The good news is, we already have the solutions in hand – we just need to deploy them hard and fast!
Let’s start with the most fundamental solution – decarbonizing our energy. What does this mean? Driving our growth through clean, renewable sources like wind and solar power, as well as other low-carbon sources like geothermal, tidal, biomass, hydro and nuclear power. If carbon capture and storage technology can be scaled up, this could even cut the carbon from using fossil fuel power.
In 2010, around 30% of our electricity came from low-carbon sources. To stay on track for a 20C limit, scientists project that this needs to grow to 80% by 2050.
Did you know that more than half of the oil we used in 2010 was poured straight into our ships, planes, cars and trucks? To decarbonize, we can substitute these with renewable biofuels and switch to sexy electric vehicles running on clean power!
Decarbonizing is tough, not least because we continue to consume energy at an accelerating rate! Moderating our energy demand, until we can rely on renewables to power us, would greatly help our low-carbon transition.
How might we do it? By getting smarter!
Less energy and less emissions, but with the same or better quality? Yes, please!
Think energy-efficient fridges, TVs, air-cons and washing machines. Smart thermostats for the home. Low-carbon cement made from waste ash. Skyscrapers with roof gardens, efficient lighting, cooling and heating, made with bricks baked in the sun instead of in blazing kilns.
Smarter ways of doing business!
How do we maximize use from the things we already have? Through the sharing economy, with smarter business models that benefit those willing to share their homes, cars, offices, and other things we own.
How do we minimize resources used to make new things we need? Through the circular economy, with smarter business operations that close the loop by designing for re-use and repair, and responsibility during disposal.
What about energy efficiency? Did you know that one-third of the global energy we use is lost as waste heat? Data centres, the backbone of our Internet, could use dynamic power management to cut their intensive energy needs. Iron, steel and cement plants churn out oodles of waste heat that could be recovered, saving power.
What about how we produce our food? Agriculture could move away from industrial farming practices such as monocultures and intensive chemical fertilizers, towards regenerative practices which restore healthy soils that store more carbon and hold more water. These practices also include generating energy from livestock waste, which reduces methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
What about smarter industrial processes? Here are some examples:
Did you know that factories that make nylon and synthetic fertilizers are based on chemical processes that release nitrous oxide, which is 265 times more potent than carbon dioxide? Technology to capture and destroy this gas before it’s vented is readily available today, and would only cost 10 to 40 eurocents to get rid of each tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent.
Did you also know that many of the refrigerants in our air-cons and fridges are fluorinated gases, which are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide? These f-gases might start leaking in our homes, or in landfills and scrap yards – but what if producers used low-carbon refrigerants instead, or safely recovered the gas at the point of disposal?
Going Green and Brown
What about the greenhouse gases that are already out there? This is where forests and peatlands, our natural stores of carbon, come in.
According to the FAO, between 1990 and 2015, we’ve lost around 129 million hectares of forest. How might we turn the tide? Through intensive afforestation to replace what’s gone, sustainable management of the forests we have left, and preventing further deforestation.
Many people are unaware that peatlands use only 3% of our land, but lock up 550 billion tonnes of carbon, more than all the trees in the world! Yet, these are often cleared by burning to make space for new developments – new buildings, new farms, new roads.
Preventing peatland clearing and burning, and restoring peat bogs that have already been drained, are ways we can preserve these large stores of carbon from escaping.
Geoengineering – this means controlling the climate to slow down warming, either through reflecting the Sun’s energy or removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Have you heard of the idea to burn our skies with sulphuric acid? This would create a global haze to block out the Sun, reducing warming at the cost of cutting solar energy potential, worsening our ozone layer, and changing rainfall patterns worldwide.
Ideas like this at the planetary scale are highly uncertain. Such fixes would also only serve to buy us time, as they don’t solve the root cause of climate change. Is it worth the gamble?
Another approach, carbon capture and storage or ‘CCS’, relies on capturing carbon dioxide and storing it deep underground, making sure none leaks out.
Theoretically, CCS could be retrofitted into our existing fossil power plants and high-emissions industries such as cement, iron and steel plants, to buy us more time for these sectors transition to low-carbon alternatives. But, CCS is still in its infancy with a few pilot projects, and still has far to go to reach the massive scale-up needed worldwide.
Citizens and Consumers!
The role that each of us plays might be the most important, yet toughest, solution we have. Recent research by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology estimates that more than 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to household consumption choices.
Where do most household emissions come from? How we travel, the energy we use at home, and what we eat.
What does this tell us? That how we choose to live determines, in part, the kind of world built around meeting our growing demands – for the latest big-screen TV, new gas-guzzling car, meat with every meal.
Making changes to how and what we consume is admirable, but only one side of who we are! We often forget that all of us are also citizens with power.
As citizens, what can we do? Acting on climate change calls for a deep transformation in how we live and work, to encourage the rapid deployment of the solutions we have.
Vote for the party that acts on climate change. Organize our communities to speak with one voice for climate action. Build awareness in our schools, neighbourhoods and workplaces.
Join the race!
There’s hope to change the future, especially with all the solutions we have on the table in front of us! The next fourteen years till 2030 are crucial, when we still have a choice.
We just have to start running in the right direction!
What future will you imagine? As a citizen, consumer, parent, student, employer or entrepreneur – how will you choose to get there?