Responding to Climate Change
Responding to Climate Change
Energy Efficiency Renewable Energy Transport Fuels COP21 Paris Global Knowledge Sharing Climate Risk Management Climate Finance Pathways Taking Responsibility
Whales are the most incredible creatures. Their songs are redolent and haunting, and evoke a deep sense of mystery and awe. Whales not only feed on krill, they keep the whole photosynthesis chain alive in an ecological phenomenon known as trophic cascade. Trophic cascades occur when a species in a food web interact with the behaviors of the species on which they feed. Whales sustain the entire living system of the ocean. They eat the krill in the depths, then return to the surface where they fertilize the ocean with massive quantities of iron and nitrogen into the photic zone, providing nourishment for more plant life. They engage in a constant recycling of nutrients from the depths to the surface. Whales accomplish more than all the wind, waves and tides put together to encourage the growth of plants in the seas, which means plenty of fish, as they feed on the plants. And abundance of plants means that much more CO2 is absorbed from the atmosphere, decreasing the global warming caused by greenhouse emissions. The whale population is seriously endangered, so one of the simplest things we can do about climate change is saving the whales. This is a prime example of how simple natural ways to address climate change are our best bet. Preventing further acidification of the oceans is key to managing the risks of runaway warming effects.
Climate is usually described in terms of the mean variability of temperature, rainfall, snow, and wind over time. Earth’s climate system evolves because of internal dynamics of atmosphere, ocean currents, weather, as well as external factors at play, including volcanoes, changes in the planet’s orbit, and solar activity from sunspots. It is only in the past century that human activity has had a marked effect on climate. Anthropogenic (human induced) climate change is the only one about which we can have any influence.
The wheels of civilization have turned on polite conversation about the weather. What is weather, how does it work, and what is its relationship to climate? For us humans, weather is the daily experience of sun, rain, wind, snow, humidity etc. Climate is a longer term overview of the cumulative effects of our daily weather events. Climate zones have similar characteristics, for example hot and dry, warm and wet. As well as describing the effects of weather, our experience of climate has developed from interactions between the planet's systems, such as geographic features, for example mountains and plains, ocean currents, ice sheets, atmospheric air movements and the biosphere, the living organisms.
Water is the key element and generator for life, and it circulates constantly on Earth’s surface, and in the atmosphere, influenced by many factors. One of those is human activities. Water feedback loops are key to the Earth’s biosphere maintaining a stable state suitable for life. We can all experience and recognize simple feedback loops in the weather. If there is enough water vapour in the clouds, it rains. Of course climate systems are not so simple. There are three key feedbacks on Planet Earth, interacting with one another to determine our weather. They are water, ice and solar radiation. Our simple example is solar radiation heating the water vapour in the clouds, which in turn reflect more heat back to the surface, which increases the evaporation. All complex systems are made up of a number of simple parts.
The climate is also constantly affected by heat radiation, as bodies such as the land and the ocean having warmed up, try to cool down again. The level of radiation reaching us determines average global temperatures. While greenhouse gases provide us with the stable range of weather conditions and climate that support life, you can have too much of a good thing. If temperatures on the planet get too hot or too cold, human beings cannot thrive. Currently the level of greenhouse emissions from our activities is allowing the atmosphere to trap and radiate more heat towards the surface of the planet. And this is having a very noticeable effect on the cryosphere, Earth’s frozen regions.
Our Celtic ancestors were right to focus so much attention on the sun. The Earth's climate has changed throughout history. The ending of the last ice age about 12,000 years ago marked the beginning of the modern climate era. Most climate changes are attributed to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar radiation energy that is experienced by the planet’s biosphere. There have been at least five major ice ages. Each glacial period was subject to positive feedback increasing the severity, and negative feedback behaviours, eventually melting most of the ice on the planet. The weight of the ice sheets was so great that they deformed the Earth's crust and mantle. As the ice sheets melted, the ice-covered land rebounded, albeit at a very slow rate, causing instability and tremors, a process that is still in action today. The great melting events also changed the gravity and wobble of the Earth's rotation.
