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Decade of the Battery: Sustainable Batteries Represent the Best Prospect for Meeting Paris Climate Goals

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Advances in the production, use and reuse of batteries mean that the technology could become the most significant intervention to keep global warming within the limits set by the Paris Agreement on climate change between now and 2030, according to a report published today.

The report, which was commissioned by the Global Battery Alliance, a public-private partnership led by the World Economic Forum, says that, with a concerted push to put the right conditions in place, batteries could enable a 30% reduction in carbon emissions in both the transport and power sectors. These two sectors alone collectively account for 40% of all greenhouse gas emissions today.

Such a reduction in emissions would help keep the world within its 2°C Paris Agreement goal, the report finds. It requires immediate action along the battery value chain alongside investments in other technologies such as hydrogen and in other industries. This would also contribute to achieving the more ambitious 1.5° goal of the Paris Agreement’s, the report concludes.

In addition to examining the role batteries could play in helping to tackle climate change, the report finds that wider economic and societal benefits could also be accrued from systemically investing in the entire battery value chain from mining to reuse or recycling. In terms of employment, 10 million high-quality jobs would be created. More than half of these would be in emerging economies. Additionally, 600 million people would be provided with electricity for the first time. This would close the world’s existing energy access gap by 70%.

“Reducing the world’s carbon footprint is the defining challenge of the 21st century. For the next 10 years, modern batteries that are powering the 4th industrial revolution represent the greatest prospect for reducing atmospheric pollution from many of our most energy intensive economic activities,” said Dominic Waughray, Head of the Platform for Global Public Goods and Managing Director at the World Economic Forum.

Scaling up responsibly

Achieving the scale to make these goals achievable requires considerable change, the report finds. Firstly, today’s global battery value chain would have to expand 19 times the size it is today. This would require $550 billion of cumulative investments along the entirety of the value chain over the next 10 years, along with a set of targeted interventions. These could for example increase the productivity with which batteries are used, lower effective battery costs and cut greenhouse gas emissions along the battery value chain by close to 50% putting it on track to achieving net-zero emissions in 2050.

“We need to develop a sustainable, circular and low carbon value chain for batteries to contribute to the implementation of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and to reach the UN Sustainable Development Goals. But this task can only be achieved by effective cooperation between businesses, international organizations, governments and civil society,” said Martin Brudermüller, Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF and Co-Chair of the Global Battery Alliance.

Secondly, it would necessitate a huge expansion in mining: annual extraction of minerals by 2030 would weigh more than 300 Great Pyramids of Giza. Some 120 additional battery state-of-the-art factories would also need to be operational to meet required demand.

Most importantly, a structural shift would be required to make batteries sustainable from an environmental and human perspective. This includes making sure the entire value chain is “circular”, whereby batteries are reused, repurposed or recycled at the end of their life cycle or simply used more efficiently. For example, integrating battery-powered vehicles into the electricity grid at scale could cover 65% of demand for stationary battery storage and enable a higher renewable energy share in power grids globally, the report finds. Moreover, in 2030 recycling could provide 13% of global demand for cobalt, 5% of nickel and 9% of lithium. These shares are expected to grow as the volume of batteries reaching their end of life surge after 2030.

Furthermore, sustainable business operations must be enabled by boosting the share of renewable energy in the value chain. Finally, a more responsible value chain can be created through better business performance on established sustainability norms backed by traceability systems and effective local interventions to protect human rights, reduce and eliminate child or forced labour and boost local economic value creation. To this end, the Global Battery Alliance will publish and begin implementing in 2019 a roadmap of actions to reduce and eradicate child labour over the coming decade.

Course correction required

The potential for batteries to significantly reduce the world’s carbon footprint, create jobs, improve energy access and working conditions for those working in the industry will not be realized if the value chain develops along its current trajectory, the report finds.

While the battery value chain is expected to grow annually by 25% over the next decade, this level of growth will not be sufficient to help meet the Paris Agreement goals. Without focusing on waste and workers, such uncoordinated growth could even place more environmental and societal strain on our world.

To avoid such an outcome, the Global Battery Alliance today calls on all stakeholders to adhere to 10 recommendations aimed at building a circular, sustainable and responsible value chain. The GBA plans to engage all stakeholders to develop an implementation strategy to realize this opportunity.

