Why is the world shifting to net zero?

Lithium is needed for net zero
Introduction: Commitments to Decarbonize

The past decade has seen a global concerted push towards shifting to a sustainable, low-carbon economic model. From announcing net-zero goals aimed at balancing our carbon emissions to investing millions into electric vehicles, renewable energy, and the reduction of fossil fuels, countries have indicated an interest in tackling climate issues. In March 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an organization that provides scientific support and analysis of climate change to policymakers, released its latest report.

Taking into account the latest policies adopted by global governments, and the scientific models of current climate action the IPCC’s conclusions were clear, the world was off-track from limiting warming to 1.5 degrees and severe environmental degradation, “Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.” But what does this mean? Bluntly: we need to do more to reduce our carbon emissions at a much faster rate.

Ambitious Climate Action

The impacts of climate change are wide-ranging and well known – but so are the mitigation options. Net-zero is one of them. Going net-zero means achieving a balance in the greenhouse gasses that are produced and those captured. In the short-term, it means removing as much carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere while finding low carbon alternatives to current high-emission technology. By committing to an economy-wide transition to low-carbon solutions, it would ensure that the rapid response needed to remove carbon from the atmosphere would be underway. As the IPCC report points out, a rapid decarbonization is exactly what is needed to keep the planet from warming catastrophically.

Fossil fuel transport and power generation are two of the leading causes of global carbon emissions, and can be actively replaced by electric vehicles and renewables. To facilitate this transition, however, there needs to be more investment into lithium supply chains. “Lithium is necessary for any transition towards a low-carbon future, and is already integral to the plans of several countries,” explains EnergyX Vice-President of Growth Strategy Milda Saenz, “With the world not on track to meet carbon emissions reductions and limiting global warming, the need for a rapid shift towards EVs, renewable energy and their associated batteries is clearer than ever.”

Lithium & Low Carbon

“Rechargeable batteries appear to be the backbone or ‘holy grail’ towards a clean energy and low-carbon emission economy,” point out researchers in a study published by the Journal of Energy & Natural Resources Law, “EVs, energy storage systems (ESSs), smartphones and home ESSs have been exponentially increasing battery demand for the past few years.” Lithium-ion batteries’ ability to recharge multiple times without losing their capacity, as well as pre-established supply chains have made them a de facto choice for global energy storage needs. Lithium batteries help power electric vehicles and can be used to store renewable energy while also solving their intermittency issues – these batteries are critical to decarbonizing our world.

Low carbon policies set out to actively reduce the amount of carbon being created throughout the functioning of the global economy. Every sector is concerned. While transport and energy are the first major industries to be targeted by net-zero, these are markets where demand is always growing, and therefore, are driving the demands for lithium. The conclusions of the aforementioned paper set out that, “With a focus on the energy transition and the path towards a low-carbon future, it is expected that the demand for lithium will continue to grow, as well as the demand for related battery minerals,” which the authors indicate as being a key reason to shift towards sustainable lithium extraction methods.

Conclusion: Net-Zero Future

The IPCC report points out that rapid decarbonization and net-zero must be achieved by 2050 in order to reduce the impact of climate change. While the earliest set of national net-zero goals are set for the turn of the decade, several major emitters like China and India have indicated being able to reach their target by 2070. Although major emitters do not seem on track to meet the IPCC goals, there are many reasons to believe that their commitments may be reached earlier than expected. The scaling up of lithium supply chains will deliver efficiency improvements that can help unlock the rapidity of ESS production for both renewable energy and electric vehicles. The future relies on net-zero, and net-zero is powered by lithium. One of the limits to the global shift to low carbon is lithium extraction rates– but there are readily available solutions for this.