• COP26 is a decisive moment to spur industrial decarbonisation.
  • Progress on the Glasgow Industry Transition Goals is needed to reach global net zero by 2050.
  • While hard work is already underway, the climate talks in Glasgow must serve as a springboard for rapid, coordinated action by governments and the private sector.

Expectations for the COP26 climate talks are enormous. Growing public concern over climate-related extreme weather events means policymakers are under great pressure to deliver breakthrough outcomes. Likewise, industry will be expected to show up and make ambitious commitments.

But without robust public-private agreements for implementing commitments in the Race to Zero, even a successful COP will fall short of what’s needed for real action.

A decisive moment to spur industrial decarbonisation

If the historic 2015 COP in Paris was about raising ambition, the 2021 COP in Glasgow should be all about action and implementation. The Paris Agreement set up the system of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), requiring countries to share their climate action plans every five years in the spirit of ratcheting up ambition. Glasgow should deliver an architecture, which includes sectoral net-zero agreements that bring government and carbon-intensive industry together in an unprecedented joint venture to reach net zero by 2050 at the latest.

But we don’t have much time – and probably less time than we think. COP26 has already been delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic – time we can scarcely afford to have lost. The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change paints a stark picture of climate impacts accelerating faster than expected, triggering a range of irreversible tipping points, unless drastic action is taken urgently.

If we stand any chance of reaching net zero by mid-century, we will need to see dramatic emissions reductions in the 2030s and 2040s from industries such as aviation, shipping, heavy-duty road transport, iron and steel, aluminium, chemicals, and concrete and cement. To deliver these, we will need to hit tipping points in the 2020s in terms of scaling the necessary clean technologies. These tipping points might be the introduction of zero-emissions vessels in the shipping sector by 2030, or 10% adoption of sustainable aviation fuel by the same date – commitments that leading industry actors have been making in recent months.

This means we need to be planning, pledging, designing policy and investing now.

The hard work is already underway

Work is already underway with initiatives such as the Mission Possible Partnership, Mission Innovation, the Leadership Group for Industry Transition (LeadIT) and the Industrial Deep Decarbonisation Initiative (IDDI), to name a few. These bring in ambitious companies within those hard-to-abate sectors – which together produce around 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions – to build industry platforms to design and execute net-zero pathways.

Global emissions by sector
Greenhouse gas emissions by sector
Image: Brookings/IPCC Fifth Assessment Report

This work involves identifying sector leaders, partners throughout their value chains, investors and policymakers, and working with them to draw up comprehensive roadmaps to reach net zero. Roadmaps must combine demand projections, technology deployment curves, policy prerequisites, corporate and infrastructure investment needs and asset retirement plans to produce science-based greenhouse gas reduction trajectories. These will allow us to identify those technology tipping points we need to deliver in this decisive decade.

Based on these, companies commit to action, with emission targets and investment commitments underpinned by government support, policy development, demand signals from buyers and support from investors. These platforms also involve programmes to develop pilot projects, collaborate on R&D, and monitor and support implementation.

By working internationally at the sector level and bringing together engaged stakeholders along the value chain, a shared vision of decarbonisation can be realised that addresses concerns around competitiveness and first-mover disadvantages.

A springboard for rapid, coordinated action

What does this mean in the context of the climate talks? During these crucial two weeks, these processes should be accelerated, with industry and government coming together to put key elements of these sectoral agreements – the Glasgow Industry Transition Goals or Glasgow Goals – in place.

To ensure both that the commitments are translated into action but also that we come out of COP26 at a sprint, goals need four essential elements:

  • high-ambition commitments designed to deliver these tipping points
  • robust workplans for delivery
  • clearly defined and time-bound milestones against which progress can be measured
  • resources from governments, industry and philanthropy to ensure delivery

This is closely aligned with the UN High-Level Champions’ Race to Zero, which invites non-state actors, including companies, to work together to halve emissions in this decade.

Reaching agreement on the “Glasgow Goals” would bring two clear advantages. First, commitments by industry leaders to ambitious emissions reductions will give confidence to national governments to be similarly ambitious in the pledges in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which are currently collectively too weak to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Secondly, the establishment of Glasgow Industry Transition Goals would enable governments to emerge from COP26 with a clear workplan for delivering the emissions reductions we need. Rather than spending years working out how to implement the next critical phase of global decarbonisation, they could come back from COP26 with a roadmap showing how to support committed companies in reaching well-defined milestones. This is what distinguishes the Glasgow Industry Transition Goals from previous high-level-commitments from industry.

energy, mining, metals, blockchain

What is the World Economic Forum doing to help companies reduce carbon emissions?

Corporate leaders from the mining, metals and manufacturing industries are changing their approach to integrating climate considerations into complex supply chains.

The Forum’s Mining and Metals Blockchain Initiative, created to accelerate an industry solution for supply chain visibility and environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) requirements, has released a unique proof of concept to trace emissions across the value chain using distributed ledger technology.

Developed in collaboration with industry experts, it not only tests the technological feasibility of the solution, but also explores the complexities of the supply chain dynamics and sets requirements for future data utilization.

In doing so, the proof of concept responds to demands from stakeholders to create “mine-to-market” visibility and accountability.

The World Economic Forum’s Mining and Metals community is a high-level group of peers dedicated to ensuring the long-term sustainability of their industry and society. Read more about their work, and how to join, via our Impact Story.

Unlike the climate talks, which follow UN rules requiring unanimity, these goals could be agreed by a subset of leading companies and ambitious governments, in the mould of the successful Powering Past Coal Alliance, which comprises 41 national governments, 39 sub-national authorities and 55 mostly private companies and investors. While COP26 would be the logical place and time to land agreement on such goals, if there appears to be insufficient political will or momentum, the rationale behind it would remain valid and become even more pressing. A critical mass of companies and governments would create momentum and, like falling dominoes, set off a chain reaction that would see the Glasgow Industry Transition Goals adopted across entire sectors.

Work within the Mission Possible Partnership is well advanced with several of these industries. We are committed to get the key elements of these Industry Transition Goals agreed (or at least further fleshed out) in Glasgow. This would, we believe, help unlock the momentum needed to put the global economy on the pathway to net zero by 2050.

The author would like to thank the Global Future Council on Net-Zero Transition for the valuable discussions which helped develop the thinking in this article.