The definition of a fallacy is: a false or mistaken idea. This is a description that could very well be applied to the ubiquitous concept of achieving net zero CO2 emissions that the industrial world is now tasked with achieving by 2050, Dennis and Desmond Evans argue.
Having co-authored a book describing the many roads that could lead to a zero emissions outcome it may seem a little disingenuous that we now feel the need to highlight some of the anomalies connected to such a strategy.
There are, however, as many detractors as there are ‘eco zealots’ and their views also need to be considered. The consequences for the transport and logistics industry and the vehicle manufacturers will be significant if the wrong strategy is chosen.
Here we attempt to highlight both the opportunities and the pitfalls of developing and following a net zero emissions strategy.
The net zero question – how big is the problem?
The first thing we need to know and understand is just how big is the problem of getting to net zero carbon and where do the critical actions and solutions exist.
Annually we are now producing almost 40bn tonnes of CO2 globally and this is what is heating the world’s surface and contributing towards the extreme weather conditions we are witnessing on the news.
As a little perspective, just five of the 190 countries who signed up to the Paris Agreement are responsible for over 80% of these greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions so it is important to focus on their efforts to provide net zero solutions.
The transport revolution in the post-Second World War years in North America, Europe and Asia sparked the massive growth in GHG since 1950. It is interesting to note at the time of the COP26 in Glasgow during November 2021, in the 12 months during which global trade and economic activity was curtailed due to the Covid pandemic, observers of climate change reported a 17% reduction in carbon emissions and we are back at 2006 levels.
To limit the increase in global temperatures to 1.5degC we need a 7.6% reduction in GHG emissions year-on-year for nine years. Current trends excluding the pandemic do not suggest we will achieve this without drastic action now.
Transport and industry generate half the world’s CO2 emissions
In the USA and Europe transport and agriculture contribute the most emissions. There is a popular opinion we should ban burgers and eat plants. A recent study identified that 1kg of beef generates 60kg of CO2, but 1kg of carrots has a carbon footprint of just 0.4g CO2. But 1.6bn cattle are roaming our planet and they produce the methane equivalent of 3.1 gigatonnes of CO2 annually. Scientists are working on additive-enriched feed to reduce emissions but the timeframe for any success is likely to be 30 to 50 years. Abstaining from meat eating and becoming vegan is sadly a fallacy.
Current carbon mitigation plans will not deliver the 1.5degC goal
Reducing emissions through changing transport fuel source is one thing but there is the school of thought that we can also remove the threat of GHG by carbon capture and storage (CCS) underground which a few oil companies have invested in to achieve recognition as a good environmental citizen. CCS requires large and complex plant to be installed at coal or gas power stations to capture carbon directly from their chimneys and pipe it for storage in depleted oil or gas fields.
Recent research by the World Resources Institute (WRI) attempts to illustrate that current progress will not be good enough and only a tremendous increase in investment in CCS will be enough. At a cost of $250 per tonne to capture the volume of annual CO2 emissions the budget required would be $10 trillion a year. This is the equivalent of over twice the budget the world spent on mitigating the impact of Covid-19 during 2019/20.
A recent report also evidenced that carbon capture through tree planting takes 30 years for replacement forest to become an effective carbon sink. The promotion of CCS as a solution to the net zero goal is another fallacy.
Nations' compliance with the Paris Agreement
The Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR) adopted by the 28 members of the European Union following the Paris Agreement established a reporting mechanism for charting individual countries’ progress in delivering their National Declared Contributions. A leader board has been established and published recently on the Transport & Environment website. Sadly only Sweden appears to have made any significant progress on the criteria important to delivering the Paris goals. China and the USA are absolutely failing to address their carbon footprints and both countries have in fact increased a dependency on fossil fuels.
The gigafactory fallacy
Recent studies by the Faraday Institute identified that an extra 250,000 jobs could be one incentive to invest in electric vehicles and battery technology. Failure by the UK to achieve the creation of at least three gigafactories to produce batteries means the UK will lose assembly jobs and with disastrous results for the associated component manufacturing supply chain. Maybe 1m jobs might be at risk. China is leading the battery technology arms race and is investing in over 100 gigafactories at a rate of two new plants going live per month. Europe has eight gigafactories and USA six. The UK has zero.
New entrants stalled
In chapter 9 of our book, we detailed new entrants into the commercial EV market space.
Since 2015 when the Paris Agreement goals were created the established six European and US truck brands have struggled to introduce medium or heavy electric trucks. Early new entrants such as Nikola, Arrival and Tesla have promised much but delivered little.
The early promise of the Arrival, backed by a Russian oligarch Dennis Sverlov, has been affected by the conflict in Ukraine. It was hit by sanctions as 50% of Arrival’s workforce was based in Russia and supply problems delayed production plans. The businessman, who was worth $11.7bn in April 2021, lost his billionaire status in April 2022 with a 94% decline in net worth.
