PepsiCo Inc., Apple Inc. and Rio Tinto PLC can be counted among the newest members of a corporate alliance committing $12 billion to purchasing near-zero-carbon steel, aluminum, cement and other products with the intention of helping to “green” the global supply chain within years.
The membership update to the year-old First Movers Coalition was announced Tuesday, part of ongoing climate talks in Egypt for the United Nations’ COP27. The pledge targets historically high-intensity carbon emitters in steel, aluminum and other manufacturing inputs. Additional vows for more climate-friendly cement and concrete were part of Tuesday’s announcement.
In all, 65 companies have now joined First Movers, which has said it aims to decarbonize the heavy industry and long-distance transportation sectors that are responsible for 30% of the global emissions driving global warming.
Carbon emissions are part of a handful of greenhouse gases (GHG) trapped in the atmosphere when spewed from factories, buildings, vehicles and other human activity. These emissions lead to the global warming that has alarmed scientists for decades and is increasingly linked to rising, acidic oceans and more deadly bouts of extreme heat and severe storms.
Diversity of businesses among First Movers participants is significant. Other standouts joining Pepsi
and Brazilian mining giant Rio Tinto
included auto maker General Motors Co.
and Swedish power provider Vattenfall AB, which vowed to buy low-carbon cement and concrete for at least a portion of their business by 2030.
Other participants include FedEx Corp.
Ford Motor Co.
and Amazon.com Inc.
Country participation also folds in several of the globe’s largest economies. Denmark, India, Italy, Japan, Norway, Singapore, Sweden and the United Kingdom have joined the U.S. in First Movers as government partners. They’re focused on making purchases and partnering with the private sector to seed markets for clean technologies, according to the group’s site.
The coalition asks for verifiable corporate pledges that should result in action by 2030, although the pledges are not binding and a change in market conditions could upend the commitments.
Read: U.N. experts urge stringent rules to stop ‘green wash’ on net-zero emissions pledges
In just steel alone, the use of fossil fuels
for enough heat to create the alloy means that the average CO2 emissions from steel production is about 1.85 metric tons of CO2 per each metric ton of steel produced. About 9% of all fossil-fuel based C02 emitted by the globe is derived from the steel industry.
Experimental startups, including one named Heliogen, have made progress in tapping solar, for instance, and harnessing its energy at temperatures hot enough to make steel and other materials, but more work is need. Nonetheless, the exercise attracted big investors, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
For sure, scaling up carbon-neutral concrete, steel, aluminum and other raw materials to broad commercial viability remains a challenge. That’s why earning the First Movers allegiance of large, publicly traded, companies is seen helping the effort reach that scalability, its biggest obstacle, proponents say.
Industry itself says it is trying through its own partnerships. Already, Alcoa Corp.
the biggest U.S. aluminum producer, and Rio Tinto are part of a joint venture with Apple to mass-produce aluminum without creating direct carbon-dioxide emissions.
Cement and concrete present their own challenges as they are the second-most consumed product globally after potable water, John Kerry, President Joe Biden’s climate envoy and the face of U.S. participation in Egypt, said at COP27. The two building materials must meet specified levels for embodied carbon to qualify as near-zero-carbon products under the program, the First Movers release said.
Kerry, who participated in the presentation on the same day that U.S. voters decide the makeup of the next U.S. Congress, said the initiative is built to survive political shifts.
“No politician, no election can change the full direction of this, because it is increasingly in the hands of the private sector,” Kerry said.
More from COP27:
View climate change like nuclear nonproliferation? A treaty against fossil fuels is floated at U.N.’s COP27
Protecting forests is even more powerful in the climate fight than we thought
Al Gore at COP27 climate summit: ‘Choose life over death’ by ending oil and gas reliance