UNIDO Director General makes call to action at the 11th Sustainable Innovation Forum

UNIDO Director General makes call to action at the 11th Sustainable Innovation Forum

LONDON, 19 November 2020 - The COVID-19 pandemic may have led to a temporary decline in greenhouse gas emissions, but if the harder-to-abate sectors return to business as usual after the worst of the pandemic has subsided, they will account for the entire carbon budget in 2050. Heavy industry – such as cement, chemicals, steel and heavy transport - are together responsible for 40% of global carbon emissions, with their contribution set to increase as other parts of the economy decarbonize.

In this context, the 11th Sustainable Innovation Forum, held virtually from 16-20 November, brought together industry experts, heads of multinational companies, and representatives of civil society from around the world, to showcase climate change solutions and to maintain ambition in the lead up to next year’s 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26).

Speaking at the opening of the Industry Transition Dialogue on day four of the virtual event, LI Yong, Director General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), highlighted the pivotal role that industry plays in accelerating climate action, given the scale of the impact of industrial activities. Li stressed the opportunities to change from the current industrial system and transition to a future net-zero emission industrial system.

Li acknowledged that it was a “delicate balance” that governments needed to strike between the necessity to achieve industrial growth targets and the commitment to net zero climate targets. However, he expressed his belief that this balance was achievable and that “industry can lead the way through sustained decarbonization measures”. UNIDO, he noted, with its mandate to advance inclusive and sustainable industrial development, has “seen, first hand, the possibilities for aligning industrial development with low-carbon pathways”, while also being cognizant of the challenges of enhancing industrial competitiveness.

In concluding his intervention, he gave a call to action, speaking of the importance of governments and businesses working together collaboratively. This, he said, calls for “systemic and sustained efforts” to explore all possible pathways for the decarbonization of industry. Elaborating on this point, he emphasized that “low-cost energy efficiency measures, the integration of renewable energy, digitalization and circular economy approaches can deliver a substantive share of the decarbonization targets.” These measures, he noted, had yet to be exploited at scale.

Also representing UNIDO at the Innovation Summit was Rana Ghoneim, Chief of the Energy Systems and Infrastructure Division within UNIDO’s Department of Energy. Along with fellow panellists, representing industry, academia and civil society, she addressed the question of whether the decarbonization of heavy industry could be achieved in 10 years, before irreversible tipping points are reached.

Ghoneim expressed the belief that this was possible but noted that the key challenge to achieving this would be creating the market for green commodities and developing a transparent bench-marking and certification framework for trading of these products. She further noted that, given the risks and costs associated with the deployment of such advanced decarbonization technologies, “industry will be reluctant to make the needed transition without the right incentives and strong demand signals.”

“A level playing field needs to be established through common standards and internationally recognized certification schemes for green commodities, as induced demand will not work on a country-by-country basis,” she cautioned.  

Outlining the key actions that governments and industry need to focus on in the next 12 months in order to drive the decarbonization of energy-intensive industries and what would be needed in the next 10 years to achieve decarbonization, she highlighted the need to create the market demand for low-carbon steel and cement. This, Ghoneim explained, could be achieved by developing more transparent benchmarks, creating buyer alliances to shift towards green procurement, and raising consumer awareness. 

“For the next 10 years, we need to move the debate beyond the energy-intensive industries to keep in mind the projected growth in emissions related to industrial development plans in developing countries, as well as SMEs, which remain a major consumer in emerging economies. We must build better in the first place and not only think about rebuilding better,” she said.

For more information, contact:

Rana Ghoneim, Chief, Energy Systems and Infrastructure Division, UNIDO.

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To listen to the event, go to: Home - Sustainable Innovation Forum | COP26 (climateaction.org)