So what do we know about the most recent of Earth’s great climate variations? Global warming started 15,000 years ago. By 5,000 BC, the last of the Northern European ice sheets had disappeared from Scandinavia, and the last of the North American ice sheets were gone from eastern Canada. As yet the causes are not fully determined, major factors are suspected to be changes in the Earth’s orbit, shifts in the tectonic plates, fluctuations in ocean currents, and last but by no means least, the volume of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. One theory has it that glaciation starts and ends because of increases and decreases in CO2 levels in the atmosphere. There is no doubt that the levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases are dependent variables in relation to Earth’s temperature variation. Today it is unequivocally human activity that is increasing these levels. Rapidly increasing industrial activities accompanied by huge growth in the number of people on the planet has been the trigger for the large acceleration of gas concentration seen in recent decades, and we are now in territory where we have never been before.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines radiative forcing (RF) as a measure of the influence particular events have in altering the balance of incoming and outgoing energy on Earth. RF measures the amount of heat trapped, either in the atmosphere or on Earth’s surface, and provides a way to view the factors that influence climate change. While climate variability is normal, from a historical trend perspective, since the end of the 19th century average global land and ocean temperatures have risen at a rapid rate. One of the biggest causes of sea-level rises is the net melting of the cryosphere, resulting in loss of mass of the world’s glaciers and the Greenland ice sheet at an unprecedented rate. The biggest anthropogenic (caused by human activity) source of greenhouse gas emissions is the burning of fossil fuels, oil, coal and gas.
Projections of climate change through the rest of the century show amplified warming in the Arctic compared to the rest of the planet. Sea ice loss plays a strong role. With less ice in spring and summer, the water near the surface of the ocean gains more heat through absorption of solar radiation. The cause and effect can be simply described: the smaller the surface area of reflective white ice, either because it has melted, or because it is discolored from pollution, the more heat is trapped by the surface of the Earth, the faster the ice melts. This is another positive feedback loop affected by other climate interaction variables, such as ocean and wind currents.
Climate feedback loops are behavioral phenomena. At some point in time, previously predictable processes can become uncertain, resulting in runaway changes, and accompanied by unknown effects on climate systems, except that they can result in swings in range of temperatures, fire, and changes in rainfall, snowfall, and tempest events, causing wild weather patterns.
One natural factor affecting weather events that is not entirely understood is known as the Arctic Oscillation, an atmospheric circulation pattern in which the atmospheric pressure over the Polar Regions varies counter to that of the middle latitudes. The differential between high Arctic and low middle latitude atmospheric pressure results in warmer weather over the northern polar region, and cold stormy weather over the temperate areas where people live, with dramatic weather events such as experienced in 2009-2010 in Europe, the United States, and Asia.
The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) states that to keep the level of emissions to current levels, countries have to make ‘significant cuts’ by 2020, and ‘substantial cuts’ to greenhouse emissions by the middle of the century. When temperatures rise, ice melts, sea levels rise, and weather instabilities can cause erratic instances of extreme rainfall, winds, tides and storm surges. Without dramatic changes to the world’s reliance on fossil fuels, Planet Earth is set to become a much less hospitable place for human beings, even hostile to our existence. The current emissions levels mean that it is already too late to stop the rise in sea levels because of melting ice. This phenomenon is now underway, and because of the lag between any reduction in temperature, and the slowing of the melting of ice sheets and glaciers, the best case scenario is that within a couple of centuries, the sea level rises stop. We are playing with forces that we do not understand, and all the warning signs are there that, like the sorcerer’s apprentice, our activities meddling in climate variability are having unfortunate and unpredictable consequences.
Our collective use of energy is at the heart of climate stability. Yet, as a species, we are still struggling to find the collective political will to forsake fossil fuels, the biggest source of greenhouse emissions, which were formed during a great mass extinction event. Why it is so difficult to interest the finance industry in a rapid response to capitalize the development of technologies which are cleaner, cleverer, greener and now cheaper than coal, oil and gas based energy production currently, is a mystery. A rational and reasoned response would have investors queuing to scrutinize opportunities for clean technology, low carbon supply chains, and a carbon market with a price that reflects the real value of curbing emissions to the global economic outlook.
