Sustainability Blog

Time Rarely Offers Second Chances

By Apurva Gosalia - Apr 13, 2022

On April 4, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the third and final instalment of its Sixth Assessment Report, a series of reports which assess scientific, technical and socio-economic information regarding climate change. The third working group study, or WGIII for short, called “Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change,” found that central to averting climate disaster is the need for immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, if we are to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. 

WGIII further found that average annual global greenhouse gas emissions were at their highest levels in human history between 2010 to 2019, but that the rate of growth of emissions has since slowed. 

What is needed, according to the report, is for greenhouse gas emissions to peak by 2025 and reduce by up to 50% until 2030. This requires cutting fossil fuel use, transition to renewable energy at scale and invest in carbon dioxide removal.

Regarding industry, the study demands the need for oil and gas companies – this would include lubricant manufacturers – to reduce direct Scope 1 and 2 emissions. These energy efficiency measures, powering operations from renewables and stopping fugitive methane leakage – a greenhouse gas up to 34 times more potent than CO2– can mostly be taken at no cost, or even with net profit, to companies.

According to the WGIII report, oil and gas companies also need to invest in new technologies, as they have some of the largest free cashflows, as well as strong technical and project execution capabilities. These skills should be meaningfully shifted to help scale low-carbon technologies, such as renewables, clean hydrogen and CO2 removal technologies.

Carbon dioxide removal again must be a mix of both engineered and nature-based solutions, because if only reforestation methods are used, it requires forests five times the size of India to suck in the carbon. Efforts should be focused on geographic areas, such as the tropics, which have high sequestration density and low risk of wildfire.

Aside from the high cost of CO2 removal, we must be careful about the so-called “rebound effect,” which legitimizes less radical action based on the false assumption that all emissions could be removed in this way by 2050.

Among the several tangible things that companies need to do to demonstrate they are compatible with limiting the worst effects of the climate crisis is also to manage a rapid and immediate transition from oil and gas to a net-zero world. Sectors and markets that are powered by fossil fuels must work with their upstream suppliers to manage the rapid drawdown of fossil fuels in a way that minimizes the risk of energy supply shortages and crises. This can only be achieved through public-private collaboration, where governments, energy companies, the financial sector and industry are at the table.

Reducing emissions in this industry, as with all others, will involve using materials more efficiently, reusing and recycling products and minimizing waste. For basic materials, including steel, building materials and chemicals, low- to zero-greenhouse gas production processes are in pilot to near-commercial stages.

Last month, in my post titled “Time offers many opportunities,” I talked about the release of the second working group study (WGII) in February. Perhaps this title was too optimistic. According to Professor Jim Skea, co-chair of the report, “It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5C.” I would like to add, “Time rarely offers second chances.”


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