Skip to main content

Realising Innovation in Transitions for Decarbonisation

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - REINVENT (Realising Innovation in Transitions for Decarbonisation)

Reporting period: 2019-06-01 to 2020-11-30

REINVENT decarbonisation – four years of research by five leading European institutions shows that reaching zero emissions is possible also in so called “hard to abate sectors”. For this to happen, innovations across value chains need to be embedded into economies and societies.

REINVENT focused on some of the highest emitting sectors – plastics, pulp & paper, steel, and food – which have so far not received much attention in research and policy. We researched their whole value chains, also paying attention to such important aspects as consumption, finance, the possibility of new cross-sectoral collaboration, how we can imagine our zero-carbon future, and the pathways for getting there. Although these are high emitting sectors, they have not been pressured so far to make deep emission reductions. They have rather been sheltered through free allocation of emission allowances and other industrial and agricultural policies. An overall objective for REINVENT was to help Europe achieve its long-term climate goals and deep emission reductions. By researching these four sectors the project has developed new knowledge and understanding on mitigation options, decarbonisation strategies, and their policy implications.
The results of REINVENT show the need for broad and sequential strategies that involve changes in consumption, improved materials efficiency, and electrification of primary materials production including the use of hydrogen. The project has identified a need for industry actors to adopt and enforce targets across their supply chains that are in line with the Paris Agreement, for policymakers to require design for materials efficiency and circularity throughout value chains, and for researchers to scrutinise a larger ensemble of decarbonisation scenarios, including non-technological as well as technological solutions.

For industry, electrification means stronger couplings with an increasingly renewables-based power systems, as well as new couplings between subsectors necessitated by increased circularity. A shift from fossil feedstock for plastics is a case in point. Increased mechanical and chemical recycling, as well as demand for fossil-free hydrogen and carbon for virgin plastics, will create new value chains and couplings. In all sectors, the options of materials efficiency and demand management are under-utilised and much of the attention from industry and policy is focused on energy efficiency and fuel-shifting in primary production, and to some extent improved recycling.

To capture the breadth of the results and translate them to a broader audience we have boiled them down to recommendations. To make zero emissions happen, the following needs to be done by policymakers, research and industry, respectively.
________________________
Policy needs to:
• Provide directionality, taking into account the whole economy and value chains
• Set goals that require action from industry, across the value chain, from production to consumption
• Recognise that difficult choices need to be made
• Lead the development of markets for new green products and services using zero-carbon materials
• Require design for materials efficiency and circularity throughout value chains
• Ensure not only ‘greening of finance’ but that green solutions get financed
_________________________
Research needs to:
• Imagine the future of production and consumption in new ways – what is needed in our lives in 2050 and why
• Scrutinise a larger ensemble of decarbonisation scenarios, including both technological and non-technological solutions
• Develop modelling approaches to take into account trends of shifting demand and circular economy
• Explore the potential of technological innovations beyond technological feasibility and examine their political, financial and cultural futures
• Investigate how demand for material use can be reduced whilst maintaining diverse forms of the good life
• Understand why resistance to change emerges and how the power of movements can be harnessed
_________________________
Industry needs to:
• Adopt and enforce targets across its supply chains that are in line with the Paris Agreement
• Make no new investments that rely on fossil fuels, whether for feedstock or energy
• Extend knowledge bases and collaborations into new sectors and domains
• Support and invest in electrification based on renewable energy
• Reduce demand for energy and materials, throughout the lifecycle of products

Research insights from REINVENT and all documentation can be found on its website: https://www.reinvent-project.eu/documentation.
In REINVENT, we also studied how initiatives that seek to achieve decarbonisation in the steel, paper, plastic, meat and milk sectors work in practice. By drawing attention to the realities of transitions in a variety of carbon intensive sectors of the economy, the research team examined what will be needed, by whom, and when, in order to realise the ambition of net-zero economies in Europe and beyond. We found that there are multiple pathways emerging for decarbonising economies and that it is likely that all will have a role to play in shifting the economy to net-zero, even while they may conflict with one another. Decarbonisation is not a smooth process but a fragmented one. Radical technological and material changes are needed to how we produce some of our most basic and widely used materials. It is also clear that decarbonisation entails non-technological changes including, for example, new socio-cultural norms around diets and consumption, or new design practices in architecture and engineering.

The REINVENT project (2016-2020) was undertaken in a period shortly after the Paris Agreement (2015). During this time there was a mindshift and broader recognition in Europe of the necessity to reach climate neutrality across all sectors in society. It affected thinking, strategies and approaches in research, industry, and government policy. REINVENT has been a small but important part in facilitating this shift through wide engagement with societal actors and contributions to policy as well as scientific assessments. The results are likely to stay relevant for many years to come.

Beyond academic publications, the key results from REINVENT are summarised and disseminated through the following documents:

- Decarbonisation portal (https://www.reinvent-project.eu/decarbonisation-portal)
Contains answers to some of the key questions on decarbonisation

- Policy recommendations (https://www.reinvent-project.eu/what-policies-are-needed-to-make-change-happen)
Have been developed via two policy briefs (on coordinating governance activities and on assessing and evaluating low-carbon transition)

- The Rough Planet Guide to Notterdam (https://www.reinvent-project.eu/roughplanetguide)
Focuses upon the everyday practices that decarbonisation would reconfigure, written as a fictional guide to decarbonised future

- Decarbonisation Innovations Database (https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3529696)
Includes more than 100 decarbonisation innovations in Paper, Plastic, Steel and Meat & Dairy sectors, across their value chains, as well as in Finance.

The key exploitable results of REINVENT will be available beyond the project’s duration, via the website of REINVENT (for at least three years), Zenodo open-access repository and the Horizon 2020 results platform.
REINVENT logo
UNFCCC COP23 side event in the Bonn-zone, co-hosted with the UK Carbon Trust
REINVENT workshop in Utrecht