While United Nations programs start to challenge our collective lack of action, and countries pay lip service to mitigation activities, the level of political interference and the potential for greenwashing and corruption is disturbing. We all, individuals and corporations have to take responsibility, demand our politicians support a low carbon economy, and seriously engage in energy efficiency. We also must provide leadership for others to do likewise. As a species, we have no choice but to curb our addiction to money as an end in itself, rather than a means to an end, if we are to take effective action in time to give our descendants a decent future. The burning question is can we change the influence of the finance industry on our politicians, to abandon the paradigm of shareholder profits at any cost in time? The ancestors must not only turning in their graves with uneasiness over our current commitment to our collective future, they must be getting ready to rattle their bones.
Civilizations have risen and fallen in response to benign and difficult climatic conditions in localized regions. The ancient civilizations of Persia, Mesopotamia, and the Aegean civilizations such as Greece all experienced a decline and fall that was a result of a domino effect from climate change causing territorial aggression. Agricultural settlements made prime targets, while city states failed to recognize that both over-population and injudicious use of natural resources would be their downfall. It is around 5,000 years since this phenomenon commenced. Are we slow learners? The current situation in which we humans find ourselves is an incredible challenge to re-establish harmony with the natural environment, to sustain our existence. Although in the past we have always responded with a new round of technology innovation, never before have we been in danger of using up the planet’s entire stock of forests, the soils, the waterways, oceans, and even the air that we breathe. Our collective recognition of our predicament, and concerted action is urgently required to preserve ourselves, the animals, plants, oceans, skies, mountains, rivers and terrain in a way that is life enhancing. In fact we all have to take community action to effect global change for the good, and unless we can stop our unfortunate habit of going to war to solve problems, we can expect a spiralling loss of control of balance between humans and nature. Otherwise we cannot expect to thrive, or perhaps even survive as a species. We only have ourselves to blame, and we are the only ones who can effect the necessary behavioral changes in our communities, corporations, governments and social groups to make sustainable development the dominant paradigm, and to curb excessive and dangerous emissions of greenhouse gases.
Chaos theory and evolutionary biology indicate that our blue planet exists in a form of gravitational and climatic equilibrium that can experience monumental changes from a single initial event, (though not quite the flap of the butterfly’s wing). These changes occur because, in the scheme of things, the range of temperature to support the living systems of the biosphere is a relatively fragile balance. This balance is governed by the same fractal patterns that form and conform to the laws of the spatial and temporal material universe in which we are inhabitants. We may be getting extremely accurate at recording weather, temperature and precipitation, metrics which show us that temperatures and sea levels are rising. However presently, we do not have a supercomputer powerful enough to predict in a timely way, the outcomes of playing with an already fragile environment when the patterns of acidification of the oceans, polar ice, fires and floods caused by extreme weather, are becoming increasingly unstable.
Local weather around the globe is becoming more difficult to forecast. It has happened in the past. A single change, such as the drying up of a water source, or the disappearance of a species on which a number of others depend could be enough to resonate locally, to initiate increasingly dramatic swings that make life too difficult for some species. We are already experiencing an alarming increase in the rate of extinction of flora and fauna. This comprises a net unknown effect on Earth’s stable biosphere. We simply do not know what, where, how and why extreme weather is going to happen. Like the oscillations of a weight suspended from a rope dangling from a helicopter – as the arc of the swing gets wider, any sudden motion can cause wild movements in unpredictable directions.
