You have probably read about some of the progress on electricity, as renewables get cheaper. But electricity accounts for only a quarter of all the greenhouse gases emitted around the world.
Manufacturing isn’t far behind, at 21 percent. When most people think of manufacturing, they picture widgets on assembly lines, but it also includes the materials used in buildings. Making cement and steel requires lots of energy from fossil fuels, and the processes involved release carbon as a byproduct.
As the urban population continues to grow in the coming decades, the world’s building stock is expected to double by 2060—the equivalent of adding another New York City monthly between now and then. That’s a lot of cement and steel. We need to find a way to make it all without worsening climate change.
Manufacturing isn’t the only big emitter. Agriculture accounts for 24 percent of greenhouse gases. That includes cattle, which give off methane when they belch and pass gas. (A personal surprise for me: I never thought I’d be writing seriously about bovine flatulence.)
The larger point is that if we’re going to solve climate change, we need to get to near-zero emissions on all the things that drive it—agriculture, electricity, manufacturing, transportation, and buildings. I call these five areas the grand challenges in climate change.
Part of the solution is to invest in innovation in all five sectors so we can do these things without destroying the climate. We need breakthrough inventions in each of the grand challenges.