Many countries have made a commitment to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by or around 2050. If some sectors have residual emissions, these must be compensated for by removing CO2 from the air and storing it. This can be done, for example, through large-scale reforestation or the use of biomass in combination with CO2 capture and storage. These measures involve risks, in particular for food security and biodiversity. An important conclusion from PBL’s study Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions in hard-to-abate sectors, published in cooperation with Utrecht University, is therefore that far more effort must be made globally to reduce emissions in the sectors where this is most difficult: industry, the built environment, agriculture, aviation and shipping.
The aim of the study was to map out why it is difficult to reduce emissions in the sectors mentioned above, which measures can be taken to reduce emissions as much as possible in these sectors, and use scenarios to explore the impact of these measures on reducing the need to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.
Achieving zero emissions in all sectors is a difficult task
The study is based on various scenarios on limiting the global maximum temperature increase to 1.5 °C. In each scenario, reforestation or a combination of the use of biomass with carbon capture and storage is a necessary part of the package to achieve the zero-emission targets. However, the dependence on these measures can be limited by sectoral measures that contribute to a structural reduction in emissions.
It is difficult to reduce emissions in industry, aviation and shipping, the built environment and agriculture. Technological innovation and structural changes could help to reduce barriers to emission reduction. Deployment of alternative fuel technologies or the development of cultured meat are promising technological measures, while more circular use of raw materials, more efficient waste processing, and lifestyle changes, such as diet change, are examples of structural changes. These changes can be promoted through financial instruments, such as taxes (e.g. on airline tickets and meat) and grants, as well as through regulation and direct investment in research and training.