We live in a complex set of conditions that amazingly form a wonderful, stable nourishing environment to support water based life. History demonstrates that we can lose these conditions all too readily. When the planet suffers one too many destabilising event, the speed of change is rapid and uncompromising. The Earth rebels, and seeks to rebalance the harmony of its biosphere, and in so doing can dispense with any elements that compromise the limit of its systems which provide us human beings with safety and security. Truly our blue planet is the Gaia, a single living organism of which we humans, and the rest of life on the planet are the biological cells. Life evolved in such a way that single celled bacteria learned to co-operate and form biofilm communities to achieve sophisticated functions by specialist cells. By nature, we and the Earth are an integral part of this evolutionary universe, governed by spin centric energy that has created matter through eons of ordered and chaotic interaction with the original energy plasma, an amazing phenomenon that eventually gave us our solar system and Planet Earth.
The evolution of our universe is a delicate balance of expansion and gravity, in which domains of less entropic, quantum improbable ordered events time our existence, from an initial condition. Change is the normal state of affairs. A change to a fundamental energy state over time gestated the elements of the periodic table, forming matter, then eventually, life as we know it over billions of years. And this process continues today. This is the cosmos, where we inhabit a tiny piece of rock, in a galaxy of billions of stars, part of a galaxy supercluster binding together with regional galaxy superclusters, all rotating and travelling through space and time, all governed by the laws of the universe, which we do not in any way, shape or form fully comprehend. We are part of it, a part that has acquired a certain facility with technology. Our successes are manifold, however our propensity for turning our gifts for innovation towards warfare and biosphere destruction proves the axiom ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’.
The basic science of global warming is the way that radiation from the sun is either reflected back into space from the planet’s surface, or remains ‘trapped’ in the atmosphere long enough to have an effect on the planet’s climate. There are limits to stable systems, including Earth’s orbit, because of some fundamental laws of nature. Earthquakes obey these laws, and so does the stock exchange. It must then come as no surprise that weather and climate systems are subject to unpredictable fluctuations. The mathematical theory that attempts to describe the laws of these changes is called ‘Chaos Theory’. Simply put, this theory tells us that for a small change in the initial state of a system, when there are feedback loops present, the system in question can become unstable in unpredictable directions at times that cannot be precisely predicted.
The ‘greenhouse’ effect, is the fact that increasing the level of particular gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane in Earth’s atmosphere, causes more radiation to be retained and scattered, including towards the planet’s surface. It is not hard to understand intuitively why ice and snow are the most effective reflectors. One of the most worrying feedback loops in relation to greenhouse gases and climate change, is that the more the ice sheets and glaciers melt, the less ability the Earth has to reflect heat from the sun back into space. As well as the obvious consequences of global warming, the effects of melting the planet’s ice covers are not fully understood.
Despite the fact that unpredictability happens at the edge of chaos, our solar system has proved to be very reliable in rebalancing itself over time. Sometimes it is thrown off-balance by events, however it eventually re-establishes the balance of the biosphere to support liquid water and carbon based life. The more we understand about the key principles of climate change, and how the weather is generated from climate systems, feedbacks, cycles and self-regulation, the more it seems that in our own best interests, we do not want to mess around with the balance of the natural cycles of living systems here on Earth.
Studies of climate change in the very ancient past, as well as the recent past, indicate that carbon cycle change may be a key indicator of transition and significant change to the climate. We may be hearing an alarm to which it is not yet too late to respond, even though it is getting very close to midnight.
Meteorological offices around the world collect data from physical atmospheric and oceanic variables to understand and monitor global climate variability and change. While signs of climate change are the accurate measurements that have identified trends of rising land and ocean temperatures and rising sea levels, this is accompanied by changes to the global carbon cycle. Since the Industrial Revolution we have been burning fossil fuels on a grand scale. More than 80% of the increases in the human component of global warming are due to combustion of oil, coal and natural gas, the fossil fuels. The other major problem is the deforestation of the planet, particularly the rainforests in the tropical north of South America, and South East Asia. The link has been firmly established between changes to the climate and the global carbon cycle. Not all of the carbon ends up in the atmosphere, large quantities are being deposited on land, and a large part of the carbon ends up being deposited in the deep ocean, which has become a carbon sink. What is not known is what happens to the biosphere as we pump more and more carbon into the planet’s climate systems.
