The journey towards net zero

26 October 2022
Perceptions of CO2 reduction progress do not match reality, according to Energy Transition Readiness Index survey

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The most pressing concern in the race to net zero is the need to reduce carbon emissions. According to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), carbon dioxide (CO2) accounts for 76 per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions, of which 65 per cent is a direct result of fossil fuel and industrial processes.

Lowering CO2 output would therefore have the biggest impact on global warming.

The Middle East is central to this process. Although the region accounts for only 7 per cent of total global CO2 output, its emissions are some of the world’s highest on a per capita basis. 

In 2021, for example, per capita emissions in the Middle East were 8 tonnes, compared with 2.3 tonnes in South America, 4.1 tonnes in Asia and 5.6 tonnes in Europe. These figures exclude the environmental impact of oil and gas exports from the region. 

It is also an issue the region can no longer afford to ignore as it is particularly prone to climatic changes including reduced rainfall, heatwaves and increasingly severe weather events, such as the cyclones that have hit Oman in recent years. 

Reality bites

The subject was a key talking point at the Siemens Energy Middle East & Africa Energy Week event in June, where attendees discussed decarbonisation and the government targets – 2050 for the UAE and Oman, and 2060 for Saudi Arabia and Bahrain – set as deadlines to reach net zero. 

A startling finding from the event was the gap between perceptions and reality regarding what has been achieved so far in cutting emissions.

As part of Siemens Energy’s survey for its Middle East & Africa Energy Transition Readiness Index, when asked to quantify CO2 reductions in their country today and what they will be in 2030 compared to 2005, participants estimated that total emissions had fallen by 23 per cent on average over the past 17 years. Only one-third correctly answered that emissions had not fallen at all.

In fact, the opposite has taken place. Between 2005 and 2020, total global CO2 emissions increased by 50 per cent to almost 3.5 billion tonnes, according to the authoritative BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2021.

“This year, many reports were issued of which the most important is the IPCC report,” said Mohamed Nasr, director of the Environment & Sustainable Development Department at Egypt’s Foreign Affairs Ministry and lead negotiator for Egypt at Cop27, speaking at the Energy Week.

“All [of the reports] stressed that we are not on track to keep climate change below 2 degrees, or even keep the 1.5 degrees target within reach. More work needs to be done.”

Between 2005 and 2020, total global CO2 emissions increased by 50 per cent to almost 3.5 billion tonnes
BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2021

Work in progress

A second poll revealed that attendees expected emissions to fall to 39 per cent of their 2005 levels on average, a figure that is highly unlikely to be reached in just eight years. 

This is especially the case given that carbon emissions must be cut across the board. Although the region is making good progress on the development of renewable energy production, there has been much lower momentum in other areas. 

For example, cement production is estimated to account for between 7 per cent and 10 per cent of total carbon emissions, but despite this, there has been little in the way of new regulations on government cement output in the region. 

Overall, in 2021 the industrial sector directly accounted for about a quarter of total global greenhouse emissions equivalent to 9.4 gigatonnes, a rise of 193 megatonnes on the previous year, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Iron, steel and cement production comprised more than half this figure.

The industry itself recognises more needs to be done and is implementing a range of policies and agreements to act co-operatively on reducing its climatic impact.

In early September for instance, the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) and international companies including Siemens Energy as a co-founder, Tata Steel, Enel Green Power, Technip Energies, Taqa and Eni launched the global Alliance for Industry Decarbonisation. The new alliance is aimed at accelerating net-zero ambitions and the decarbonisation of industrial value chains in accordance with the Paris Agreement. To date, 20 members have joined the alliance to work towards the same vision.

“Climate action needs industry leaders,” said Francesco La Camera, Irena director-general. “This Alliance stands for the growing commitment of global industry to act on decarbonisation and unlock opportunities that come with a green industrialisation through renewables and other transition-related technologies like green hydrogen.

“By standing together we send a clear signal of solidarity ahead of Cop27 and we invite new partners to join our common vision.”

Ultimately, we must remember that every tonne of CO2 we emit into the atmosphere will need to be removed
Dietmar Siersdorfer, Siemens Energy Middle East and the UAE

Renewables focus

Closer co-operation is a step in the right direction, but is just one element in a range of measures that need to be implemented. 

When ranking the energy initiatives to reach net zero as part of the Transition Readiness Index, the Energy Week participants identified three other priorities with the highest beneficial impact: accelerating the development of renewable energy projects; reinventing energy business models; and implementing energy storage solutions. 

The focus on renewables reflects the raft of utility-scale solar, hydro and wind schemes across the Middle East and Africa. In all, there are more than 500 projects planned or under way, with a total capital investment value of more than $510bn. 

But there has been less progress on the other two main priorities. Energy storage solutions have gained little traction to date in the region, although Dubai’s innovative 250MW pumped hydro energy storage project in Hatta could become a template for others to follow when it comes to grid-connected storage capacity. 

Nonetheless, with grids operated by centralised state utilities and renewable projects at a stage where they support conventional energy production rather than replace it, there is still some way to go before storage systems become more widespread.

For now, the principal opportunity for energy storage systems is for captive use at off-grid demand centres – for example, at Saudi Arabia’s gigaprojects along the Red Sea coast, such as the Red Sea Project and Neom. Entirely dependent on renewable energy production, the projects may require stored energy when weather conditions are unfavourable or during periods of peak demand. 

Diversifying the energy business model is unsurprisingly a key priority given the region’s reliance on hydrocarbon exports. Over the past 18 months, the development of a hydrogen industry has emerged as the pre-eminent trend to enhance the Middle East’s position as the leading source of global energy supplies. 

Today, there are some 46 world-scale hydrogen projects across the Middle East and Africa worth well in excess of $50bn. Although only two are under construction, the hydrogen industry is expected to grow massively in the region over the next decade.

This is just as well as time is fast running out if the world is to avoid a climatic emergency. 

As Dietmar Siersdorfer, managing director of Siemens Energy Middle East and the UAE, puts it: “Ultimately, we must remember that every tonne of CO2 we emit into the atmosphere will need to be removed.”

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