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Speakers corner 27 April 2021

The “Race to Net Zero”: The competition on technology leadership is on

Dear readers, 

As anticipated, this year will be crucial for discussions around climate and the key role that the energy transition is called to play. Rightly so the international agenda has got increasingly busy and the media exceptionally active in covering new commitments towards the Paris Agreement. But as coined by F. Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), commitments alone do not reduce emissions,we need real change in the real world”.

The US is willing to show, within 100 days of Biden taking office, that it intends to assert its role in the fight against climate change, in a move to waive the notable shortfalls of the previous administration. Last week, the two-days Leaders’ Summit on Climate was unprecedented with Biden’s administration setting a target for reducing US emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030, while Japan and Canada confirmed new targets as well. China announced last year that it aims for carbon neutrality by 2060. These pledges serve to underscore that “climate is inextricable from debates over geopolitical influence, intellectual property, or industrial policy".

Showcasing the new race for innovation and technology leadership, US Secretary of Energy, Ms. Granholm, announced, in response to US Secretary of State Mr. Blinken’s warning of “US falling behind in the green economy race”, the launch of a massive R&I plan aiming to address an estimated € 23tn cleantech market by 2030. Based on doubling R&I spending, she called for new goals to cut costs of several technologies such as PV and battery cells by 50% and of clean hydrogen by as much as 80% within the decade. In this regard and unveiling some key findings of IEA’s upcoming 2050 Roadmap, F. Birol also recalled that about half of the reductions to get to net-zero emissions in 2050 will need to come from technologies that are not yet ready for the market, in an attempt to substantiate the need for a massive increase in both public and private R&I investments.

In line with its mission and vision, EERA stands ready to leverage this increased focus on research and innovation and scale up its impact in the European innovation ecosystem to support the EU in maintaining its technology leadership and achieving its objective of transitioning to a fair and climate neutral society by 2050.

It has also by now become clear that achieving the Clean Energy Transition (CET) goals remains a significant challenge spanning beyond the availability of competitive clean technologies. As evoked in our earlier letter to our readers, “driving the CET requires understanding the role that a range of inter-disciplinary factors, some of which are more loosely connected to technology, play in a process that calls for a profound societal transformation”.

With this in mind, EERA is further developing its areas of excellence to best advise the EU on optimal pathways towards a climate-neutral Europe by 2050. In a pioneering whitepaper, scheduled for release in June 2021, EERA will be proposing a conceptual framework addressing the “transition to net zero” from a systemic, cross-sectoral, and multi-disciplinary perspective providing a holistic approach to the complex challenge of the Clean Energy Transition in Europe.

This whitepaper will be our little big grain of sand on the seashore of the CET challenge. It will be our way to highlight the value of EERA contribution and innovation potential, but also to underscore the size and complexity of the challenge ahead. It is time to walk the talk. We are running out of time.  

Adel El Gammal
EERA Secretary General