Decarbonisation: the fast track

CEO Matt Rogers reflects on MPP’s launch of Mobility Sector Decarbonisation Transportation Strategies

INTERSTATE-10 is a road to the future. Even for those who haven’t physically driven on the tarred and concrete surface from Los Angeles, across the southwestern United States to Houston and on to Jacksonville, it’s a well-travelled route spanning countless lives and livelihoods.

Millions of parcels, packages and consumer goods arrive at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, then are carried east by road. And vice versa. The I-10 is a key artery for retail giants including Amazon and Walmart, among many others. All that adds up to a recurring share of the so-called ‘Scope 3’ or product emissions that contribute to the world economy’s sprawling carbon footprint.

That footprint, at least in part, is beginning to shrink – in ways that set a compelling example for every business and government across the world.

Renewable diesel already powers many of these freight miles. Soon, ‘green fleets’ of trucks powered by batteries or hydrogen fuel cells will chart a course to the clean energy transition that we urgently need.

The goal of “zero tailpipe” emissions – a key piece of the puzzle to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement to limit global heating by 2050 to a target range of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels – is already in sight.

That example matters because every package that you receive, every product you buy, has been on a truck. Trucking is one of seven hard-to-abate industrial sectors that jointly emit 30% of all carbon dioxide emissions.

Perhaps uniquely among these industries, leading retailers and their trucking companies aspire to “zero tailpipe” without relying on carbon offsets or other compensation.

Wherever you are, whatever your business, this is where the global economy is heading.

The Mission Possible Partnership (MPP)– an alliance of organizations at the forefront of the energy transition, backed by more than 400 industrial companies – is mapping detailed strategies to turn the paper goals of annual climate summits into action.

By action, I mean actual projects that are high on the agenda of ambitious companies committed to the Paris goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

We know how to do this. The technology we need for the next decade is already available. Today we’re publishing strategies for transport sector industries which emit almost 10% of global GHG emissions: aviation, shipping, and trucking.

From aluminium and steel to cement and chemicals, MPP is building the business case for multi-billion-dollar projects. Our plans are operationally relevant and industry-backed, not pie-in-the-sky or wishful thinking.

Taking our cue from the Glasgow COP summit, we’ve convened experts to plot the ‘nuts and bolts’ of how to build or retrofit 300 Sustainable Aviation Fuel plants, 200 deep-water net zero ships, 10 million Zero Emissions Trucks (ZETs), and 100 green steel plants in the next decade.

 We need a new approach to decision-making.

Ambitious companies – often acting together in hubs and clusters – are setting the pace. Best practice has travelled fast. Port of Rotterdam, for example, is unlocking coordinated investments by utilities, industry and manufacturers to prove that radical collaboration is not just possible, but scalable.

Policy-making, while nuanced, must catch up fast. The real bottlenecks in decarbonisation are our fragmented and slow regulatory regimes. Speed, scale and consistency are the missing ingredients – we can fix that.

We need to approve 20-30 large projects at a time, every year. In regulated industries such as utilities and mobility, consensus is building in favour of global norms for industries from civil aviation or maritime freight – and I think this will happen, soon.

Regulators must expedite permits for new and decarbonised industrial plant, at scale. Their clients, already committed or required to report Scope 3, need clearly defined ‘clean and green’ quality standards and labelling for just about all industrial products.

 Net costs of decarbonising industry – not the headline price tag.

Of course, decarbonisation sounds expensive. In a time of slowing global economic growth and serial energy shocks, governments’ immediate focus on fossil fuels has deepened.

At the same time, these market conditions reveal that the cost of a clean energy transition can be relatively small while benefits in terms of national security, economic resilience and health outcomes are very large.

Current high diesel prices are an incentive to accelerate the conversion. In trucking alone, our report sets a target of 10 million ZETs by 2030. That implies grid capacity for 1,000 new power plants to feed two million battery chargers, and hydrogen production for up to 10,000 hydrogen stations worldwide.

Today this vital capacity still doesn’t exist. That’s a steep hill to climb – at least 100x current payloads. That eventual balance of power (How many batteries? How much hydrogen?) will be determined by demand.

But thanks to a handful of pioneering clusters, from Rotterdam and Teesside to Los Angeles and Houston, we already know what it will look like when we get there.

MPP’s work is endorsed by leading companies in every sector, not least because their customers expect and demand it. “Our customers are looking to us to decarbonize their supply chains end-to-end,” explains Alexandra Loboda, vice-president and head of Maersk Global Landside Transportation.

Trucking, more even than aviation or shipping, is a sector on which all business relies. Appetite for consumer goods, construction, food and travel continues to soar, especially in developing economies. Demand in China, Europe, India and the United States will more than double by 2050.

Industry leaders, signatories to our report, are ready to act. For some operational fleets, ZETs are already cheaper than comparable diesel vehicles. Our report forecasts Total Costs of Ownership (TCO) for ZETs will fall below comparable diesel trucks quickly.

In the course of our work at MPP, my confidence in our collective ability to design a net zero economy has grown. That low carbon future can and will happen: the technology is to hand, and the economics is favourable.

By September this year, MPP will publish detailed strategies mapping the incentives, mandates, and demand signals to support local leadership from regulators, capital markets and consumers. We’re measuring progress against real economy milestones, both for the near-term and to 2050.

Meanwhile, if in doubt, follow the I-10.