The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is a body comprising thousands of scientists and other experts who contribute to writing and reviewing reports. In the latest, the Fifth Assessment, the IPCC has developed and published four greenhouse gas concentration trajectories. They describe four possible climate futures, all of which are considered possible depending on the quantity of greenhouse gases emitted in the years to come. They model a range resulting in possible global mean temperature rises between around 1.5 °C and 5 °C, from 100% replacement of fossil fuels to business as usual,. The report also documents the likely changes to weather, air quality, ice and snow cover, and ocean acidification across the range of the scenarios.
The projected impacts for business as usual are catastrophic in terms of extreme weather events. Although from the least to the greatest change to the carbon cycle, current forecasts project irreversible warming over the next couple of centuries. Limiting the warming caused by anthropogenic emissions is going to reduce the impacts on land and ocean acidification. In any event it is virtually certain that global mean sea level rise will continue beyond 2100, with sea level rise due to thermal expansion set to continue for many centuries. At stake is our ability to thrive and even survive with undisputed scientific analysis predicting a future of between 2°C and 4°C global mean temperature increases above pre-industrial levels, for the path we are most likely to take. These rises are accompanied by associated sea level rises with a current estimated probable range of between 0.26 and 0.82 meters, although some scenario estimates are being set higher at 1.9 meters.
Change to the carbon cycle is going to have a large effect on human health and the built environment, as changing weather patterns are having devastating effects on some communities. Inundation of houses, erosion of coastal zones and increasing wildfires are extreme situations requiring risk and hazard reduction. For some island nations of the Pacific, entire communities are threatened by rising seas. Many coastal regions in every region of the planet where events such as hurricanes, cyclones and monsoons occur, are susceptible to loss and damage from storm surges, which have been responsible for many deaths over the past decade.
Climate change is going to play a big role in food security for the more than seven billion people living on the planet. Heat waves, drought, and flooding constitute potential global food security issues, as we have to adapt to different weather patterns in the food producing regions. Every part of the globe is vulnerable in both wealthy and fragile countries, to changing conditions for food availability and accessibility, as well as food distribution stability. We have to persuade our governments to support and fund innovation in agribusiness to reduce toxicity from food production, and increase carbon sequestration with our choice of food crops.
We know there are certain changes, disruptions, and risks of disasters occurring that have to be addressed. There is a strong probability that we are already experiencing increasingly chaotic weather patterns in many parts of the globe as a direct result of feedback loops triggered by changes to the carbon cycle.
James Lovelock’s Gaia theory examines the evidence for the equilibrium of living systems that over the history of the planet, engage in a perpetual balancing of this self-stabilising energy biosphere. Proof of micro-organisms living on Earth during at least the last 3.2 billion years gives the theory a very long period for demonstration of this observed homeostasis of the atmospheric biosphere, as it self-regulates to maintain life. This is an absolutely amazing observation, as during this period, the level of radiation from the Sun has increased dramatically. The sun has got hotter. In response to the associated changes in temperature, and the level of the carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen (CHON) based gases in Earth’s atmosphere, somehow the conditions have remained within the bounds that support organic life. The inference is that there is some mechanism that controls the balance of atmospheric gases of the planet, with the express purpose of maintaining itself. And the exciting conclusion that one inescapably draws from this theory is that we are living in an innately intelligent universe, manifest in the energy patterns of growth underlying the physical structure of matter of which Planet Earth, our blue planet, our only home, is a living example.
While Lovelock and his colleagues have explored the chemical composition of the atmosphere in relation to the role of thermodynamics and decreasing entropy (disorder) in the energy of living systems, they acknowledge that complex systems, made of a community of simple parts, like the atmosphere, or a rainforest, appear to behave as intelligent cells in the whole biosphere of life on Earth. Feedback loops are the mechanism by which the planet regulates the temperature range. The energy from the sun, causing heat on Earth, has a certain range of stability, maintained by elements such as the clouds, and the gases in the atmosphere. The net effect of all the positive and negative feedbacks that have an influence on how energy is radiated, governs the ability of the Earth to mirror energy back into space. The albedo index measures how well ice, clouds, water vapour, the ocean and different types of terrain reflect radiation, which is otherwise converted into heat. The heat range of course has a direct effect on which living systems are able to survive the climatic conditions. While simpler organisms, like bacteria can function in a wider range of temperatures, we humans, having a complex biology, although made of simple parts, have quite a narrow range in which our bodies can function.
