The Final 25%: How to tackle hard-to-reach emissions

Electricity, transport, and heating account for a massive 80% of greenhouse gas emissions and are at the forefront of the battle to achieve Net Zero. However, reaching Net Zero means also dealing with the hard-to-reach 20% of emissions: agriculture, plastics, cement, and waste, and extracting at least 5% extra from the atmosphere to account for the emissions that we simply can’t get rid of. Together, this is known as the ‘Final 25%’. And Net Zero cannot be achieved without tackling this hard-to-reach wedge.

Made up of a range of greenhouse gas emitters, which are harder to spot than pollution-belching- carbon-burning power stations, these emissions cannot be overcome by flipping a switch or buying a new car. But, combined, they account for one-in-four tonnes of greenhouse gases.

To investigate the problems and suggest policy pathways for new innovation, Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment is today publishing findings from the ‘Final 25%’ project. The project called on the expertise of leading industry, investor, academic, civil society, and policy minds to lay out roadmaps of investment that give us a fighting chance for meeting Net Zero with technology. These are contained in three keynote reports covering: the use of polymers; nature-based solutions for greenhouse gas removal; and alternative proteins.

One of the report authors and the Director of the Smith School, Professor Cameron Hepburn says, ‘The Final 25% emissions identified in our three reports must be tackled if we are to achieve net zero.

‘Reducing or eliminating them is going to mean some real changes, though, and significant investment is needed in R&D to make sure these can happen.

‘We can do this and the novel and imaginative solutions contained in these reports could get us there.’

The reports considers a host of imaginative and sometimes challenging ways to tackle the Final 25%, including:

Using semi-arid and saline land for plant growth either for product feedstocks or for greenhouse gas removal,
Using biomass and atmospheric CO2 to create sustainable polymers, and
Adopting alternative proteins, including plants, insects and algae, which would free-up land to be used for environmental services such as nature-based greenhouse gas removal.

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