Sunday, April 14, 2024

Decarbonizing hard to abate industries and stranded assets


Decarbonizing hard-to-abate sectors, such as heavy industry, aviation, shipping, and certain manufacturing processes, presents one of the most formidable challenges in combating climate change. While these sectors are vital for modern society, their significant contributions to greenhouse gas emissions underscore the urgency of transitioning to low-carbon alternatives to meet global emissions reduction targets. 

However, the journey toward decarbonization is filled with complexities. Inflated costs associated with transitioning to low-carbon technologies, coupled with the current lack of suitable alternatives to carbon-intensive processes, pose significant hurdles. Moreover, the looming threat of stranded assets further complicates the transition. 

Stranded assets, referring to investments that may become obsolete or economically unviable due to decarbonization efforts, are a pressing concern for industries and stakeholders. The transition away from fossil fuels toward cleaner technologies jeopardizes the viability of existing infrastructure and investments. Regulatory changes, advancements in clean technologies, and shifting market dynamics contribute to the likelihood of assets becoming stranded. This dual challenge of mitigating climate change while safeguarding investments underscores the urgency for proactive measures. 

Mitigating the risks associated with stranded assets demands a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach. Investment in research and development (R&D) is paramount to accelerate the development and deployment of low-carbon technologies and alternative processes. Additionally, designers should consider revisiting fundamental principles and simplifying equipment designs to potentially shorten their lifespan, all while maintaining safety standards. This approach would enhance adaptability and flexibility. Considerations can also be made around allowing for the incorporation of dual functionality, similar to hybrid cars. Such a transitional strategy would facilitate a gradual shift towards sustainability while minimizing losses and ensuring smoother transitions for industries and stakeholders. 

Policy support and regulatory certainty are essential for providing incentives for decarbonization and establishing a level playing field for businesses. Collaboration among industry stakeholders, including governments, businesses, investors, and civil society organizations, is equally crucial to facilitate knowledge sharing and expedite decarbonization efforts. Moreover, implementing a global phasing plan for transitioning can serve to cushion both the economy and companies from potential shock, reduce uncertainty, and enable a smoother adjustment period. This coordinated approach ensures that all stakeholders are aligned in their efforts to address climate change effectively. 

Read also: How best to achieve a desirable transition to a low-carbon economy: the case of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Ultimately, agility and adaptability are paramount for businesses, serving as their greatest assets. Employing strategies such as portfolio diversification, continuous risk assessment, and scenario planning are essential for maintaining a competitive edge and avoiding unexpected disruptions when the imminent transition arrives. Businesses can position themselves to navigate the shifting landscape with confidence and resilience only by proactively assessing risks and anticipating potential challenges. These proactive measures not only mitigate vulnerabilities but also unlock opportunities for growth and innovation in an ever-changing environment. 

Decarbonizing hard-to-abate sectors is undoubtedly a complex and challenging task, yet it remains imperative for achieving global climate goals. While the risk of stranded assets looms large, companies must remain vigilant and adaptable, ready to pivot as needed until uncertainty subsides. This flexibility and willingness to adjust strategies in response to changing conditions will be essential for navigating the transition effectively. 


Dr. Edward Mungai
Dr. Edward Mungai
The writer, Dr. Edward Mungai, is a global sustainability expert. He is the Lead Consultant and Partner at Impact Africa Consulting Ltd (IACL), a leading sustainability and strategy advisory in Africa. He is also the Chief Editor at Africa Sustainability Matters. He can be contacted via

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