The last year has been equally tough for Nikola Motors. The start-up known for trying to bring electric and hydrogen-powered trucks to market has been in hot water after a report from Hindenburg Research made several allegations exposing deception by Nikola and its founder Trevor Milton.
Nikola Motors has lost almost its entire supply chain leadership over the last few months and the situation at the company is starting to look dire.
Nevertheless, the growth of electric vehicles, the charging Infrastructure and the manufacture of battery powertrains and associated energy components will drive the need to develop relevant infrastructure which will need to be over 15 times greater in 2030 than today. There are just 30,000 public charging points in the UK serving the 1.2 million electric cars and 22,000 electric vans on the road today in the UK.
The government is forecasting a requirement of 300,000 public charge stations by 2030 so there is a very large gap to fill.
Infrastructure is the key. It is the mortar holding the bricks of a new building together and its current absence is the biggest threat to the UK emerging as leader in the race to electrify the economy. The current absence of serious investment in battery technology will accelerate the decline of current vehicle production and assembly in the UK.
In the 12 years the current government has been in power we have had seven different transport ministers, an average term of 18 months. This is no way to develop and implement effective and relevant transport plans that will have a chance of success and illustrate symbols of real progress in delivering on the 2015 Paris Agreement targets.
Freightports not freeports
Freeports are seen by some in our post-Brexit discourse as the path to environmental nirvana. This is a myth and the most obvious net zero fallacy:
• Freeports are no infrastructure magic bullet
• Jobs growth and emission reduction are not on any freeport agenda
• What will be reduced is tax revenue and admin paperwork for import/export
What will create new jobs and increase tax revenue is a concept we’ve defined as Freightports.
In a recent study of annual freight movement by the 75,000 O-licence holders in the UK it was identified that 80% of freight was delivered within 30 minutes of 12 urban locations. In at least 10 locations around the UK there is an opportunity to redevelop redundant car and commercial vehicle factories and create a truly innovative economic and environmental business landscape to protect hundreds of thousands of jobs in the automotive industry.
We have already seen the closure of Ford plants in South Wales, Dagenham and Southampton, Honda in Swindon, Land Rover Jaguar in the West Midlands and risks to jobs in Luton, Halewood and Sunderland.
It’s going to require government, industry, academia and trade unions to come together and invest in the opportunity to create a coalition of green technology business partners who can co-exist on a futuristic business park.
Key features of a future Freightport would include:
• Edge of city location
• Regenerated brownfield site over 1,000 acres
• Solar farm
• Gigafactory with capacity of 35GWh
• Battery storage and recycling
• Alternative energy refuelling
• Major freight movement hub
• Warehousing/distribution centres
• Truck parking for over 1,500 vehicles
• Vehicle and battery recycling
• Free electric bus/coach employee transport
• EV experience centre with test driving
• EV service/maintenance centre
• Eco Mobility Centre cars
• Climate change/environmental academic institute co-located
Freightports and associated energy innovation hubs offer the hope of this revolution being the symbol of progress in delivering the goals of the Paris Agreement and addressing the challenge inherent in the climate change Initiative.
We are now facing a second decade where everyone involved in the energy supply, transport, distribution and logistics sectors has an opportunity to re-think how they go to market and where they operate in the market.
Sustainable success will only be achieved if industry partners and supply chain members can develop new relationships based on shared visions of how to integrate complimentary green technology business models operating in locations that have themselves been subject to regeneration from 20th century manufacturing and engineering cultures to a digital and environmental driven industrial eco-system.
Sadly, current government action has been driven by Brexit planning, Covid pandemic mitigation, Conservative party leadership issues and economic and social unrest that has made the emergence of any relevant net zero transport and infrastructure plan a myth.
Recharging and refuelling stations and battery recycling and storage facilities will be a key features of future Freightports and energy hubs.
Research into how to recycle lithium is urgent as it is not considered cost effective at present as due to impurities of used lithium. It costs less to mine new lithium than recycle and this may well be the tipping point for solid state batteries such as lead acid to outsell lithium-ion in the future.
Battery manufacturers will be subject to strict recycling and disposal reporting regulations. Managing this process at a registered energy innovation hub will be a vital service operation in the future.
The opportunity to create thousands of new jobs on regenerated brownfield sites on the edge of 10 to 12 major urban locations is a very real opportunity.
Currently any claims from the government that we are delivering on the hope and promise of recent COP26 and Paris Agreement goals is just a net zero fallacy, and in fact should be describe it as ‘not zero’.
We need to recognise that there is an alternative if we act quickly, and in our opinion freightports and not freeports are the solution.
‘The Road to Zero Emissions – The Future of Trucks, Transport and Automotive Supply Chains’ by Dennis and Desmond Evans is available from Kogan Page or at Amazon.co.uk