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Experts highlight key net-zero solutions and research priorities for the 2020s in the approach to COP26

Achieving the UK’s net-zero target by 2050 will require a mix of technological, societal and nature-based solutions working together to enable systemic change towards a regenerative society. Research must be prioritised into solutions for sectors that are difficult to decarbonise, say leading scientists from the COP26 Universities Network.

A new briefing paper published today, led by the University of Cambridge, and with contributions from ECCI Director Prof Dave Reay, sets out the key net-zero solutions and policy actions that can be implemented now, as well as the priority areas for research to focus on during the 2020s in order to achieve the required emissions reductions for net zero.

COP26 Universities Network

The briefing, published by the COP26 Universities Network, brings together the diverse range of sectoral expertise from 26 authors across 10 UK universities, and comes at a critical time ahead of the United Nations COP26 Climate Change Summit, which takes place in Glasgow in November.

“It is abundantly clear from the recent IPCC climate science report that the 2020s will be the crucial decade to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to meet the Paris Agreement goals, and the decisions made at COP26 will be critical in achieving that." Co-lead author of the briefing Dr Erik Mackie, Engagement Manager at Cambridge Zero

"This cross-disciplinary report will aid decisionmakers by identifying the key net-zero actions that we must take now, and the priority areas where we should urgently focus our research efforts to tackle hard-to-decarbonise sectors.”

Net-zero solutions are addressed in the briefing across eight priority sectors, summarising the current state of knowledge, and then setting out the actions to take now, what to research, and the co-benefits arising from solutions in that sector.

The eight priority sectors are: Electricity (generation, storage, system & networks), Buildings, Road Transport, Industry, Land/Sea Use & Agriculture, Aviation & Shipping, Waste and Greenhouse Gas Removal (GGR). Nature-based Solutions (NbS) are highlighted separately as key actions that can work with nature to address climate change and biodiversity loss across all sectors, whilst also supporting economic recovery.

Co-lead author Dr Elizabeth Tennyson, Marie-Curie Research Fellow in the Department of Physics at Cambridge, said: “Constricting this policy brief to sectors was a challenge as cross-cutting solutions are also highly valuable and needed on the path towards net-zero. This decade will be about action and implementation, and we realised that we need to focus on solutions that can be practically implemented within this decade. We spotlight an “actions to take now” section in each priority sector, to guide the readers to the next step. We also remark on likely co-benefits to highlight the multi-disciplinary nature of the solutions. We urge that this is not an exhaustive list, there are many other exciting possibilities, and we hope this policy brief will not only influence change but also encourage further innovations.”

The report identifies three headline messages for decisionmakers:

  • Technological, societal and nature-based solutions can work together to enable systemic change towards a regenerative society, and to deliver net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
  • Research should prioritise efficient, low-carbon and carbon-negative solutions for sectors that are difficult to decarbonise, such as energy storage, road transport, shipping, aviation and grid infrastructure.
  • Each solution should be assessed with respect to GHG emissions reductions, energy efficiency and societal implications to provide a basis for developing long-term policies, maximising positive impact of investment and research effort, and guiding industry investors in safe and responsible planning.

Read the briefing paper

ECCI and COP26

ECCI is a proud member of the COP26 Universities Network, led for ECCI and the University of Edinburgh by ECCI director, Prof Dave Reay. Established in 2020, the COP26 Universities Network aims to improve access to evidence and academic expertise for the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow for the UK Government, NGOs and the international community, working together to help deliver ambitious climate change outcomes.

Find out more about COP26 and how ECCI is involved.