Race to Zero Dialogues: we are moving towards the common goal of a climate-neutral world by 2050

#environmental sustainability #climate change #economy

One of the main milestones on the climate agenda in the last quarter of 2020 was the holding of the Race to Zero Dialogues from 9 to 19 November. With more than 2 million views, the event has been arranged as a series of thematic conferences, organised by the United Nations Climate Champions, in which experts, representatives of institutions, NGOs, academic organisations and companies have participated to contribute their vision to reach zero net emissions by mid-century in all sectors of the economy (energy, industry, transport, finance, etc.).

Apart from the Climate Champions —Nigel Toping and Gonzalo Muñoz—, the Race to Zero Dialogues have been promoted by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, and the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Patricia Espinosa. Companies have also been well represented on this dialogue platform, including Iberdrola group, which has played a leading role in the area of energy and finance and in the processes linked to the technical reports presented.

An important part of the company's leadership and visibility in this series of conferences is due to the fact that Iberdrola, an international benchmark in the fight against climate change, was one of the first companies to join the Race to Zero, coalition in the spring of 2020. This global campaign forms part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and is led by the Climate Champions and the Presidency of the COP. The initiative, which seeks to bring together a growing number of agents, has already managed to bring together 1,100 companies, 45 investors, 452 cities, 549 universities and other actors in the economy around the goal of zero net emissions.


The main messages that the participants in the event wanted to convey were:

 The need to align climate action with measures to advance the recovery, as well as using inclusive multilateralism as a basis for reaching agreements and forging partnerships around the common goal of achieving a climate-neutral world by 2050.

 The transformation towards the zero emission target will not be linear, but exponential. These processes must be used to accelerate the transition in all sectors.

 The relationship between climate change, air quality and health must be taken into account when drawing up policy frameworks, in the view of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Seven million premature deaths are caused as a result of air pollution occur each year.

 The recent announcements by China, South Korea and Japan, as well as the change in the presidency of the United States, offer positive signs for the transition towards a decarbonised model in all areas: energy, transport, cities, etc. The green recovery must be essential part of all action plans.

 Stimulus packages and climate action funds need to pay particular attention to cities. A city-based approach is essential to ensure a just and resilient transition.

 Ambition loops need to be established so that companies can serve as examples for developing government policies in line with the decarbonisation paths marked by the Paris Agreement.

 The United Nations Production Gap Report shows that the world is on the way to producing 120 % more fossil fuels than are needed to keep in line with temperature increase trajectories limited to 1.5 ºC.

 There is a need to set robust and transparent net zero emission targets in order to avoid them leading to a real increase in emissions and resulting in mere greenwashing. In this respect, it is also essential to set climate-neutral targets for 2030.


Within the framework of the Race to Zero Dialogues, the United Nations Climate Champions have presented the climate action paths to achieve the goal of zero net emissions by 2050 in all sectors at a global level. In all there are eight sectoral roadmaps (energy, industry, transport, human settlements, oceans, water, nature and land-use solutions, and resilience) among which the standouts include:


Electrification has been defined as the main line of action, together with green hydrogen as a complementary line. The roadmap for the energy sector [PDF] includes among its main milestones the achievement of 60 % electrification of final energy demand by 2050 (80 % from renewable sources). The electricity sector should be fully decarbonised by 2040.

Green hydrogen plays an important role in those sectors where electrification is most difficult to advance: heavy transport and industry with high temperature requirements. It is proposed to accelerate the implementation of this technology with a development of 25 gigawatts (GW) over the next five years and 200 GW by 2030.


85 % of the reduction in emissions in the transport sector can be achieved through electrical mobility and improvements in energy efficiency. The remaining 15 % would be mitigated by behavioural changes, such as increasing teleworking or increasing the use of public transport.

One of the most important milestones of the transport roadmap [PDF] is to achieve 100 % of vehicle sales in all the main country markets (China, Europe, Japan and the United States) to zero-emission vehicles by 2035 and to reach this target globally by 2040.


The industry roadmap [PDF] presents ambitious targets in the area of the circular economy — especially by increasing recycling rates — in sectors such as steel, aluminium and plastics.


These roadmaps have been drawn up by the Climate Champions team with data and information from international organisations and think tanks of recognised prestige (IEA, IRENA, BNEF, ETC, Rocky Mountain Institute etc.), as well as through consultations with business coalitions, NGOs, universities and companies, including Iberdrola. Particularly important have been the contacts with the Energy Transition Commission and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, two organisations in which Iberdrola is heavily involved.