While the science of climate change is fascinating, current thinking is that natural systems hold the key to our best chance of maintaining the stability of climate systems to suit life on Earth as we know it. More than 10% of greenhouse gas emissions are coming from the clearing and burning of forests. Greenhouse gases stored in peat lands and the tundra are beginning to be released by thawing of permafrost, while soils are being depleted, degrading their ability to store carbon. Natural carbon capture and storage holds the most promise for stabilising and limiting the level of greenhouse gases blanketing the planet. (And as in most things, the wheel turns full circle. The sixties and seventies saw the original mass movement of concern for the natural environment. Two of the most significant campaigns from this era were to save the whales and save the old-growth forests. Interestingly enough, both of these endeavours are key parts of the chain of natural processing of greenhouse gases on a large scale.)
It is well-known that forests achieve a balance between the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by growing trees and plants and the amount of CO2 released back into the atmosphere by the decomposition of forest debris. Old growth forests are considered to be those that have remained untouched for at least a hundred years. The relatively small remaining stands of old-growth forests are a global terrestrial carbon sink. In fact, not only do old trees continue to store carbon in their wood, forest soils also appear to be actively capturing carbon over time. Old-growth forests are biologically diverse, and home to many rare and endangered species of plants and animals, which also play a vital part in maintaining the stability of the biosphere. And they are incredibly beautiful. The sensation of standing within a rainforest is one of healing, tranquillity and energy radiance, once experienced, never forgotten. Old growth forests accumulate carbon for centuries and contain large quantities of it, however much of this carbon, even soil carbon, will move back to the atmosphere if these forests are disturbed. One of the simplest ways to reduce greenhouse emissions is to prevent logging in the Amazon, Indonesia and Malaysia, and Tasmania. These trees are the lungs of the world. The atmosphere of the Earth has a different composition from that of other planets in part due to the biochemical reactions with the plants. Forests pump oxygen into the air so we can breathe. Saving the forests is a given. (Recycled paper is all too often from plantation timber that is grown where old growth forests were destroyed, forests are a prime target for greenwashing).
There are large risks to food security globally and even more devastating, reduction in surface water and groundwater resources in most dry subtropical regions. It is very likely that heat waves will occur more often and last longer, and that extreme precipitation events will become more intense and frequent in many regions. One of the most vulnerable terrains to rising sea levels is the tropical coastline, where deforestation and removal of mangroves, a vital fish breeding ground, has occurred. Projects for restoration of mangroves and control of erosion and sea level rises, for example in Indonesia and Malaysia, have an excellent effect on local ecosystems. Economic activities for local people, generated by mangrove protection, include environmental management and generation of sustainable commercial agribusiness.
While the existing conditions are understood in terms of stable past climates, more knowledge is required to manage the changes in the local ecosystems that have been caused by variations in temperature ranges, weather, tidal and wave patterns, effecting the topsoil, coastal erosion and sedimentation.
Greenhouse gases work a little like a greenhouse, however the glass in this case is a layer of gases. The atmosphere traps gases, which form a blanket around our planet. It is the composition of gases that determines whether radiation reaches the planet’s surfaces or is reflected back to space. The levels of water vapour, methane, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and other gases determine whether the average temperature of the Earth’s surface rises or falls.
