Climate change: “We have the tools, but little time”

20 May 2014

The latest report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released last month, had one common theme: we have the technology and knowledge to mitigate climate change, but we have to use it.

According to the report, science has given society the tools to prevent catastrophic climate change and it is now society’s job to start making real and aggressive changes. The authors say that the use of renewables and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) needs to triple by mid-century, but for this to happen, policy makers need to put on the pressure. The use of CCS – capturing waste carbon dioxide and storing it, normally underground, to prevent the release of large quantities of carbon into the atmosphere  – will have to become commonplace…

While big changes need to be made there is good news for the world economy. All of these changes, and more, can be achieved without stunting global economic growth. IPCC estimates that only 0.06% of the annual economic growth rate of 1.3-3% will be cut by the shift to green energy. This is important, since the corporate response to climate change will have a huge impact on mitigation.

One of the ways companies will need to be supported is with public funding to aid businesses in developing energy storage technologies that will facilitate further use of renewables on a large scale. The energy sector will be the industry that undergoes the most change. IPCC says that energy producers will have to be ready for the inevitable reality that some oil and coal reserves will be locked up by climate change policy and will not be recoverable.

There will be other groups who are unhappy about some of the solutions proposed to mitigate climate change. For instance, IPCC states that the need for fracking and access to natural gas will be an integral part in getting economies off dirtier energies, though ideally this will only be a short-term solution. In order for this strategy to be successful in aiding the green energy boost, it says natural gas must be used to replace oil and coal, and not used as additional cheap energy.  The report also says that the use of nuclear energy will need to triple by mid-century.

IPCC’s report shows that avoiding major climate change problems will take work. It insists that serious action needs to be taken to change how we are currently functioning by 2030 or we will start to experience dangerous changes to climate systems. IPCC’s goal is to limit a temperature rise above 2⁰C from pre-industrial levels; to do this the world will need to reduce carbon emissions by 40-70% by 2050, with  nearly zero emissions by the end of the century.

Stopping the projected dangers of climate change will take aggressive action from all quarters –  governments, industry, business and the public – and the technology and tools are already available to make it possible.

At SBN we have initiated a new work stream to address one of the toughest challenges in renewable energy: Accelerating Smart Transport in New Zealand.  If you’d like to find out more please contact us.

Information for this article came from an article in The Chemical Engineer, May 2014