by Anna Tobin*
"We’re gonna keep 1.5 degrees Celcius alive and that is our goal." That is how former US Secretary of State and now the US’s first Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John F. Kerry opened the First Movers Coalition Leaders Panel as it came together at COP27 to provide a progress report, a year on from when it was launched by President Biden at COP26 in partnership with the World Economic Forum.
Following this optimistic opening, Kerry acknowledged the enormity of the climate problem. "Human life is at risk now," he said. "In the context of the challenge of the global climate crisis, we lose 10 million people a year to extreme heat. It’s up from five.
"We lose 15 million people a year to the poor quality of air around the world, which is principally caused as a result of coal burning and the particulates that are in the atmosphere that travel around the planet, which also drop into the ocean when it rains and are responsible for much of the acidification and changing of the chemical makeup of the ocean itself. So everything compounds."
More global brands join the First Movers Coalition
At COP26, the First Movers Coalition had 25 members. It now has 65 and Kerry was keen to emphasise how much governments need to partner with the private sector to reach their net-zero goals. New joiners to the coalition include global brands, such as General Motors (GM) and PepsiCo, all of whom have committed to investing in innovative clean technologies that will together contribute to that 1.5 degrees Celsius goal. Kerry went on to give an example of these pledges: "Airbus, Boeing, United, Delta, DHL and FedEx have all committed that 5% of the jet fuel that they use in their operations in 2030 is going to be met with clean fuels that reduce greenhouse gases by 85%. A standard that is far cleaner than anything in today’s sustainable aviation fuels."
Committing to bringing down cement emissions
At Davos 2022, the aluminium industry joined the shipping, steel, trucking and aviation sectors on the First Movers Coalition. At COP27, Kerry was excited to announce new entrants, concrete and cement. Cement is the second most-used product on earth after water and is responsible for about 7% of global emissions, so this is a big deal. First movers pledged to purchase at least 10% near zero carbon cement and concrete by 2030.
The meeting then broadened out into a panel discussion, led by World Economic Forum President, Borge Brende, who was pleased to introduce Senior Vice President and President of GM International, Shilpan Amin. GM is one of the companies to join the cement commitment. Amin explained how the automaker is already using carbon capture technology in the cement used in its new Tennessee EV facility and he recognized the importance of collaboration on GM’s road to net-zero. "We realized we can’t do this alone," he said. "Which is why we’re very excited about the First Movers Coalition, building technologies and innovations through commitments between industries and startup companies to find solutions around a more carbon-neutral future."
Mafalda Duarte, CEO of the Climate Investment Fund, which invests in developing countries, particularly welcomed the news about the concrete and cement sector. She said: "It’s important to note, that industrial emissions are concentrated in developing countries and that they are set to rise. They are the sectors of steel, cement and chemicals. This is why I was particularly pleased that concrete and cement have joined the First Movers Coalition, because these products are in high demand in developing countries."
The Inflation Reduction Act is a gamechanger
John Podesta, Senior Advisor to President Joe Biden for Clean Energy Innovation and Implementation, highlighted how important it is that governments work alongside the First Movers Coalition to help turn plans into reality. He referred to the US Inflation Reduction Act as instrumental in this resolve. "One of the things that’s amazing about the Inflation Reduction Act and President Biden’s commitment to it is that it creates the backdrop in the background for those investments across all sectors. Whether you’re talking about clean power, carbon capture, green hydrogen or clean manufacturing, their support in the US tax code now offers an ovation for that cycle that has been described to move us to a cleaner and better future."
He went on to congratulate the First Movers Coalition for also focusing on how projects would be financed, not just in the most advanced developed economies, but across the globe.
Heavily carbon-reliant companies can cut carbon
Mads Nipper, Group President and CEO of Orsted, had a message for any company concerned about committing to something that they hadn’t yet worked out how to deliver. "I have the privilege of almost always having to explain who Orsted is. Ten years ago, we were one of Europe’s most fossil-fuel-intensive utilities and were about a quarter of the country’s [Denmark’s] total emissions. Now ten, years later, we’re a world leader with a safe margin on offshore wind and by far the biggest developer in offshore wind. So radical transformation can happen and we are not done yet."
To bring about that transformation you have to think long-term, adds Brad Smith, CEO of Microsoft. "This is not only a path to reduce the impact of climate change. It is a path to give humanity the ability to reverse it. Think not just about the path from COP27 to COP28, but the path from COP27 to COP75. I don’t expect to be here. I don’t think many of us will be, but if we solve these hard problems, I think we will create a legacy that will make us some of the most important first movers in any movement in the history of humanity." For Smith, COP27 is about getting real work done.
Demand drives carbon reductions
To get real work done you need to create demand, says Sumant Sinha, Chairman and CEO of ReNew Power. “Once demand is created, then automatically markets will work to essentially drive down costs and then they will, of course, continue to scale things up. We are a company that is about 11 years old, but we’ve got to a point where we essentially help India reduce about half a per cent of its total carbon emissions. So, we are beginning to have an impact. And I think as our industry grows and continues to go forward, the emissions reductions contribution will continue to increase." He is hopeful that the First Movers Coalition will encourage more corporates to join the decarbonisation journey.
Combined purchasing power and collaboration make a difference, comments Andrea Fuder, Executive Vice President of Volvo Group Trucks Purchasing and Chief Purchasing Officer for Volvo Group. "In the area of steel, where we have a partnership with the Swedish company SSAB, in June this year, we handed over the first articulated haulier made of fossil-free steel.
"In the area of aluminium, we were looking for a partner to have access to responsible and decarbonized aluminium and here we have set up a partnership with Rio Tinto, where we are also looking into zero carbon melting technologies."
Cemex is also making huge strides in carbon reduction, says its CEO, Fernando Gonzalez, "We’re moving very fast into what is available today. We are moving into the type of solutions that very soon will allow us to comply with a reduction of about a third of CO2 in our transportation system, just counting ready-mix trucks." He believes that where products are essential, ways will always be found to make them cleaner.
The First Movers Coalition leads the way
Kerry ended the discussion on the same positive note that he began on. He concluded: "These first-mover pioneers are unbelievable pathfinders here. They’re proving to the rest of the marketplace, where people are hesitant to invest for various reasons, hey, we’re still standing. It works."
*Freelance editor, World Economic Forum
**first published in: Weforum.org