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By Fiona Brown 31 October 2021 6 min read

You've probably been hearing quite a bit about the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties[Link will open in a new window] (or COP26 for short) lately. There has also been a lot of talk about net zero and emissions reductions targets.

You might be wondering why you’re hearing about them again from your national science agency. Well, it’s because we’ve got the scoop on the science and technology that we’re taking to the conference[Link will open in a new window]. And we thought you might want you to know about it too.

Copping a lot of COP lately?

COP26 started overnight in Glasgow, United Kingdom (UK), and will run for the next two weeks. During this time some pretty complex negotiations between officials from nearly every country in the world will take place.

A few years ago now, at COP21 in Paris, negotiations resulted in a legally binding international treaty on climate change. Almost all the world's nations agreed to work together to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. And so, The Paris Agreement was born.

The COP26 organisers have been very vocal about their goal for this year’s negotiations. They want to secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach. Time will tell what they're able to achieve.

More than targets and treaties

Alongside the negotiations, COP26 provides an opportunity for countries to showcase the actions they’re taking to tackle climate change.

For the first time, Australia is hosting a pavilion at the conference, which will include a variety of displays and events. You can find out more about the pavilion, join events online (including two we’re leading), and read about the full array of Australia’s climate action at[Link will open in a new window].

Take a virtual step inside the Glasgow Science Centre as we bring the science of COP26 to you.

We’re bringing COP26 to you

In today's context, it's probably pretty unlikely that many of us Aussies will be heading over to Glasgow. So instead, we thought we’d bring a bit (the science-y bit) of COP26[Link will open in a new window] to you.

First up, you can watch our online events, which are part of Australia’s COP26 program. Tune in to both events live on Tuesday 9 November. And if you can't make it, they’ll be available as recordings until the end of November.

Secondly, here are three ways our science and technology innovations are helping pave the way to net zero. For more on what it actually means to reach net zero and the challenges in getting there, check out our net zero emissions explainer.

How we're helping reach net zero

1. Tracking emissions and projecting our future climate

To curb human-induced climate change, governments, industries and the community need comprehensive information about the climate system. That's where we come in.

Without certain knowledge, it can be hard to develop effective plans to reach net zero. Like knowing where emissions are coming from, where they are going, and whether they are increasing or decreasing.

Enter the Global Carbon Project, to which we proudly contribute (in fact, the Project's Executive Director is our very own Pep Canadell). The Project develops annual global budgets that provide a complete picture of the cycles (including natural and human drivers) of the main greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). These are the three greenhouse gases that contribute most to human-induced global warming.

We’re also working with colleagues from Australia and around the globe to deliver enhanced climate models, such as ACCESS. Climate models like ACCESS underpin the future climate projections that help society understand and plan for the impacts of climate change. This includes the assessments produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

2. Developing low emissions technologies

No single technology will take us to net zero – there's no silver bullet. Instead, it will takea combination of existing and emerging technologies. And to implement them across a range of sectors. We're working with partners to develop low emissions technologies and explore their potential for uptake.


One example of this is hydrogen. We made a major contribution to the development of the National Hydrogen Roadmap[Link will open in a new window], which represented a major turning point in the development of Australia’s hydrogen industry. Now, we are supporting Australia's National Hydrogen Strategy through the Hydrogen Industry Mission. The Mission is helping build Australia’s clean hydrogen industry. Through our research, we're aiming to drive down the cost of hydrogen to under $2 per kilogram. All in the hopes of delivering a secure and resilient energy system and supporting our transition to a low emissions future.


Another example is our direct air capture (DAC) technologies. DAC is a process where CO­­­2 is captured from air using filters or adsorbents, reducing the amount of CO­­­2 in the atmosphere. The captured CO2 can be used in a range of different applications. All the way from making cement to carbonating beverages and helping farmers produce better yielding crops in greenhouses. We’ve developed some DAC materials that are cheap, robust, and easy to make. They are low in toxicity and highly efficient at capturing CO2. And, because they're hydrophobic, they work just as well in humidity.


The final – and somewhat surprising example – is livestock feed. Cattle feed may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of low emissions technologies. But, working with Meat & Livestock Australia[Link will open in a new window] and James Cook University[Link will open in a new window], that's exactly what we've developed. About 15 per cent of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock production. To combat this, scientists developed a cost-effective feed ingredient called FutureFeed. The technology is actually based on seaweed that grows in waters around Australia. FutureFeed has been shown to reduce methane emissions by more than 80 per cent when just a handful is added to cattle’s feed.

Our natural livestock feed supplement is good for the animals, good for climate change and great for business.

3. Applying our science to reach net zero

We have also set net zero emissions targets for our own operations that will help Australia navigate the path to net zero emissions. As part of our Sustainability Strategy, our plan is to bring together the best of our science expertise and technology to demonstrate net zero emissions by 2025 at our Newcastle Energy Centre, and by 2030 across all of our sites.

Our aim as an organisation is to go beyond net zero by 2050. We hope to do this by taking into account the emissions through our supply and value chains. We are looking at how we can accelerate the transition to net zero through the application of cutting-edge technologies. Including those in hydrogen, next-generation batteries, predictive analytics and energy efficiency as well as through our resource use, property footprint, electrification of plant, equipment and vehicles and purchasing of renewable energy.

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