VIENNA, Nov. 7 (IPS) – Ahead of this year’s COP27 in Egypt, industry and government representatives from 15 developing countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa gathered in a series of consultations on the challenges and opportunities they face in decarbonising some of their key energy-intensive industries such as steel, cement and concrete.
A report of these consultations – which were organized by the United Nations Organization for Industrial Development (UNIDO), where I work – will be released during COP27’s Decarbonization Day (Friday 11 November) and should be widely read by energy decision-makers, environment and industrial sectors.
During these meetings it became clear that the pace of progress so far has been too slow and that we run a real risk of not meeting global climate commitments. It is simply not enough for industrialized countries to cut emissions within their limits and impose restrictions on products entering their markets. This has to happen everywhere.
Global action and new forms of intersectoral collaboration are urgently needed to address critical questions such as: what are the emission reduction opportunities and what is needed to achieve these reductions in the fastest and most economical way?
How do we accelerate the development and implementation of new carbon-saving technologies – and ensure that they are widely accessible and affordable, including for small and medium-sized enterprises?
Currently, the governments of many developing countries do not have reliable and up-to-date data on the emissions of their various industries and how they compare internationally. Relatively little has been accomplished so far in infrastructure to facilitate the widespread adoption of new and emerging industrial decarbonisation technologies.
Access to and knowledge of low-carbon technologies is largely concentrated in industrialized countries and large multinational companies.
This must change. To succeed in the decarbonisation efforts of the industry, we need to see significantly more investment in research and development into new technologies, but we also need to scale up the deployment of existing but not yet widely available technologies, including those for carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS).
We also need to implement on a much larger scale, strategies and technologies that are already available and affordable, including in the field of energy efficiency, reducing the demand for energy, including from renewable sources.
This is likely to require new funding for technical assistance to make markets in developing countries ready and able to implement low-carbon technologies. It’s not just about funding individual projects, it’s really about coming up with more meaningful ways to collaborate around the diffusion of technology that our planet desperately needs. Industrialized countries cannot leave the developing countries to ‘do this alone’.
Some of the steel and cement companies (which are also used to make concrete) operating in developing countries are multinational companies bringing low-carbon technologies into their operations from abroad. This is a good thing.
But there are also local companies – including within the supply chains of these multinationals – that need to be involved in order for decarbonisation to work.
In India, for example, more than half of the steel industry consists of small and medium-sized enterprises without the same access to these technologies. Does this local market currently have the technical capacity to adopt and maintain, for example, new hydrogen fuel plants?
Unfortunately, the answer is: not really.
In many cases, these local businesses are unlikely to be aware of the need to actually change their practices to move towards something low-carbon – let alone how to do it and what technology options are out there to help them. The speed of change needed means the world can’t wait for them to do it alone.
Governments have a role to play here by ensuring that their policy frameworks encourage decarbonisation, promote the right technologies and prevent the proliferation of non-low-carbon manufacturing processes. Just imagine: if there is a demand for construction products in a developing country and they are not yet or not sufficiently available on the market, a company or investor may see an opportunity to start a new business – and if there is no strict regulation, they could do this using outdated technology with higher emissions.
Decarbonization is not the mandate of small steel and cement manufacturers, as participants noted in the pre-COP27 Asia consultation, or their area of expertise.
It is an area that requires collaboration between different sectors, including to obtain better and more detailed data and emission measurement, reporting and verification frameworks that can help government and industry make decisions.
Steel and cement companies are often seen as ‘bad guys’ by part of the public. Globally, these sectors currently contribute about 50% of industrial greenhouse gas emissions.
But they produce essential materials to build our homes, schools and cities and are necessary for our growing communities. The question should not be to stop production today, but to decarbonize it today.
Without more meaningful global industrial decarbonisation partnerships, there is a high risk that we will not be able to meet our climate commitments. We cannot afford this.
Countries and industries worldwide must all simultaneously move towards the same climate goals. Collaboration – including in the field of policy, infrastructure development and technology – will be essential in this regard.
Rana Ghoneim is the head of the Energy Systems and Infrastructure Division, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in Vienna.
Country talks mentioned in this op-ed, which will be released during COP27’s Decarbonization Day (Friday, November 11), will be available on UNIDO’s Industrial Decarbonization Accelerator website.
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