EVs, Green Fertilizers & Plant-Based Proteins: These 3 ‘Super Tipping Points’ Key To Decarbonization
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A new report says targeted action dubbed ‘super-tipping points’ in three key areas including EVs, green fertilizers and plant-based proteins could lead to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy.
As the world races against time to limit global warming to 1.5°C, a new report unveiled at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and produced by an international team that includes Systemiq and the University of Exeter, has highlighted the “super-leverage points” that could rapidly move parts of the global economy towards zero emissions. The report, entitled “The Breakthrough Effect,” examines 10 of the highest-emitting sectors and shows how small interventions can cause large effects in these sectors.
The report supports the Breakthrough Agenda, the First Movers Coalition, and other initiatives working to make low-carbon solutions the most affordable, accessible, and attractive option in each emitting sector.
The Breakthrough Agenda, launched at COP26 in 2021, saw 45 countries – together representing 70% of global GDP – commit to working together to make clean technologies and sustainable solutions the most affordable, accessible, and attractive option in each of the high-emitting sectors before the end of this decade. This report aims to help show where these tipping points lie, and how they can be reached as soon as possible.
A “tipping point,” in this context, happens when a zero-carbon solution advances to a point where it outcompetes the existing high-carbon solution. Once reached, self-reinforcing “feedback loops” drive exponential growth in the adoption of the new solution and a rapid decline of the old.
The three “super-leverage points” identified in the report are: mandates for the sale of electric vehicles, mandates requiring “green ammonia” to be used in the manufacturing of agricultural fertilizers, and public procurement of plant-based proteins. These changes could trigger a cascade of “tipping points,” leading to cheaper batteries to help solar and wind scale up in the electricity sector, cheaper hydrogen opening up decarbonization for the shipping and steel industries, and reduced pressure for deforestation.
“High-emitting sectors of the economy do not exist in isolation – they are deeply inter-connected, and zero-emission solutions can influence transitions in multiple sectors simultaneously,” said Simon Sharpe, a lead author of the report. A tipping point has already been crossed in the electricity sector, with solar and wind accounting for more than 75% of new global capacity built in 2022.
“With time running out, there is a need to be targeted,” said Mark Meldrum, Systemiq partner and a lead author of the report. “Our report spotlights key opportunities to effect change that can produce huge returns in terms of decarbonization. It identifies positive tipping points in the highest-emitting sectors of the global economy, and analyses the conditions required to trigger them.”
Super Tipping Point 1: EV Mandates
According to the report, the threshold for widespread adoption of electric vehicles is fast approaching, as sales continue to rise. The report suggests that implementing deadlines for phasing out the sale of gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles, such as the UK’s goal of 2030 for new vehicles and 2035 in China, would further accelerate this growth.
As the electric vehicle market expands, the report predicts that the cost of batteries will decrease, enabling their use as storage for renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. This will drive the growth of clean energy, resulting in lower electricity bills and making heat pumps even more cost-effective.
Super Tipping Point 2: Green Fertiliser Mandates
The report highlights the potential for a second “super-tipping point” through the implementation of mandates for the use of green fertilizers, which are produced without the use of fossil fuels. Green fertilizers are made using hydrogen generated from renewable energy sources, combined with nitrogen from the air, and ammonia is a key component.
By requiring an increasing proportion of fertilizers to be green, governments can drive the expansion and cost reduction of green hydrogen production, which in turn supports decarbonization in industries such as long-distance aviation, shipping, and steel production. India, for example, is considering such mandates, with a goal of achieving 5% green fertilizer production by 2023-24 and 20% by 2027-28.
Super Tipping Point 3: Scaleup of Plant-Based Proteins
The report identifies a third “super-tipping point” in the form of making alternative proteins, such as plant-based meat and dairy replacements, more competitive in terms of cost and taste compared to animal-based proteins. Meat and dairy production are responsible for approximately 15% of global emissions. The report suggests that public procurement of these alternative proteins by government departments, schools, and hospitals could be a powerful way to drive adoption and reduce emissions from the livestock sector, as well as deforestation for pasture land.
The report estimates that if alternative proteins achieve a 20% market share by 2035, it could lead to the conservation of 400-800 million hectares of land, equivalent to 7-15% of the world’s farmland today, which could then be used for reforestation and wildlife restoration, and would actively remove CO2 from the air.
Kelly Levin, Chief of Science, Data & Systems Change for the Bezos Earth Fund said: “We know that some systems can be pushed towards positive tipping points after which change becomes unstoppable. We must do everything we can to reach these tipping points as soon as possible, and this report helps provide critical information on where tipping points lie and how we might approach them more quickly.”