No matter how daunting the challenge of climate change may seem greenhouse gas emission reduction is both essential and achievable. Growing energy demand, rising greenhouse gas levels, pollution, ocean acidification, drought and rising sea levels make the prospects of finding solutions seem bleak. People are understandably overwhelmed as solutions can seem out of reach. However, it is important to understand that despite the massive scale of the climate crisis the problems are not insurmountable. We possess the technological ability to address climate change and we are already seeing some positive signs that we are moving in the right direction.
To defeat climate change we must radically reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Despite the fact that the world added 32 billion tons of carbon to the atmosphere in 2014, it is possible to significantly reduce emissions and grow the green economy.
We are seeing advances in efficiency, greener buildings and cleaner transportation. Businesses and governments are engaging sustainability and shifting away from dangerous short-termism, towards longer term planning.
Solutions are not new. A 2012 UNEP report pointed to the scope of the problem suggesting that we are headed towards an emissions gap of between 8 to 13GT of equivalent CO2 by 2020. However an International Energy Agency (IEA) report showed that while we are headed for between 4 and 6 degrees Celsius of warming, the same report also said we could cut 3.1 gigatonnes (GT) of emissions from the energy sector by 2020, without compromising economic growth.
In very practical terms it appears that we are already doing more with less. According to 2015 IEA report, in 2014 the world economy grew by three percent while emissions from the energy sector remained flat.
Although there are still serious deforestation problems in the tropics, as a whole the world is getting greener. According to an Australian led satellite study the amount of global vegetation has increased in the last 12 years eliminating almost four billion tons of carbon. This is due to some large scale reforestation projects in China and natural regrowth in Australia, Africa and Russia. The regrowth proves that the Earth can heal itself if given the chance. Chinese tree planting efforts show that human efforts can contribute to reforestation.
The emissions reductions plans known as the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDCs) put forth ahead of the climate talks in Paris also give us reason to hope that we can secure a global deal that will represent a bold step forward. As the world’s largest economy the US in particular has assumed a leadership role with its pledge to reduce emissions by 25-28 percent below 2005 levels as of 2025. Other nations including European states have also put forth bold emissions reductions pledges.
We are seeing the beginning of critical behavioral changes. We are increasingly understanding that climate change has far ranging implications for business, government and people. The business community is beginning to acknowledge the costs of climate change and people are beginning to understand that climate change is a health issue. Both of these facts bode well for an eventual critical mass that is needed to properly engage climate action.
Although we are seeing some progress there is much that remains to be done if we are to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.
As the leading cause of GHG pollution we must radically reduce our consumption of fossil fuels. To do this we must
eradicate subsidies and tax incentives that encourage fossil fuel use. We can also limit the allowable pollution from power plants, something the EPA is already doing in the US. We can be far more efficient with the fossil fuels we do use. In particular we can significantly reduce the amount of methane that seeps out of gas wells and pipelines.
We can replace fossil fuels with renewables. Cleaner sources of energy are available today. In the US and around the world nations are increasingly shifting towards renewable energy.
However we must do much more to support renewables if we are to make
significant inroads in our efforts to replace fossil fuels. Clean energy
can get far more government support than is currently the case,
particularly in the US.
While carbon markets are already in place in some parts of the world, we need to expand CO2 pricing. The involvement of the world’s economic superpowers are critical to any meaningful solution. We have already seen some progress as the US and China are working together on climate change and they have already signed an emissions reduction agreement.
We can eliminate HFCs soot and other short lived climate pollutants (slcp) and we can change our agricultural practices so that we reduce fertilizer pollution.