Nov 9, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Zoom in at COP26: Commercial giants pledge lower carbon emissions

Illustrated collage of airplanes and shipping containers.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

One criticism of new pledges at COP26 is that they're vague and squishy, but a U.S.-led push to help decarbonize several major industries features specific commitments by corporate giants.

Driving the news: The burst of announcements included the First Movers Coalition.

  • It's aimed at creating the commercial market for clean tech in sectors that currently lack zero-carbon solutions at scale — think steel, aviation, cement, marine shipping, chemicals and more.
  • The first three-dozen members include giants like United Airlines, Volvo, Amazon, shipping giant Maersk, and metals heavyweight Fortescue Metals Group.

How it works: Companies make purchase commitments to meet specific amounts of their demand by 2030.

  • For instance, participating airlines and transport companies look to replace at least 5% of their conventional jet fuel with very low CO2 alternatives, or through zero-emissions propulsion tech (or both).
  • On steel, companies commit to having 10% of their purchases be from steel produced with near-zero carbon methods.

Why it matters: The eight sectors together comprise a third of global CO2 emissions, per the State Department. It's aimed at creating a market during this decade that will scale rapidly post-2030.

  • A State official tells Axios the commitments, large in their own right, will bring down costs and create demand more widely.
  • Take steel. The official notes there's only enough fossil-free steel to make "some candleholders" today. But with companies like Volvo making the 10% by 2030 commitment, many new plants will be built.

The bottom line: "What the [First Movers Coalition] is doing is saying, look, we're going to ask you to do something that's a Herculean feat: you're going to go create an early market for technology," the official said.

Reproduced from the International Energy Agency; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

The big picture: Three sectors with companies making purchase commitments via the First Movers Coalition — aviation, shipping and trucking — together form a huge chunk of total CO2 emissions from transportation.

  • The graphic above, via this IEA report, shows these emissions and projects their levels in 2030 under nations' existing climate pledges, and how much lower they'd be on a pathway to net-zero emissions in 2050.
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