Analytical support for this report was provided by McKinsey & Company, with additional work carried out on circular economy dimensions by SYSTEMIQ.

What the leaders say

“The vast potential of the global battery sector transcends boundaries across economies, industries and geographies. Harnessed appropriately, it may help meet the 2°C goal of Paris Agreement and create millions of safe jobs but also alleviate poverty and tackle ethical issues in the most vulnerable communities. This opportunity should be seized upon but, as this landmark report highlights, it is only through coordinated, collaborative action that we can achieve our collective global sustainability ambitions,” said Benedikt Sobotka, CEO of Eurasian Resources Group and co-chair of the Global Battery Alliance.

“Cost-efficient and sustainable batteries are one major driver to decarbonize road transportation as automakers will launch more than 300 battery electric vehicle models in the next five years. Around 70 bn USD additional value can be created by designing batteries for the full lifecycle and building businesses around vehicle-to-grid, second use, and recycling. The mobility transition requires new industry coalitions including the regulators – and it needs them now,” said Bernd Heid, Senior Partner, McKinsey & Company, Inc.

“Next to ensuring that the production of batteries protects local population and environments, jointly developing a circular battery value chain is key to maximize their potential for keeping humanity within planetary boundaries. By designing batteries to be used in multiple applications – for example integrating vehicle batteries in energy grids –, reused for further productivity at end of their first life, and efficiently recycled, we can make the most out of them,” said Martin Stuchtey, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, SYSTEMIQ.

“Battery technologies not only contribute to reaching the Paris Agreement,but they are central to achieving a circular economy,” said Guy Éthier, Senior Vice-President, Supply Chain Sustainability, Umicore and Co-Chair of the Global Battery Alliance Executive Board.

“The demand for raw materials to fuel the battery revolution often poses risks such as child and forced labour, unsafe working conditions and pollution. It is critical that all stakeholders come together to take collective action. Increased investments to improve living conditions, tackle the root causes of child labour and to strengthen systems in the communities can ensure that global efforts to reduce the world’s carbon footprint do not create unintended consequences for the world’s most vulnerable populations,” said Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, Deputy Executive Director at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).”

“The widespread implementation of battery storage represents a crucial opportunity to successfully meet the commitments under the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Battery storage can help to accelerate the penetration of renewable energy in the energy mix, optimize power systems and energy demand, improve the energy access rate and help decarbonize the transport sector, said Riccardo Puliti, Global Director for Energy and Extractives and Regional Director for Infrastructures in Africa at the World Bank Group; and Co-Chair of the Global Battery Alliance Executive Board.

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Clean energy demand for critical minerals set to soar as the world pursues net zero goals

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Supplies of critical minerals essential for key clean energy technologies like electric vehicles and wind turbines need to pick up sharply over the coming decades to meet the world’s climate goals, creating potential energy security hazards that governments must act now to address, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency. 

The special report, The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions, is the most comprehensive global study to date on the central importance of minerals such as copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt and rare earth elements in a secure and rapid transformation of the global energy sector. Building on the IEA’s longstanding leadership role in energy security, the report recommends six key areas of action for policy makers to ensure that critical minerals enable an accelerated transition to clean energy rather than becoming a bottleneck.

“Today, the data shows a looming mismatch between the world’s strengthened climate ambitions and the availability of critical minerals that are essential to realising those ambitions,” said Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the IEA. “The challenges are not insurmountable, but governments must give clear signals about how they plan to turn their climate pledges into action. By acting now and acting together, they can significantly reduce the risks of price volatility and supply disruptions.”

“Left unaddressed, these potential vulnerabilities could make global progress towards a clean energy future slower and more costly – and therefore hamper international efforts to tackle climate change,” Dr Birol said. “This is what energy security looks like in the 21st century, and the IEA is fully committed to helping governments ensure that these hazards don’t derail the global drive to accelerate energy transitions.”

The special report, part of the IEA’s flagship World Energy Outlook series, underscores that the mineral requirements of an energy system powered by clean energy technologies differ profoundly from one that runs on fossil fuels. A typical electric car requires six times the mineral inputs of a conventional car, and an onshore wind plant requires nine times more mineral resources than a similarly sized gas-fired power plant.

