Driving the difference: Cars, trucks, and the road to net zero

The initial draft of a COP26 agreement was published Wednesday morning and included a call to nations to “strengthen” climate goals and submit updated pledges by the end of 2022. The draft marks the first time a proposal has called for the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies and coal on the path to reduce emissions and get to net zero.

At McKinsey's venue at COP26 today, partners Eric Hannon and Robin Riedel led a conversation on how the transport industry can support the green transition. Our research shows mobility contributes around 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, making it one of the most critical sectors for achieving net zero. It’s also one of the few sectors where decarbonization could deliver a net-cost saving to society.

Excerpts from the entire discussion, edited for clarity, are below. A replay of today’s session can be found here. Please visit our COP26 agenda page to register for upcoming sessions.

Highlights from today

Five years from now, we will see ships that are running on new kinds of zero-carbon fuels, ships that are running on methanol. This is already possible. We will not be at scale in five years, but we should see the supply chain enabled to actually demonstrate that ships can run on these new fuel and energy sources. At the same time, this should also give clarity on standards and regulation. It might not be adopted at that point. But we should see significantly more confidence in the global regulation so that capital starts to flow and infrastructure [scales] so that we actually start to see the supply of these new fuels.”
—Bo Cerup-Simonsen, CEO, Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Center for Zero Carbon Shipping

We've got the technology, we've got the commitments, and the [electric] vehicles are there. So what's the barrier? The big one businesses cited was a lack of [electric] vehicles. There aren't enough vehicles for them to buy to meet their commitments [because] the manufacturers weren't there, and that's because there wasn't a policy signal. It's a systemic effect. ...What we have is not an innovation problem. It's a scaling problem, and you get to scale through getting the right signals to the market, which is going to up the manufacturing. ...That's why it's really important to get all these different levels—national government, states, regions, and cities—involved in this question, because we've got to start seeing the systemic shifts.”
—Helen Clarkson, CEO, The Climate Group

We've really learned a lot in the last year meeting with and building relationships with companies from outside of our sector that are also hard to abate and understanding how they deal with things. ...What if airlines, oil companies, and banks in the agriculture industry were actually all speaking and advocating for the same policy? That might reduce the friction in the process. Because it does take alignment across some of these sectors to get things to scale.
—Chris Raymond, chief sustainability officer, Boeing

At a glance

Regulatory change and the consumer pull toward electric vehicles vary greatly by region. Europe—as a regulatory-driven market with positive consumer demand trends—could electrify the fastest and is expected to remain the global leader in electrification in terms of EV market share.

By 2035, the largest automotive markets (the EU, US, and China) will be fully electric

In depth

Learn more about nature conservation and its role on the path to net zero with these McKinsey articles:

Why the automotive future is electric

Scaling EV infrastructure to meet net-zero targets

The zero-carbon car: Abating material emissions is next on the agenda

Scaling sustainable aviation fuel today for clean skies tomorrow

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