State of the Transition 2023 Report: Examining where decarbonisation challenges lie


Technology will play a critical role in achieving net-zero emissions globally. Climate-focused investment fund Breakthrough Energy Ventures, founded by Bill Gates, recently published a “State of the Transition 2023” report detailing advancement in decarbonisation across five major sectors described as “the grand challenges”. 

The report outlines several examples of startups BEV has invested in that fill critical gaps in climate tech, and have the potential to reduce greenhouse gases at scale by at least half a gigaton annually. While the report focuses on decarbonisation technologies, BEV makes the case that carbon storage and capture are essential to the net-zero solution—which could complement nature-based approaches in a hybrid model and which could be potentially interesting areas for philanthropic capital to come in.  

Here are some of the key takeaways from the report

Challenge 1:  Electricity
How can we deliver reliable, affordable, zero-carbon electricity to the world? 

  • Achieving net-zero by 2050 requires replacing carbon-emitting sources with clean energy three times faster than current rates. 
  • Overcoming reliability issues in renewables involves improving storage (long-duration energy storage) and transmission lines in power grids. 
  • Nuclear fission and fusion show promise with recent breakthroughs in fusion energy, but there remains uncertainties and time delays. 

Challenge 2:  Manufacturing
How can we make everything we need without emitting greenhouse gases? 

  • Cement and Steel, responsible for 10% of GHG emissions, pose challenges to decarbonisation. 
  • Solutions include innovative manufacturing processes and developing high-performance substitutes—such as green hydrogen-based approaches. 
  • Catalysing the sector’s transition will need changes in public policy and regulation, public procurement, and education 

Challenge 3:  Agriculture
How can we feed the planet without contributing to climate change? 

  • Agriculture contributes 20% to GHG emissions annually; key challenges include livestock emissions, beef demand, sustainable crop production, and water resilience
  • Research and solutions to address livestock and fertiliser emissions are crucially underfunded. 

Challenge 4:  Transportation
How can we move around communities and the world without emitting carbon? 

  • Electric vehicles could constitute 75% of global passenger vehicle sales by 2040. 
  • Current challenges for EV batteries include geopolitical risks, innovation, and safety concerns
  • Long-distance and heavy-duty transportation such as ships, planes, and trucks pose significant hurdles; public-private collaboration for battery and e-fuel adoption is vital. 
  • Algal biofuels and electrofuels can enable full decarbonisation of transportation. 

Challenge 5: Buildings
How can we eliminate emissions from our homes, offices, hospitals, and schools? 

  • Buildings account for 40% of global CO2 emissions; energy efficiency and electrification need to be improved. 
  • Cooling demand is rising (5 billion air-conditioning units are expected to operate by 2050); technologies are currently available to mitigate or lower emissions. 
  • Behavioural changes and policy support are crucial for widespread adoption of sustainable building practices.