Bonn is the home of climate change negotiators from around the world this week. Their goal is to work out just how each country will meet its obligations with regards to the Paris Agreement. Of course, Donald Trump has pulled the USA out of the Paris Agreement, but the rest of the world, including many American states remain in. With fossil CO2 still being pumped into the atmosphere at alarming rates, solutions need to be found quickly.
Only a year ago we reported on the good news that CO2 emissions had plateaued, remaining the same for 3 years, but 2017 faired differently. Data suggests that global CO2 emissions increased by 1.4 percent in 2017, to a record 32.5 Gigatons. Maybe surprisingly, the USA registered a reduction in emissions, due to an extensive roll out of renewable energy solutions, but the EU, China and India all had substantial increases. Good news for the USA for 2017, but policies to push coal and gas drilling and coal production may see the trend change in the coming years.
An increase in emissions puts extra pressure on the negotiators in Bonn. If emissions keep on rising, then drastic and costly measures will have to be taken in the future to meet the goal of limiting the planet’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In order to hit that goal, the planet will need to reduce emissions by up to 90% by the year 2050, according to Climate Analytics, which will become close to impossible if emissions continue to increase by 2020.
The increasing demand for energy from emerging economies, with growing populations and changing habits, is unavoidable. With Africa and India increasing their needs for energy at an electric pace, pardon the pun, their needs to be further investment in innovative solutions to enable development with fewer emissions. China seems to be close to finding the answer with their emissions growing at 1.7%, disproportionally to their economy, which grew at 7%. If China can find the solution to grow whilst reducing their emissions, a similar model can be used by other emerging markets. The EU and other developed markets also need to take up some of the strain by drastically reducing emissions in the next few years to offset against the needs of emerging markets.
So, what if the unthinkable happens, which is fairly likely, and the planet continues to increase emissions year on year by 2020? The drastic measures that were mentioned earlier are actually already in the implementation phase, although currently only at a small scale. Carbon will have to be removed from the air using carbon capture technology like that of Climeworks, and various other innovative firms around the world. Once the carbon has been removed it can either be reused as a raw material for synthetic fuel made using renewable energy, a storage solution, or stored deep underground and removed from the atmosphere permanently. In the case of the former, it would be a way to power vehicles and generators with zero fossil carbon emissions.
The negotiators have some unanswered questions to tackle this week, including who and how will the carbon emissions be counted and verified and how we will know when the carbon emission trend is permanently reducing. What they also need to discuss is a plan B, in which they outline a plan to further investment in technologies that can mitigate increasing carbon emissions.
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