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How the First Movers Coalition is decarbonizing hard-to-abate industries

The First Movers Coalition is a global initiative focused on decarbonizing heavy industry and long-distance transport.

The First Movers Coalition is a global initiative focused on decarbonizing heavy industry and long-distance transport. Image: Unsplash/jtkyber1

Nancy Gillis
Programme Head, Climate Action & First Movers Coalition, World Economic Forum
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Davos Agenda

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • The First Movers Coalition is a global initiative focused on decarbonizing heavy industry and long-distance transport.
  • Member companies work together to accelerate the commercialization of low-carbon technologies through purchasing commitments in these sectors.
  • The World Economic Forum and the United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, launched the coalition at COP26 in 2021.

Heavy industries like steel, chemicals and concrete are critical to everyday things we rely on, from wind turbines to surgical supplies.

But decarbonizing these industries is difficult – because the processes they use are so energy intensive.

The First Movers Coalition was set up to address this challenge, by accelerating the adoption of nascent low-carbon technologies in these sectors.

What is the First Movers Coalition?

The First Movers Coalition is a global initiative focused on decarbonizing seven sectors of heavy industry and long-distance transport that produce “hard to abate” CO2 emissions.

These sectors account for 30% of global emissions and are aluminium, aviation, chemicals, concrete, shipping, steel, and trucking. The coalition is also advancing carbon-dioxide removal technologies.

The First Movers Coalition was set up to accelerate the development of low-carbon technologies in heavy industry and long-distance transport.
The First Movers Coalition was set up to accelerate the development of low-carbon technologies in heavy industry and long-distance transport. Image: First Movers Coalition

Who are the members of the First Movers Coalition?

The First Movers Coalition was launched by President Biden, in partnership with the World Economic Forum, at the United Nations’ COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, 2021. The US State Department, through Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, is the implementing agency, supported by the US Department of Energy.

In an article for the Forum’s 2022 Annual Meeting, John Kerry said founding members of the First Movers Coalition were already driving technology innovation, “from announcing purchase orders for new zero-carbon ships to buying electric heavy-duty trucks”.

More than 65 global corporations are members of the First Movers Coalition.

Government and industry partners also work with the First Movers Coalition to help advance its decarbonization goals. These include national governments, carbon dioxide removal specialists, technology deployment specialists and other industry decarbonization networks.

How does the First Movers Coalition work?

In each of the seven hard-to-decarbonize sectors, members of the First Movers Coalition commit to advance purchasing a proportion of the industrial materials and long-distance transport they need from suppliers using near-zero or zero-carbon technologies.

For example, aviation companies commit to buying sustainable aviation fuels that produce 85% less greenhouse gas emissions.

If enough global companies make commitments like this, it should drive the affordability and availability of low carbon technologies that aren’t yet viable on a commercial scale. Examples of these include sustainable green ammonia for use as shipping fuel or the capture and storage of carbon from industry processes.

Investing in low-carbon technologies like these now will help them reach commercial scale by 2030, so they can make a critical contribution to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

What progress has the First Movers Coalition made so far?

At the COP27 United Nations climate change conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, it was announced that members of the First Movers Coalition had committed $12 billion in 2030 purchase commitments for green technologies to decarbonize the cement and concrete industry and other hard-to-abate sectors.

Since the First Movers Coalition was launched, its member companies have already made “unprecedented” commitments to advance purchase near-zero-carbon steel, aluminium, shipping, trucking, aviation and carbon dioxide removal solutions, the World Economic Forum said.

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More reading on solutions from hard-to-abate sectors

Aviation

Aviation accounts for more than 2% of global energy-related CO2 emissions. With hydrogen-powered passenger planes still some way off, the industry is pinning its hopes on sustainable aviation fuel to achieve net-zero air travel, explain Marc Hamy, Vice-President, Air Transport and Environmental Affairs, Airbus, and Nancy Gillis, Programme Head, Climate Action & First Movers Coalition, World Economic Forum.

They argue that the industry must scale up the supply, reduce the cost and set clear market and demand signals. FMC members are aiming to replace at least 5% of their conventional fuel with super-efficient sustainable aviation fuels (or another zero-emission technology if available) by 2030.

The aim is to send a demand signal to fuel producers and investors so they have the confidence to invest in new plants and bring the prices down.