Demand outlooks and supply vulnerabilities vary widely by mineral, but the energy sector’s overall needs for critical minerals could increase by as much as six times by 2040, depending on how rapidly governments act to reduce emissions. Not only is this a massive increase in absolute terms, but as the costs of technologies fall, mineral inputs will account for an increasingly important part of the value of key components, making their overall costs more vulnerable to potential mineral price swings.

The commercial importance of these minerals also grow rapidly: today’s revenue from coal production is ten times larger than from energy transition minerals. However, in climate-driven scenarios, these positions are reversed well before 2040.

To produce the report, the IEA built on its detailed, technology-rich energy modelling tools to establish a unique database showing future mineral requirements under varying scenarios that span a range of levels of climate action and 11 different technology evolution pathways. In climate-driven scenarios, mineral demand for use in batteries for electric vehicles and grid storage is a major force, growing at least thirty times to 2040. The rise of low-carbon power generation to meet climate goals also means a tripling of mineral demand from this sector by 2040. Wind takes the lead, bolstered by material-intensive offshore wind. Solar PV follows closely, due to the sheer volume of capacity that is added. The expansion of electricity networks also requires a huge amount of copper and aluminium.

Unlike oil – a commodity produced around the world and traded in liquid markets – production and processing of many minerals such as lithium, cobalt and some rare earth elements are highly concentrated in a handful of countries, with the top three producers accounting for more than 75% of supplies. Complex and sometimes opaque supply chains also increase the risks that could arise from physical disruptions, trade restrictions or other developments in major producing countries. In addition, while there is no shortage of resources, the quality of available deposits is declining as the most immediately accessible resources are exploited. Producers also face the necessity of stricter environmental and social standards.

The IEA report provides six key recommendations for policy makers to foster stable supplies of critical minerals to support accelerated clean energy transitions. These include the need for governments to lay out their long-term commitments for emission reductions, which would provide the confidence needed for suppliers to invest in and expand mineral production. Governments should also promote technological advances, scale up recycling to relieve pressure on primary supplies, maintain high environmental and social standards, and strengthen international collaboration between producers and consumers.

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Global e-commerce jumps to $26.7 trillion, fuelled by COVID-19

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Parts of the online economy have boomed since COVID-19 began, while some pre-pandemic big-hitters have seen a reversal of their fortunes in the last year, amid widespread movement restrictions, UN economists have found.

According to UN trade and development experts UNCTAD, the e-commerce sector saw a “dramatic” rise in its share of all retail sales, from 16 per cent to 19 per cent in 2020.

The digital retail economy experienced most growth in the Republic of Korea, where internet sales increased from around one in five transactions in 2019, to more than one in four last year.

“These statistics show the growing importance of online activities”, said Shamika Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics. “They also point to the need for countries, especially developing ones, to have such information as they rebuild their economies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

The UK also saw a spike in online transactions over the same period, from 15.8 to 23.3 per cent; so too did China (from 20.7 to 24.9 per cent), the US (11 to 14 per cent), Australia (6.3 to 9.4 per cent), Singapore (5.9 to 11.7 per cent) and Canada (3.6 to 6.2 per cent).  

Online business-to-consumer (B2C) sales for the world’s top 13 companies stood at $2.9 trillion in 2020, UNCTAD said on Friday.

Bumpy ride

UNCTAD also said that among the top 13 e-commerce firms – most being from China and the US – those offering ride-hailing and travel services have suffered.

These include holiday site Expedia, which fell from fifth place in 2019 to 11th in 2020, a slide mirrored by travel aggregator, Booking Holdings, and Airbnb.

By comparison, e-firms offering a wider range of services and goods to online consumers fared better, with the top 13 companies seeing a more than 20 per cent increase in their sales – up from 17.9 per cent in 2019.

These winners include Shopify, whose gains rose more than 95 per cent last year – and Walmart (up 72.4 per cent). 

Cashing-up

Overall, global e-commerce sales jumped to $26.7 trillion in 2019, up four per cent from a year earlier, the UN number-crunchers noted, citing the latest available estimates.

In addition to consumer online purchases, this figure includes “business-to-business” (B2B) trade, which put together was worth 30 per cent of global gross domestic product two years ago.

