The Paris COP21 Treaty and the 2°C target, as well as climate policy ambitions in the EU and its Member States, imply near zero emissions by 2050. The Swedish Parliamentary Environmental Objectives Committee recently set a goal of reducing Swedish emissions by 85 % in 2045 compared to 1990. This constitutes a new climate policy context where attention turns to how near zero emissions can be reached by 2050 or soon thereafter.

Near zero emissions is a liberating thought and a challenging proposition. It means that the “forgotten” industrial sector, especially the energy intensive industries, will also make a low carbon transition. The good news is that this transition is both technically and economically possible. Energy and materials efficiency are two of the options that, when combined, can reduce specific emissions by perhaps 50% or more.

For reaching near zero emissions, major changes in process technologies, energy carriers and feedstock sourcing are needed, including electrification based on renewable sources of energy. Examples include hydrogen as an alternative to coal and coke in the steel industry or renewable power-to-ethylene that can be a drop-in feedstock for plastics. However, resulting production cost increases, with small or no co-benefits, makes decarbonisation a challenge from an implementation point of view.

It is high time for the EU to develop pathways and strategies for decarbonisation also in emissions intensive sectors such as steel, cement and plastics. GIST2050 will make scientific contributions on theory and method for studying the transition of basic material industries, implications for co-evolution with the energy system, and provide a knowledge basis for the development of future governance and policy strategies.