How carbon emissions can be sucked from the atmosphere
Even as politicians argued over emissions cuts, scientists realized the window for labor cuts was closing. Soon we would need both emission reductions and a reduction in the carbon dioxide already released.
In 2005, Möllersten had refined his idea by collaborating with Austrian scientist Michael Obersteiner on an article published in the journal Science. Other scientists who had explored the concept have also published work on negative emissions technologies.
Unable to come up with predictions that reliably show a world avoiding dangerous climate change, the IPCC began to include bioenergy with carbon capture and storage – or BECCS for short – in its climate action models.
Soon BECCS became what the British online newspaper Carbon Brief described as a “savior technology,” championed in climate models even though it had not yet been proven.
Now, all IPCC models that see the world succeed in keeping warming below 1.5 degrees incorporate the use of BECCS, although this has not yet been proven on a large scale. The IPCC’s endorsement of carbon capture in this context has been used as evidence by governments such as Australia that carbon capture and storage has value as a tool against global warming.
Faith in a technological solution to climate change rather than massive, costly and immediate emission reductions is at the heart of not only the Australian government’s climate response, but also much more ambitious goals of the United States government.
“You don’t have to give up quality of life to achieve some of the things we want to accomplish,” US President Joe Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry told the BBC in May.
“Scientists tell me that 50% of the reductions we need to make (to reach near zero emissions) by 2050 or 2045 will come from technologies that we don’t yet have.
This optimism leaves Möllersten perplexed, who has never seen BECCS as more than a last-ditch emergency tool.
Australian environmentalist Tim Flannery says it’s like we took off on a plane before the landing gear was designed, let alone built, and expected the job to be done before we did not run out of fuel.
The big bulletin
The findings of the IPCC’s Working Group on the Physical Science of Climate Change, which will be released on Monday, are the first of three reports in what is known as the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Round. The last cycle dates from 2014.
The importance of these ratings is impossible to overstate. An early assessment helped lead the world to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. More recently, another has been at the center of the Paris Agreement negotiations.
The report of the first task force will be the product of billions of dollars of scientific investment and millions of hours of research by thousands of scientists around the world.
Its 234 authors have read and synthesized 14,000 scientific articles published since 2014, and responded to 75,000 journal comments on their work.
At the time of writing, representatives of the 195 IPCC member countries were perusing the report’s 40-page summary line by line, negotiating a form of words that everyone could agree on, but which also reflected the truth of the matter. science.
The IPCC itself noted that this grueling process took place as extreme weather conditions wreaked havoc in the northern hemisphere. Record-breaking heat waves fueled fires in the United States and Canada as well as southern Europe. Sudden downpours killed 196 people in Germany and Belgium.
“The German language can hardly describe the devastation,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
World Meteorological Organization secretary-general Petteri Taalas told a UN meeting that climate change was already visible. “We don’t have to tell people he exists. We are seeing more extreme events, ”he said. “Heat waves, drought and floods in Europe and China. “
UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa said decisions taken this year will decide whether or not it will be possible to limit global warming to 1.5 ° C above the pre-industrial era of here the end of the century.
“The world is currently on the reverse path, heading for a 3 ° C rise,” she said. “We urgently need to change course. “
Indeed, many observers expect the report to say that warming beyond 1.5 degrees is already blocked due to the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
“By the end of last year, Australia had already warmed by 1.44 degrees since 1910, when the records started,” said Lesley Hughes of the Climate Council, a former lead author of the IPCC.
“Temperatures in Australia have been at the upper limit of the model’s predictions,” she said, predicting that on our current track, deadly 50-degree days could be relatively common in Sydney and Melbourne by 2050.
“There is a lot of discussion at the moment, and there will be some after the publication of this report, as to whether we are going to exceed the target of 1.5 degrees,” she said.
“There is a lot of evidence… that it is likely, but that does not mean that the Paris Climate Agreement is lost. It is enshrined in the Paris Climate Agreement that if we go above 1.5 degrees, we have to work very hard to bring ourselves back to a safer climate and stay well below two degrees. “
Three years ago, the IPCC itself published a report saying that limiting global warming would require “rapid and deep” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and other areas. cities.
“Limiting warming to 1.5 ° C is possible under the laws of chemistry and physics, but that would require unprecedented changes,” said Jim Skea of the IPCC at the time.
Since then, even more carbon has been released and the computer modeling used by scientists to predict the impact of greenhouse gases on warming has improved.
One of the IPCC’s lead authors, CSIRO chief researcher Pep Canadell, said this week that the new report will lay out the likelihood that temperatures will exceed 1.5 degrees of warming and the time frame within which that can occur, according to different climate action scenarios. .
At the heart of most of these scenarios will be the idea that the world will not only begin to reduce carbon emissions at an unprecedented rate, but that we are rapidly developing and deploying technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere. .
Flannery says he began to fear that emissions cuts alone would not be enough to save the world from dangerous warming when world leaders failed to address the issue at the climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009.
By the time the Paris Agreement was concluded five years later, it was clear that emission reductions would be needed alongside massive reductions. Today, he estimates that we must soon start removing 10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year and maintain that effort until the end of the century.
A once-live debate over concerns that negative emissions technology might simply give politicians and fossil fuel champions an excuse to continue issuing with the promise of future solutions has been overwhelmed by the sheer amount of greenhouse gas pollution. greenhouse already issued, he said.
Möllersten agrees. “It would have been a lot nicer if politicians or world leaders could have agreed on ambitious goals much earlier and worked much harder,” he told reporters. Sydney Morning Herald and Age this week.
“We now have a significant need for negative emissions. It’s worrying, but that’s where we are.