By 2050, the global economy is expected to accommodate and serve 25% more people1 50% more city dwellers2 and 100% more purchasing power in the global middle class.3 Such developments will have tremendous repercussions for the global industries that provide the basic materials and energy required to sustain modern society, from housing to consumer goods. These industries are today’s most significant contributors to anthropogenic emissions. In business-as-usual scenarios4,5 through 2050, demand for energy and industrial products is projected to grow by 30-80%. Industries will continue to be vital to our future; the effective decarbonization of their processes and value chains is crucial to achieving our climate objectives.
While efforts are under way and commitments are being made, the reality of net-zero for these industries is lagging and extrapolating from today’s speed of progress will fall far short. Today’s gap is considerable, and building transparency into this reality to elevate the discussion on how to structurally solve the challenge is key to addressing an under-served portion of the transition. While it is encouraging to see the adoption of standardization and monitoring of sustainability metrics at national levels in carbon-intensive sectors such as power generation, buildings and transport, significant gaps remain in heavy industries.
There have been multiple challenges; complex supply chains, multiple production processes, global fragmentation, etc. It is time to close the gaps with timely and consistent monitoring of industrial decarbonization. Progress tracking will help heavy industries determine the trajectory of their transformations, maintain a steady pace of progress and inform necessary course corrections.
The World Economic Forum has benchmarked countries’ energy transition through the Energy Transition Index for ten years. We are leveraging our experience to lay the foundation of a robust cross-industry platform that will track sectors’ journeys to net-zero. Such a platform is needed now more than ever. The ongoing energy crisis, sky-high prices of energy and materials, and persistent risk of supply shortages are disrupting industrial value chains down to end consumers. This is the time for industries and governments to double down on efforts to accelerate the decarbonization of industrial processes, improve energy efficiency and reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.
There is much to be done. International standards need to define “low-emission” industries. Low-carbon production technologies need to demonstrate their value at commercial scale. Consumer awareness and acceptance must evolve to generate demand for low emission products. Infrastructures required to develop and integrate low-carbon processes must be developed. Economically viable low carbon markets need to emerge. Investments must be “de-risked” to accelerate capital inflows. Adequate policy frameworks can help enable and incentivize transformation. These and other objectives cannot be achieved without a paradigm shift in multistakeholder collaboration across extended industrial ecosystems. Neither can they be achieved without keeping equity and justice at the heart of industries’ transformations. People’s livelihoods and opportunities depend on it.
Industrial decarbonization may be one of the most daunting challenges of the energy transition. Yet, we want to be optimistic. Industry pathways to net-zero have been charted; transparency is improving. If the global ambition and collaborative spirit witnessed at COP26 and at the 2022 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos spark concrete action, we could see this decade become one of the major breakthroughs for net-zero industries. The time for action is now.