• The UK has set a target to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 and to reach net zero by 2050;
  • Decarbonizing industrial regions will be critical to achieving this and to reaching global climate goals;
  • The Humber in north-east England is the UK’s largest cluster by industrial emissions, emitting more than 12 million tonnes of CO2 per year, but a £75 million investment in the Zero Carbon Humber project will change its future.

When the UK set itself one of the most challenging time frames in which to decarbonize it raised eyebrows. Like many business leaders, I believe that the target of cutting carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 and reaching net zero 15 years later will be the catalyst to deliver the innovative thinking needed to halt the climate crisis.

Net zero industrial clusters

A recent report from Accenture, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, highlights just how critical industrial regions will be in reaching climate goals. Industrial CO2 emissions account for as much as 11 gigatonnes or 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). However, the report also highlights the opportunities, both environmental and economic, in decarbonizing industrial clusters.

As such, I was delighted by the UK government’s announcement of £75m ($105m) in funding to develop world-leading net zero technologies within the Zero Carbon Humber industrial cluster. Drax, the UK-based renewable energy company with operations in the US and Canada that I lead, was one of the founder members of Zero Carbon Humber. The partnership’s goal is to build the world's first net zero industrial cluster and decarbonize the North of England.

International partners

Along with the other members such as Equinor, British Steel, Mitsubishi Power and SSE Thermal, we worked hard to secure this government support, which consists of money from the UK’s Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge fund. As well as highlighting the UK government’s commitment to developing the world’s first zero-carbon industrial cluster in the region, this financing is also a vote of confidence from investors – two-thirds of the £75m comes from the private sector.

Projects of this scale, backed with meaningful funding, are crucial to expediting a range of technologies that will be essential to advance decarbonization. These include hydrogen production, carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) and negative emissions through bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). Developing negative emissions through BECCS will help Drax achieve its ambition of becoming a carbon negative company by 2030, removing 8 million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year and playing a major part in helping the UK meet its climate goals.

Image: Drax

More than just having a positive effect on reducing emissions, delivering a Zero Carbon Humber will also support clean economic growth and future-proof vital industries which currently employ 50,000 people.

Building back better

The Humber is the UK’s largest cluster by industrial emissions, emitting more than 12 million tonnes of CO2 per year – more than 2% of the UK’s total GHG emissions. Pioneering projects around hydrogen production, CCUS and negative emissions through BECCS are all ready to deploy and scale in the region, beginning the task of reducing and removing emissions.

The potential benefit to the regional economy could also be significant – it’s estimated these technologies could create 48,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs in the Humber region by 2027. This new £75m in funding will allow work to gather pace on these transformational projects.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

Climate change poses an urgent threat demanding decisive action. Communities around the world are already experiencing increased climate impacts, from droughts to floods to rising seas. The World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report continues to rank these environmental threats at the top of the list.

To limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is essential that businesses, policy-makers, and civil society advance comprehensive near- and long-term climate actions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The World Economic Forum's Climate Initiative supports the scaling and acceleration of global climate action through public and private-sector collaboration. The Initiative works across several workstreams to develop and implement inclusive and ambitious solutions.

This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a global network of business leaders from various industries developing cost-effective solutions to transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs use their position and influence with policy-makers and corporate partners to accelerate the transition and realize the economic benefits of delivering a safer climate.

Contact us to get involved.

Renewables such as wind, solar and hydro have made huge strides in helping to decarbonize power and in a similar way a range of new technologies are now needed to decarbonize industry and industrial clusters. Our work as a partnership in the Yorkshire and the Humber region is establishing a landmark project for the UK and a positive example for the world on the journey to net zero and building back better.