The next generation of critical technologies and research areas need to be urgently prioritised if net zero is to be delivered by 2050.
That is the verdict in a new report published by the Royal Society, which has considered the expertise of 120 scientists from more than 20 countries, identifying 12 key areas in which to drive progress.
The report highlights a number of areas in which policymakers, academia and businesses will need to focus on:
- Climate modelling, which involves creating models that simulate the Earth’s climate system.
- The need for a deeper understanding of the carbon cycle and how the land and ocean act as sinks to absorb more than half the carbon emissions produced by humankind.
- Computing science and data to be used to simulate multiple sectors of the economy to reduce emissions.
- Further work to be done on lithium-ion batteries, to deliver the next generation of batteries that are cheaper, last for a longer range and produce less emissions.
- Heating and cooling systems; it says progress has been too slow in deploying heat pumps.
- Hydrogen can be used to decarbonise sectors less suited to electricity such as heat for industry.
- Current rates of construction for carbon capture and storage (CCS) are too slow to create the capacity required to mitigate climate change.
- Policy and economics are crucial to net zero, with ‘building back better’ post-pandemic considered to be an easy incentive to reduce emissions and build green jobs.
- The global food system accounts for almost one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions and can be reduced by more sustainable diets and innovation in plant science.
- It is estimated that phasing out fossil fuels and limiting warming to 1.5°C would avoid up to 100 million premature deaths from air pollution, benefitting overall human health.
The Royal Society acknowledges current advances in solar power and electric vehicles (EVs) but has stated the next generation of technologies will need to work alongside these to ensure sustainable reductions beyond 2030 are achieved.
Sir Adrian Smith, President of the Royal Society, said: “The next decade is make or break. The government has rightly set ambitious targets for cutting emissions by 78% by 2035 and reaching net zero by 2050.
“But without immediate action to support the next generation of low carbon technologies and environmental solutions these lofty ambitions will be undeliverable.
“A science-led technology assessment body to support investment decisions and adoption would benefit policymakers, research funders and industry alike. It could also help build political and public consensus about the route to net zero by being unbound from the political scrum.
“For all the UK’s scientific prowess, we won’t make a dent in this alone. We must send a strong signal to our international partners to commit to their own technology roadmaps for net zero and areas of cooperation that build climate resilience around the world for the benefit of all.”