Reaching Zero Emissions

About this theme:

A pathway towards zero emissions aligned with the goal of the Paris Agreement is more than decarbonisation of energy.  Reaching zero emissions is the ability to go beyond low-carbon and actively remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Decarbonisation using Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) and other ‘negative emission’ technologies.

Reaching zero emissions builds on our previous interdisciplinary work of assessing the need for rapid decarbonisation within the energy and transport sector and on bioenergy production through the former Manchester-led Supergen Bioenergy Hub, all intertwined with land use and food security.  We explore near- and long-term energy and emissions futures for industry, transport and negative emission technologies. 

We take into account the roles of technology and industry, economic and non-economic policies, incentives, behaviours and societal changes. We assess how mitigation actions towards zero emissions interact with food security, energy security, energy access and development, material use and prosperity objectives.

Our approach in this theme builds on our established suite of diverse methods that span engineering, physical and social sciences. We involve stakeholders from policy, industry and civil society. We use scenario development tools to explore and understand complexities and broader issues.

We evaluate the financial, environmental and social implications of zero emission futures using quantitative and qualitative methods. Our outputs include the identification of barriers and opportunities for these sectors, novel business models and recommendations for policymakers to enable rapid emission reductions.

Our key questions focus on the four sub-themes: circular economy, industry, transport and negative emission technologies, in addition to cross-cutting questions related to the Sustainable Development Goals. Collectively, our research, insights, practice, advocacy and arguments across these sub-themes will contribute to reaching zero emissions within global society. Reaching zero emissions aims to reach a range of stakeholders, including international and national policy-makers, the private sector, academia, publics and civil society, in both industrialising and industrialised nations.


Past highlights include:

Our Aviation and Shipping Research
Our Radical Carbon Reduction Conference
And informing discussion Six key policy challenges to achieving ‘negative emissions’ with BECCS

Current projects

One Bin to Rule Them All (GOTW - Grants on the Web (nerc.ac.uk))

RiseUp: Resilience of the UK seafood system to COVID-19 disruption (RiseUp — Scottish Association for Marine Science, Oban UK (sams.ac.uk))

Feasibility of Afforestation and Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage for Greenhouse Gas Removal FAB-GGR

UK Carbon Capture and Storage Research Centre UKCCS

The Energy Revolution Consortium (EnergyREV https://www.energyrev.org.uk/)

Some key publications

Heidrich, O., et al. (2021). Will climate mitigation ambitions lead to carbon neutrality? An analysis of the local-level plans of 327 cities in the EU. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews.

Heidrich, O., et al. (2021). Climate mitigation in the Mediterranean Europe: An assessment of regional and city-level plans. Journal of Environmental Management.

Braunholtz-Speight, T., McLachlan, C., Mander, S., Hannon, M., Hardy, J., Cairns, I., Sharmina, M., Manderson, E. (2021). The long term future for community energy in Great Britain: A co-created vision of a thriving sector and steps towards realising it. Energy Research and Social Science.

Fletcher, C.A., St Clair, R., Sharmina, M. (2021). Seafood businesses’ resilience can benefit from circular economy principles. Nature Food.

González, F., Webb, J., Sharmina, M., Hannon, M., Pappas, D., Tingey, M. (2021) Characterising a local energy business sector in the United Kingdom: Participants, revenue sources, and estimates of localism and smartness. Energy.

Sharmina, M., Edelenbosch, O. Y., Wilson, C., Freeman, R., Gernaat, D. E. H. J., Gilbert, P., Larkin, A., Littleton, E. W., Traut, M., Van Vuuren, D. P., Vaughan, N., Wood, F. R., Le Quéré. (2021). Decarbonising the critical sectors of aviation, shipping, road freight and industry to limit warming to 1.5–2°C. Climate Policy.

Waller, L., Rayner, T., Chilvers, J., Gough, C., Lorenzoni, I., Jordan, A., Vaughan, N. (2020). Contested framings of greenhouse gas removal and it’s feasibility: Social and political dimensions. Wiley Online Library.

Heidrich, O., et al. (2020). Circular economy strategies for electric vehicle batteries reduce reliance on raw materials. Nature Sustainability.

Heidrich, O., et al. (2020). Advances and challenges in assessing urban sustainability: an advanced bibliometric review. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews.

Forster, J., Vaughan, N., Gough, C., Lorenzoni, I., Chilvers, J. Mapping feasibilities of greenhouse gas removal: Key issues, gaps and opening up assessments. Global Environmental Change, Vol 63.

Braunholtz-Speight, T., Sharmina, M., Manderson, E., McLachlan, C., Hannon, M., Hardy, J., & Mander, S. (2020). Business Models and Financial Characteristics of Community Energy in the UK. Nature Energy, 5, 169-177. 

Gallego Schmid, A., Chen, H-M., Sharmina, M., & Fernandez Mendoza, J. M. (2020). Links between circular economy and climate change mitigation in the built environment. Journal of Cleaner Production, 260, 121115. 

Sharmina, M., Abi Ghanem, D., Browne, A., Hall, S., Mylan, J., Petrova, S., & Wood, F. (2019). Envisioning surprises: How social sciences could help models represent ‘deep uncertainty’ in future energy and water demand. Energy Research & Social Science, 50, 18-28. 

Forster, J., Vaughan, N., Gough, C., Lorenzoni, I. & Chilvers, J. Mapping feasibilities of Greenhouse Gas Removal: Key issues, gaps and opening up assessments. Global Environmental Change, 25 Mar 2020 in press.

Vaughan, N.E., Gough, C., Mander, S., Littleton, E.W., Welfle, A., Gernaat, D.E.H.J. & van Vuuren, D.P. (2018) Evaluating the use of biomass energy with carbon capture and storage in low emission scenariosEnvironmental Research Letters 13:044014 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/aaaa02

Gough, C., Garcia-Freites, S., Jones, C., Mander, S., Moore, B., Pereira, C., Röder, M., Vaughan, N.E. & Welfle, A. (2018) Challenges to the use of BECCS as a keystone technology in pursuit of 1.5°CGlobal Sustainability 1:e5 doi:10.1017/sus.2018.3

Ideas & insights