Marc Hamy, Vice-President, Air Transport and Environmental Affairs, Airbus, and Nancy Gillis, Programme Head, Climate Action & First Movers Coalition, World Economic Forum

Read more here.

Trucking

The global economy relies on trucks for a significant amount of its transport needs, but at a cost to our health and the environment. In Europe, for example, road freight contributes 15% of total CO2 emissions.

Ricardo Aranda, Head of Global Fleet Management, Cemex, and Nancy Gillis, Programme Head, Climate Action & First Movers Coalition, World Economic Forum explain how the sector can overcome challenges, including high gross weight, high cost and a lack of charging and refueling infrastructure.

It’s a bit like doing a U-turn up a one-way street in a 16-wheeler. But if anyone can do it, a trucker can.

Ricardo Aranda, Head of Global Fleet Management, Cemex, and Nancy Gillis, Programme Head, Climate Action & First Movers Coalition, World Economic Forum

Read more here.

Carbon dioxide removal

Carbon dioxide removal is essential to achieving net zero, write Mischa Repmann, Senior Risk Manager, Sustainability, Swiss Re, and Nancy Gillis, Programme Head, Climate Action & First Movers Coalition, World Economic Forum.

Removing CO2 requires both nature and technology - or a hybrid version of both, they say. They outline four emerging technologies that offer promise.

We must start building the necessary capacity right now to actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere, in parallel with — not instead of —doubling down on decarbonization efforts.

Mischa Repmann, Senior Risk Manager, Sustainability, Swiss Re, and Nancy Gillis, Programme Head, Climate Action & First Movers Coalition, World Economic Forum

Read more here.

Steel

Steel is essential for many industries but is also responsible for 8% of total carbon dioxide emissions. "Green steel" could be the answer, argue Andreas Follér, Head of Sustainability, Scania, and Nancy Gillis. Programme Head, Climate Action & First Movers Coalition, World Economic Forum.

There are a dozen or more different technologies being trialed to get around the root of the problem — that making steel the traditional way uses a lot of fossil fuels.

Andreas Follér, Head of Sustainability, Scania, and Nancy Gillis. Programme Head, Climate Action & First Movers Coalition, World Economic Forum

First movers are critical in making these technologies viable for the industry, they argue.

Read more here.

Have you read?

Shipping

As the shipping sector contributes nearly 3% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, a new mix of fuels is urgently needed – including green methanol and ammonia – to scrub clean its climate impacts. First movers are leading the way on how it can be done.

Aluminum

While aluminium is lauded for its versatility, strength, quality and recyclability, its energy-intensive processing produces around 2% of man-made emissions. What's more is that demand for aluminum products is predicted to increase by almost 40% by 2030.

Existing forms of renewable energy — such as hydro or solar — will get us about two-thirds of the way to zero-emissions aluminium.

Ramón Arratia, Global Vice-President and Chief Sustainability Officer, Ball Corp, and Nancy Gillis, Programme Head, Climate Action, First Movers Coalition, World Economic Forum

Cement and Concrete

The manufacture of concrete is responsible for 7 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. We urgently need to find ways to decarbonize cement — concrete’s key ingredient — if we are to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Two routes to low-emissions cement show particular promise, each roughly halving clinker’s carbon footprint. One is to decarbonize the production of clinker, the other is to avoid using it altogether.

Annika Ramsköld, Vice President Corporate Sustainability Vattenfall, and Nancy Gillis, Programme Head, Climate Action & First Movers Coalition, World Economic Forum

Davos 2023

The need to reduce carbon emissions, transition to clean energy and harness new technologies are among the themes to be discussed at the World Economic Forum’s 53rd Annual Meeting this month in Davos, Switzerland, from 16-20 January, 2023.

Under the theme ‘Cooperation in a Fragmented World’, the event brings together more than 2,500 leaders from government, business and civil society to address the state of the world and discuss priorities for the year ahead.

The Davos programme contains more than 300 sessions. Strategic themes include the need for new systems to “harness frontier technologies” that build private-sector innovation and resilience and accelerate the transition to more sustainable energy sources.

The Forum says Davos 2023 will explore how to navigate current “cascading crises” – including the war in Ukraine and stalling economic growth – but, more importantly, will focus on driving tangible change that improves systems for the long term.

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Related topics:
Forum InstitutionalNature and BiodiversityEnergy Transition
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