What do insects, circular design, green polymers and arid land have in common?
They will all be required to tackle the hard-to-abate last quarter of global emissions, according to Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, which has published a new report that collates the expertise of leading experts from across the industrial, investor, academic, civil society and policy sectors.
The bulk of emissions are generated by electricity, transport and heating, which make up an 80% share of mankind’s greenhouse gas footprint.
These are largely the areas of primary focus, but there is another piece to the puzzle.
Agriculture, plastics, cement and waste make up the other 20% and currently have fewer solutions available through which to reach decarbonisation.
In addition to this, the study adds there is at least another 5% that must be extracted from the atmosphere to account for the emissions that are essentially impossible to remove.
It suggests semi-arid and saline land will need to be used to grow plants, either for product feed-stocks or to act as carbon sinks for greenhouse gas removal.
The Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment also suggests recycling rates must be drastically improved by designing products in a more circular way and investing in better recycling technologies.
It argues using biomass and atmospheric carbon dioxide to create sustainable polymers without using oil would help negate the need for further fossil fuel exploration and processing, while adopting alternative proteins such as plants, insects and algae would free up land to be used for environmental purposes such as tree planting and ecosystem recovery.
Leading report author, Dr Katherine Collett, said: “Mitigating climate change demands more than a shift to renewable electricity generation; investment in harder-to-abate sectors is already required.
“To reach net zero, intersections between plastics, proteins and plants, three seemingly unconnected systems, may hold the key. Our reports explore the potential of these systems in detail, pointing the way forward for research, policy development, regulation, and financing options.”