Published:
Last updated:
May 24, 2024

Hard-to-Abate Emissions

What are Hard-to-Abate Emissions?

Hard-to-abate emissions refer to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions arising from sectors and processes where reducing the carbon footprint is particularly challenging. These emissions are often associated with heavy industry (such as steel, cement, and chemicals production), aviation, maritime transport, and heavy-duty road transport. The difficulty in abating these emissions stems from a combination of factors, including the high energy intensity of processes, the lack of viable low-carbon alternatives, and significant infrastructural and technological barriers to decarbonisation.

Identifying Sectors with Hard-to-Abate Emissions

The primary sectors contributing to hard-to-abate emissions include:

  • Heavy Industry: Industries like steel and cement production are energy-intensive and rely on processes that emit CO2 as a byproduct. Innovations such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) and electrification using renewable energy are being explored, but face significant implementation challenges at scale.
  • Transportation: Aviation, shipping, and long-haul trucking currently do not have widely available and economically viable low-carbon fuel options or technologies, making emissions reductions in these areas particularly difficult.
  • Agriculture: Certain agricultural practices, particularly those involving livestock and rice cultivation, produce methane and nitrous oxide, for which reduction options are limited and complex.

What is the difference between hard-to-abate emissions, unavoidable emissions, and residual emissions?

  • Unavoidable Emissions: While hard-to-abate emissions are often considered alongside unavoidable emissions, hard-to-abate emissions focus on sectors where reductions are difficult but not necessarily impossible with current or near-future technologies. Unavoidable emissions, in contrast, are those that cannot be mitigated with current technology or practices.
  • Residual Emissions: Hard-to-abate emissions contribute to a company's or sector's residual emissions—the emissions that remain after all feasible mitigation measures have been implemented. As technologies and practices evolve, what is considered "hard-to-abate" may shift.

Importance in the Net Zero Journey

Checklist for preparing your net zero business case

Identifying hard-to-abate emissions and finding more ways to avoid or reduce them is essential for achieving net-zero emissions globally. While these present significant challenges, focusing on hard-to-abate emissions encourages innovation, investment in new technologies, and the development of comprehensive strategies that include the purchase carbon removal credits in order to meet net zero targets.

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