As in life, the Energy Transition and achievement of Net Zero, in my mind, is about balance.
The goal to reach Net Zero is quite rightly high on the global and political agenda and we all have a responsibility as individuals to play our part in its success over the coming years and decades.
These two words, ‘Net’ and ‘Zero’, are front and centre but what do they actually mean? The term Net Zero means achieving a balance between the carbon emitted into the atmosphere and the carbon removed from it.
This balance, or Net Zero, will happen when the amount of carbon we add to the atmosphere is no more than the amount removed.
Quite a challenge when, in 2018, the UK was ranked as the seventeenth highest carbon emitting country, contributing 1.1 percent of total global emissions. In reviewing the comprehensive data available up to 2018, China unsurprisingly topped the list with 28 percent. Worryingly, that trend seems to be on the increase. It will be of great interest to hear what the scientists present during COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021.
Fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas are some of the most important natural resources that we use daily. These fossil fuels are hydrocarbons; compounds formed from only two elements, carbon and hydrogen. When hydrocarbons are burned in the presence of oxygen, they release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – a greenhouse gas that is a leading cause of global climate change.
In my view, we must be careful that in striving for Net Zero we don’t disrespect or neglect our day-to-day living.
Renewables such as wind, tidal and solar are, at best, playing their part in reducing carbon emissions with investment, R&D, technology, and political messaging all making great strides to speed this up.
We do, however, need both oil and natural gas. For instance, looking at a vast list of biproducts of crude oil, I was educated as to the prominence of oil in our everyday lives.
I struggle to recognise where a renewable energy source could produce solvents, ink, tyres, nail polish, petroleum jelly, medicine capsules, deodorant, fertilisers, candles or anti-freeze, to name but a few.
We cannot stop the reliance on fossil fuels overnight, but we can start and, over time, replace them with low-carbon renewable energy sources which can fuel our heating, cooling and transportation demands.
Looking towards new and future energy sources, we still have to be mindful of our finite resources. The mining and refining of alkali metal lithium is growing rapidly. This natural resource is required to produce electric vehicle, laptop and mobile phone batteries and mining in China, Australia and in the South Americas is already in full flow.
Hydrogen energy is another significant energy source but, yet again, we must be mindful of its costs and global environmental impact. According to the International Energy Agency, 96 percent of hydrogen created worldwide is produced using fossil fuels through a process known as reforming. This is the process of combining fossil fuels with steam so therefore we can quickly see the need of one for the other.
Fossil fuels are essential but at what volume can the environment be sustained. This is the vital question.
All COP26 attending nations must unite and work together to achieve a global balance. They must ensure industry continues, and heat, light and power are affordable to all but ultimately must agree to reverse this trend of increasing global carbon emissions which in turn, like in life, can lead to a balanced world for us all to live in.
Graeme Robertson is an Audit Senior Manager at Anderson Anderson & Brown (AAB)