years and now cover 90 per cent of the global economy.

“African countries are committed to meet their climate goals … but we need to look at different options that we have available to achieve our goals. Flexibility is required as we cannot impose one-size-fits-all solution on a very diversified continent,” said Alain Ebobisse, chief executive of Africa50.

“We have to agree some [countries] will transition quickly while others will take longer time,” he added.

Solar panels on hillsides at Xuanhua in Zhangjiakou, one of the host cities for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, in China's northern Hebei province. AFP

Africa50 was established by African governments and the African Development Bank to help bridge the continent’s infrastructure funding gap.

About $50 trillion in incremental investments is required by 2050 to achieve net-zero goals and cut greenhouse emissions from about 51 billion tonnes per year, industry experts said.

They said developed economies have a crucial role to play if the world is to meet its climate goals within the set deadlines.

“Africa is hungry for energy, and we have a huge population. By 2050, Africa’s population would be almost doubled from 1.3 billion today to 2.5 billion … we need to make sure that we cater to this growing energy demand,” Mr Ebobisse said.

Advanced economies have a responsibility to help emerging economies “leapfrog from where they are today towards a future of clean energy”, Ms Bilbao y Leon said.

“Nuclear energy is potentially a game-changer for many countries as it offers a lot of options to match different needs of the countries. It is one of the few low-carbon energies that can produce electricity as well as heat,” she added.

Last year, the Arab world’s second-biggest economy, the UAE, became the first country in the Middle East to set a net-zero target. It aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and plans to invest $160 billion in clean and renewable energy sources over the next three decades.

The Emirates is the only Arab nation that has a full-sized, operational nuclear power plant. It recently completed the construction of Unit 3 at Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant. Unit 1 is fully operational and Unit 2 was recently connected to the main grid and continues to undergo testing.

As the world moves towards net-zero pledges, technology will play a key role in helping economies accomplish their aims, said Tim Holt, member of the executive board at Siemens Energy.

“We need technologies for the transition and it’s not going to happen overnight.

“All of us see a future that is potentially all-renewable but how do we get there?

“If we want to make it happen, we need to define what is the transition period, what will be the technologies for the transition period and do we incentivise those technologies that will be used in the transition.”

Updated: January 21, 2022, 10:55 PM