Deep decarbonisation requires industrial climate action

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

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Jannik Lindbæk is Vice President and Head of Equinor EU Affairs Office. [Equinor]

In November, the European Commission will present its strategy for long term EU greenhouse gas reductions – the 2050 roadmap. Today, Equinor has submitted its input to the consultation process.

Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions dropped by 20% in the past 25 years. That is good, but far from good enough. The speed of carbon emissions reduction must now accelerate more than three times to not fall behind the decarbonisation targets in the Paris Agreement and the recent IPCC report. How can the EU show leadership in meeting this mountainous challenge?

Need to switch gear on renewables

Europe must be cautious not to backtrack on renewables where the number of projects and investments recently has been stagnating. Renewables investments in Europe totalled €35 billion in 2017, marking a major 36% drop from 2016 (REN 21, 2018 Renewables Status report, page 141). The investment decline reflects the termination of numerous subsidy programs for offshore wind, long gaps between auctions and investor uncertainty. Given the significant cost reductions in offshore wind power, investors like Equinor wish to see a stronger pipeline of projects in Member States. In addition, we believe it is necessary for the EU to extend focus to advanced renewable energy technologies, such as floating offshore wind, which offer tremendous potential to maintain Europe’s leadership in renewables.

Industrial climate action as a new priority

Credible decarbonisation scenarios suggest that emission free electricity will make up to 50-60% of the EU’s total energy use by 2050. Accordingly, the remaining 40-50% of the emissions from the hard-to-electrify sectors remain a considerable challenge. These include the heavy-duty long-haul road and maritime transport, heating, industrial processes as well as system balancing and seasonal energy storage. Economic growth combined with insufficient industrial climate action explain Europe´s upward carbon emission trajectory from last year, and this underlines the challenge of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

Equinor encourages the European Commission to show leadership by designing an industrial climate action framework where all low- and zero carbon technologies face equal chance to contribute in the fight against global climate change. The framework must stimulate coherent and integrated research, technology demonstration and market creation measures for replicable large-scale decarbonisation solutions.

Deep decarbonisation can start well before 2030

With greater investor certainty, political backing and market creation measures, the industry can do its share in deploying cost-efficient, replicable deep decarbonisation solutions. Through Equinor´s low-carbon projects we see a major role for decarbonised hydrogen, produced from reforming natural gas with permanent storage of captured CO2 in geological reservoirs offshore. When clean, hydrogen is an energy carrier that can decarbonise energy-intensive activities and support the heating and power system by supplying reliable, on-demand clean energy.

Realising the hydrogen potential necessitates the development of hydrogen and CCS value chains. Together with other European companies, Equinor is spearheading Europe’s first commercial, large-scale clean hydrogen and CCS projects, including the Europe´s Project of Common Interest of transporting CO2 from Europe to storage in Norway – and natural gas conversion to hydrogen and repurposing of the related infrastructure.

The right policy framework where CCS enables the clean hydrogen economy, will contribute to a sustainable, economically and technologically strong industrial base that is essential to Europe’s long-term prosperity.

Strong and sustained efforts by many is required

The success of Europe’s low carbon energy transition relies on achieving high level of investments in a well-balanced mix of technological and natural decarbonisation measures. Some of these solutions are readily available, but in need of political backing and an adequate policy framework. We welcome a EU’s long-term carbon emission reduction strategy that contribute to unleash such investments and prove decisive and inclusive in fast-tracking industrial climate action.

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