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Global

Arena Environment Wind power and solar power are increasingly affordable methods of halting climate change CO2 can be taxed as a pollutant, what is the issue? Well, things are not quite that simple. Recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have shown that technological innovation in climate change as it stands today can, at best, take our current emissions and reduce them to zero. Using only these technologies, the Earth will still overshoot the 2°C rise in temperature, an increase considered detrimental to the continued existence of current ecosystems by many scientists. Climate-KIC, together with other companies involved in the clean energy sector, has carried out research suggesting that companies that have opted to implement energy efficiency measures and introduced clean technologies into the production system have only tackled 50 per cent of the problem. This research suggests that there is still a need for additional development in the form of carbon negative technologies if there is any hope of keeping below the 2°C rise in temperature. “We need to be able to responsibly and carefully reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, otherwise we are going to overshoot,” Templer says. “We need to get on with that work now, because it is going to be non-trivial and if work doesn’t start now it will be too late.” One potential solution, and one that causes a lot of contention amongst climate change scientists and others involved in the sector, is geo-engineering, which has seen large-scale experiments designed to tackle the effects of climate change by either removing CO2 from the air or limiting the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface. Templer is one of the voices averse to the ideas behind geo-engineering. “I find these ideas quite alarming on a personal level,” he says. “Geo-engineering involves tinkering on a very large scale with an experiment that you can only do once.” Methods of geo-engineering that have been researched in the past include utilising plankton in absorbing CO2 from the air. Research suggests that ‘fertilising’ the ocean by spreading carbon onto the surface can lead to greater production of the plant cells and, by extension, greater absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere. However, this could have potentially devastating repercussions – a vast increase in plankton in the oceans could starve marine life of the oxygen needed to survive, which could ultimately lead to the mass extinction of many creatures living in the oceans. Intergovernmental institutions have tended to look sceptically on geo-engineering – in 2008 the UN banned all large-scale climate change experiments. At the Tenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP10) it was requested that “no climate-related geo-engineering activities that may affect biodiversity take place until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities”. In 2012 guidelines on the deployment of geo-engineering were agreed at the UN Biodiversity Conference in Hyderabad, which reiterated the decisions taken at COP10. One respect in which geo-engineering could be the only solution is what Templer refers to as “emergency care for the planet”. For Templer, one of the most obvious signals that it is humankind causing climate change is the acidification of the oceans, as CO2 released into the atmosphere is slowly absorbed into the Earth’s water supply. “You can measure it; it is incontrovertible and it is killing off all sorts of eco-systems,” he says. Issues such as this could necessitate large-scale recovery projects in the form of, for example, seeding the ocean around coral reefs with lime to neutralise the PH of the water. “We may just have to take the risk of trying to repair the damage we have already done, but we will need to think about that as a society very carefully.” While research into clean technology is ongoing and plentiful, it really is only part of the solution. Nigel Hughes from the smart meter company Itron suggests that the most important factor in achieving climate change aims is governance. “Technology alone four 56 l www.global -br ief ing.org th quar ter 2014 global © stephenmeese / iStock 


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