Iberdrola has played an important role in the main areas of activity of these conferences, both at high-level events and in the development of campaigns and technical meetings. Some of the events in which company executives have participated as speakers are:

 'Recovering Better: How Sustainable Energy Can Light the Way'

On 16 November, coinciding with Energy Day, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) organised the panel Recovering Better: How Sustainable Energy Can Light the Way which offered an optimistic view of the opportunities to address recovery from the COVID-19 crisis in parallel with climate action. The conference was attended by Iberdrola's director of Energy Policy and Climate Change, Carlos Sallé, together with the Climate Champions, Nigel Toping and Gonzalo Muñoz, and the WHO's Director of Environment, Climate Change and Health, María Neira, among other speakers, who recognised the company's work as a clear example of its commitment to a strategy aligned with climate objectives and the creation of value.

 'Implementing a Net Zero Energy Sector Strategy'

Also on 16 November, CA100+ organised the panel Implementing a Net Zero Energy Sector Strategy, which had significant representation from the investment community. At the meeting, the director of Corporate Social Responsibility and Reputation of Iberdrola, Roberto Fernández Albendea, presented the case of the energy company as a business strategy in line with the goal of zero net emissions. The manager stressed that decarbonisation is more of an opportunity than a risk for Iberdrola and explained that the company has adopted all the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) — transparency, management involvement, etc. — and integrated climate action into its internal processes as a central element.

 'Accelerating the transition to competitive sustainability'

On 17 November, the Corporate Leaders Group Europe and the University of Cambridge organised the panel Accelerating the transition to competitive sustainability in which Iberdrola's director of Climate Change, Gonzalo Sáenz de Miera, took part together with representatives from companies, universities and governments — specifically the Swedish Secretary of State for Industry and the Finnish Secretary of State for the Economy. In his speech, Sáenz de Miera used the company's experience as an example of a strategy that unites industrial competitiveness and climate action, underlining that the group has traditionally used its capacity to innovate and implement new technologies as an instrument to reinforce its competitive advantage.

 'Sharing experiences on the race to net-zero'

On 18 November, WWF Scotland held the webinar Sharing experiences on the race to net-zero in which the director of Climate Change and Sustainability of ScottishPower (Iberdrola's subsidiary in the United Kingdom), Sam Gardner, analysed the relationship between the review of the Paris Agreement targets, (NDCs) and the defining of climate change targets by companies in the context of the need to move towards zero net emissions by mid-century.


 World Climate Forum Europe

As part of London Climate Week (14-20 November), which has mainly focused on the revision of the climate commitments of the Paris Agreement and the next COP26, the World Climate Forum (WCF) Europe, took place on 17 and 18 November, with energy debates as its main focus. Iberdrola collaborated with the organisation of this forum throughout 2020, contributing ideas for the design of the event's programme. It also sponsored the World Climate Investment Summit, in October, also organised by the WCF.

In the field of energy, some of the conclusions from WCF Europe were:

  • It is necessary to set ambitious targets. A clear example is the European Commission's proposal to reduce emissions to 55 % by 2030. Furthermore, once the objective is set (in the long and medium term), it is necessary to develop regulations accordingly.
  • Energy efficiency and direct electrification are crucial to meeting the targets. Photovoltaic solar energy will be essential because of its low cost.
  • There is a need to develop clean technologies on a larger scale, principally renewables, which is a major challenge. The issue of energy storage is essential in moving towards a model based on renewables.
  • Transport must be based around the electric vehicle, which requires an adequate charging infrastructure.
  • Over the next 10 years, 50 million homes will have to be retrofitted to accommodate new thermal uses, in which the heat pump will play a crucial role. Companies, regulators and other stakeholders will have to work together.
  • Large investments in sustainable infrastructure, are planned, as well as optimising existing infrastructure to use it more efficiently.
  • In the case of the most difficult sectors to decarbonise, such as industry, aviation and maritime transport, where direct electrification is more complicated, hydrogen will be essential. This fuel must be fundamentally green in the future. In this regard, Iberdrola has started up the largest green hydrogen plant for industrial use in Europe,, is planning 800 MW of this technology for 2027 and is working to lead a value chain for the development of green hydrogen.
  • Innovation is needed. Some technologies are not mature enough and need funding.
  • The coupling sector (integration of gas and electricity systems) can optimise the way energy is produced by lowering its cost, as well as empowering the consumer. The availability of flexibility is one of the main pillars for this segment.

 Report 'Accelerating the transition to zero emissions in the power sector'

The Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC) has presented the report Accelerating the transition to zero emissions in the power sector a document that evaluates the role of utilities in complying with the Paris Agreement and analyses the volume of investments needed to achieve the objectives set within it. The investor coalition has also sent a letter to 30 major companies in the transport, energy and industry sectors urging them to incorporate climate risks into their financial reporting.

 Global Mayors COVID-19 Recovery Taskforce

The C40 cities has launched the Global Mayors COVID-19 Recovery Taskforce to support a green and just approach to recovery measures, based on the principles of the global green new deal, which will help to create 50 million jobs and prevent a quarter of premature deaths through air quality improvements.

 Oxford University Experts Network

The University of Oxford has announced the creation of a multi-disciplinary group of academic experts to analyse and make proposals on measures to advance towards the goal of climate neutrality.