Experts highlight key net-zero solutions and research priorities for the 2020s in the approach to COP26



Heriot-Watt University is part of a new briefing paper published today, Wednesday 25 August, that sets out the key net-zero solutions and policy actions that can be implemented now, as well as the priority areas for research to focus on during the 2020s in order to achieve the required emissions reductions for net zero.

The briefing, published by the COP26 Universities Network and led by the University of Cambridge, brings together the diverse range of sectoral expertise from 26 authors across 10 UK universities, and comes at a critical time ahead of the United Nations COP26 Climate Change Summit, which takes place in Glasgow in November.

Professor Mercedes Maroto-Valer, Head of The Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre (IDRIC) and UKRI’s Industrial Decarbonisation Champion is part of COP26 Universities Network.  She said: “I have enjoyed collaborating with colleagues across the UK and our publication of this insightful COP26 Universities briefing paper is a great outcome. In this decisive 2020s decade of climate action, the role of research and innovation will be key to deliver our net zero targets. In IDRIC, we are addressing the priorities identified in the briefing paper for the challenging transition of the industrial sector.  We are collaborating at pace and scale to deliver whole system solutions that integrate technology, policy and business models together with skills development for the net zero industrial clusters of tomorrow.”

Achieving the UK’s net-zero target by 2050 will require a mix of technological, societal and nature-based solutions working together to enable systemic change towards a regenerative society. Research must be prioritised into solutions for sectors that are difficult to decarbonise.

Co-lead author of the briefing Dr Erik Mackie, Engagement Manager at Cambridge Zero, said: “It is abundantly clear from the recent IPCC climate science report that the 2020s will be the crucial decade to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to meet the Paris Agreement goals, and the decisions made at COP26 will be critical in achieving that. This cross-disciplinary report will aid decisionmakers by identifying the key net-zero actions that we must take now, and the priority areas where we should urgently focus our research efforts to tackle hard-to-decarbonise sectors.”

Net-zero solutions are addressed in the briefing across eight priority sectors, summarising the current state of knowledge, and then setting out the actions to take now, what to research, and the co-benefits arising from solutions in that sector. The eight priority sectors are: Electricity (generation, storage, system & networks), Buildings, Road Transport, Industry, Land/Sea Use & Agriculture, Aviation & Shipping, Waste and Greenhouse Gas Removal (GGR). Nature-based Solutions (NbS) are highlighted separately as key actions that can work with nature to address climate change and biodiversity loss across all sectors, whilst also supporting economic recovery.

The report identifies three headline messages for decisionmakers:

  • Technological, societal and nature-based solutions can work together to enable systemic change towards a regenerative society, and to deliver net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
  • Research should prioritise efficient, low-carbon and carbon-negative solutions for sectors that are difficult to decarbonise, such as energy storage, road transport, shipping, aviation and grid infrastructure.
  • Each solution should be assessed with respect to GHG emissions reductions, energy efficiency and societal implications to provide a basis for developing long-term policies, maximising positive impact of investment and research effort, and guiding industry investors in safe and responsible planning.

Established in 2020, the COP26 Universities Network aims to improve access to evidence and academic expertise for the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow for the UK Government, NGOs and the international community, working together to help deliver ambitious climate change outcomes.


Susan Kerr