Why we must work together to ensure the COVID-19 pandemic does not delay our journey towards Africa’s net zero writes Ben Story, strategic marketing director at Rolls-Royce.
The impact of COVID-19 has been colossal. Economies are being stunted and health systems severely strained in Africa and across the world as governments continue to grapple with a profoundly complicated pandemic. Many fear that global recovery will not be equitable.
Against this unprecedented backdrop, you could be forgiven for assuming that the green revolution has slid down the agenda. Yet the world’s pre-pandemic challenges have not disappeared – our collective vulnerability as a planet and our exposure to nature have been revealed again. How we survive sustainably as a species, everywhere, must be ingrained into everything we do as corporations, governments, institutions and communities.
The pandemic should galvanise our collective vision and sense of urgency. We already knew that the power that matters is sustainable power; a Rolls-Royce mantra backed by years of R&D investment into net zero power solutions.
We know Africa has huge potential and that today’s technologies can help industries, entrepreneurs and communities flourish sustainably while reducing the implications of global warming.
And the implications are eye watering. While addressing global leaders at the 1st Climate Change Adaptation Summit in Switzerland, African Development Bank President AkinwumiAdesina said that climate change is costing Africa up to $15 billion a year.
Even though the continent currently only contributes around 2% of harmful global emissions, we stand at the frontline of the crisis. Last year we saw deadly flooding and the worst locust outbreak for 70 years, events created by extreme weather that continue to displace hundreds of thousands of people across the Sahel and threaten the future security of millions.
We are issuing a call to arms by joining thousands of companies in the UN Race to Zero, aligning our entire business system and value chain around achieving net zero by 2050. By 2030 we want all our new products to be net zero compliant; and by 2025, more than 75% of our R&D spend will be channelled into lower, net zero and zero carbon technologies.
Transforming carbon-intensive industries is a good starting point. These sectors, which include activities such as mining, aviation, power generation and maritime, account for 30% of global emissions.
In aviation, the physics of generating enough thrust to elevate and safely sustain 300 tonnes of metal in the air for 8,000 nautical miles (the longest A350 journey) has made fossil-based fuels difficult to dislodge. Here, we are working with partners to develop 100% sustainable aviation fuel which mimics the kerosine that we use today. For shorter journeys, electric and hybrid aerospace propulsion gives great cause for excitement.
Meanwhile, in power generation, change is happening at pace. The International Renewable Energy Agency announced in January that with the right policies, governance and access to finance, Sub-Saharan Africa could meet up to 67% of its energy needs via renewable power before 2030.
However, critical baseload power requires a transitioning energy source that is reliable enough to replace fossil fuels. It is our belief that the renewable power mix should be supported by a network of standardised, state-of-the-art, affordable nuclear power stations, powered by the UK’s small modular reactor (SMR) solution. With a capacity of 470MW, each SMR can supply enough electricity to power one million homes a year, for 60 years. SMRs can also underpin the immense power needed to create green hydrogen and synthetic fuels
Five calls to policymakers
To assist and accelerate industrialists like us and many others on their net zero strategies, five things need to change.
First, we need global consistency between countries and regions to establish level playing fields which avoid the risk of carbon leakage. The upcoming COP26 hosted by the UK and Italy is another chance to align priorities and set this in motion – indeed, many have commented on this being a make-or-break event.
Second, alongside drastic reductions, we need to concurrently tackle the removal of carbon already in the atmosphere. This will require prioritising and incentivising investment in regenerating nature’s natural carbon sinks, protecting existing ecosystems and restoring those that have been degraded, as well as developing and implementing new technological solutions that capture and store or re-use carbon.
Third, policymakers must incentivise circular economy business practices across the entire value chain. Ideally, this would protect biodiversity and nature, human health and social mobility, and economic growth, without negatively impacting developing economies.
Fourth, financing needs to become more accessible. Up to $100 trillion is needed between now and 2050, and much of that needs directing beyond companies that are already making progress to those which hold the key to making entire economies sustainable.
And fifth, the entire transition process must be fair for Africa and spur inclusive growth and job creation – without this, widespread support for net zero will be impossible to achieve.
If these five wheels are set in motion, then net zero becomes eminently more attainable.
Written by: Ben Story, Strategic Marketing Director, Rolls-Royce