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COVID-19 has reshaped last-mile logistics, with e-commerce deliveries rising 25% in 2020

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COVID-19 has shifted the way people buy goods, accelerating the rise in online shopping and e-commerce deliveries. According to a new report from the World Economic Forum, this has led to a 25% rise in consumer e-commerce deliveries in 2020.

The new report, Pandemic, Parcels and Public Vaccination: Envisioning the Next Normal for the Last-Mile Ecosystem, explores changes seen over the last year which will greatly influence last mile deliveries in the future. For example, it’s expected that 10%-20% of the recent increase in e-commerce deliveries will continue after the pandemic and the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.

“Covid-19 shutdowns have completely reshaped how we live and of course this includes how and what we’re buying,” said Christoph Wolff, Head of Mobility, World Economic Forum. “Leaders must consider and respond to the effects COVID-19 has had on e-commerce deliveries and what impact these changes will have on their cities and communities.”

Beyond rising demand, the past year has also seen a large shift to greener delivery options, with wider spread EV across the industry and more stringent carbon emission rules from cities expected to shape delivery networks in the near future.

Overall, the report finds six main structural changes to the delivery and logistics sector that are expected to last:

Six structural changes

The pandemic has caused an increase in last-mile deliveries that are likely to persist.
In 2020, business-to-consumer parcel deliveries have risen by about 25%. The report suggests that part of this increased demand will be durable, with at least 10%-20% of the growth remaining post-pandemic.

Consumers increasingly buy new types of products online and consider environmental and health impact when buying.
As consumers continue to buy a wider array of goods online, they are also becoming more ecologically aware. For example, 56% of millennials cite environmental protection as the reason for choosing alternatives to home delivery.

Decarbonization of last-mile deliveries has accelerated.
Companies and cities have ramped up commitments to make emission-free deliveries, while many pandemic-related economic stimulus packages, especially in the European Union and China, contain provisions to support green mobility and goods transport.

Faced with budget challenges and increased transport needs, cities steer last-mile transitions.
Many cities, like Seattle and Boston, have started to repurpose kerb space to designated delivery pick-up. Others, including Santa Monica and Amsterdam, are taking bold action on cleaner delivery with “zero-emission delivery zones” and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Proven technologies are fuelling the last-mile ecosystem revolution.
While disruptive new technologies, such as drones and delivery robots, will continue to emerge, the last-mile revolution is happening now as proven technologies scale up. The likes of parcel lockers and data sharing for load pooling are being adopted around the world as the costs of implementation decrease

New business models emerge to meet increased demand for sustainable delivery vehicles.
Certain logistics companies are now offering services to online retailers, which will help them identify the delivery routes most suited to make the immediate transition to electric delivery vehicles.

Last mile for vaccines

While ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines remains the most pressing issue in global vaccine distribution, effective last-mile delivery is another critical issue for countries. The key challenges are cold storage, second vaccine dose needs, and a disconnect between the vaccine and patient journey.

“Governments and logistics companies could think about teaming up with players who are experienced in managing very local, capillary demand and with integrating a large number of local retail outlets,” says Anja Huber, Engagement Manager, McKinsey & Company. “Examples include large online retailers, eGrocery giants and technology platform players”

Potential solutions countries can implement for efficient vaccine delivery include real-time logistics planning, data integration, centralized management of delivery strategies at the national level and many more.

There are also early examples of countries that have handled this challenge particularly well. While there are many factors in vaccine distribution success, broadly speaking, countries with tight integration of healthcare and logistics stakeholders seem to show the highest national vaccination rates two months into 2021.

These include Israel, the UK and Chile outperforming other countries with more decentralized healthcare systems, like the US and Germany, which had slower initial vaccine rollouts.

Clearly, much still needs to be done to ensure developed countries overcome operational issues with vaccine delivery. However, mobility solutions should not overshadow an even larger ethical challenge in the differences of vaccine access between the global north and global south, which is a priority for greater equity.

Future of the last mile

The impact of COVID-19 on the last-mile delivery has accelerated existing trends across the sector, leading to six structural changes expected to shape the future of last mile deliveries.

These will be part of a broader urban mobility transition, driven by public policy and company actions. As cities and logistics leaders continue the sustainable urban delivery transition, close public-private coordination will be critical. Zero Emissions Urban Fleets (ZEUF) network, for example, provides a relevant dedicated stakeholder platform for this work.

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