Global-warming potential (GWP) is a relative measure of how much heat is released into the atmosphere by a greenhouse gas Methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas. Although the level of methane is only around 1.8 ppm, in terms of global warming potential (GWP) it is around 29 times as potent, per unit of mass, as carbon dioxide (CO2) in raising atmospheric temperatures. A vast expanse of permafrost in Siberia and Alaska, a permanently frozen mass as the name suggests, a storehouse of methane and ice, has started to thaw for the first time since it formed 11,000 years ago. The term CO2e, or carbon dioxide equivalent, refers to the whole suite of greenhouse gas emissions standardized in terms of Global Warming Potential (GWP).
What gets measured gets managed. Under the Kyoto Protocol, countries' actual emissions have to be monitored and precise records kept of any carbon trading. The UN Climate Change Secretariat, based in Bonn, Germany, maintains a registry to verify that transactions are consistent with the rules of the Protocol, and countries have to submit annual emission inventories and national reports at regular intervals. The current agreement has flaws in its structure. It excluded the conservation of old growth forests and did not make provision for land use changes, which would place a value on increasing carbon sequestration. Increases in fossil fuel burning by major polluters could be traded advantageously for projects that are by no means equivalent in Global Warming Potential (GWP). And lastly, countries are estimating their carbon accounts with varying degrees of accuracy, meaning that a carbon cap and trade market is not yet a viable mechanism for lowering emissions. Everybody knows that markets do not like uncertainty. Wildly different levels of accuracy across industry sectors and countries are never going to provide the market mechanism that would result in stable and successful reductions in greenhouse gases.
A new agreement is being formed, forged and negotiated by the UN FCCC, to be signed in Paris in December 2015. The agreement is being negotiated by the major polluting nations such as China, US, India and Russia, equally with the small island states in Micronesia, the Pacific, the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean that face serious threat of permanent inundation from sea level rises. Naturally there has been a veritable frenzy of trade-offs, backroom deals, political posturing and cartels of vested interests over the past couple of years aiming to get an advantage from the new protocol.
By stimulating public interest, online monitoring, reporting and comparative analysis can play a vital role in providing a governance mechanism for measuring the real reduction in national inventories of greenhouse gas emissions. The largest source of emissions is currently the burning of coal, natural gas, and oil for electricity, both for domestic and industrial consumption. With political will, electricity can be metered and managed on an industrial scale for national electricity grids. There is no technology bar to so doing.
Land use, including deforestation, land clearing for agriculture, fires, burning peat, and releasing methane from permafrost are serious environmental factors that cause direct emissions. Agricultural emissions result largely from the management of depleted soils, livestock, rice production, and biomass burning. Over 90% of the world's transportation energy comes from petroleum based fuels, largely gasoline and diesel. Fossil fuels are burned for all forms of road, rail, air, and marine transportation. The construction industry contribution to global warming, other than indirect emissions from electricity and transport, is mainly from the manufacture of Portland type cement and cement products, because of the very energy intensive manufacturing processes. In the waste sector, landfill and wastewater are responsible for the largest source of methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O).
Telemetry systems, public and private information technology cloud systems and compulsory online published reporting by all countries can readily provide a level of data accuracy that is currently missing. Information and Communications Technology (ICT) systems can provide near real-time analytics and operational intelligence of emissions reduction from electricity usage, enabling an accurate set of metrics on which to base a cap and trade carbon market. This would give investors and traders the confidence they currently lack to support global trading in carbon futures.
The IPCC made the following key findings on the effects of climate change on farmers and worldwide farming practices.
‘Climate-related effects are already being felt in many regions, with harvests of staple crops reflecting reduced productivity of soils and changing rainfalls. As temperature rises increase, further effects will be felt on crops such as wheat, maize and rice that are vital to feed populations in fragile parts of the world. Rising prices are highly likely. The capacity for adaption to changing weather patterns is always going to be difficult. Biggest challenges for farmers can be expected where the temperature rises are highest, and that is in the equatorial regions, where temperature rises may be in excess of 3°C.’
Changing farming practices can improve carbon sequestration in soils. Finding new crops is a major consideration of land use to reduce emissions. Agricultural science has improved land management knowledge and practices. New methods for recycling biomass such as wood waste into building materials, landscaping products, animal bedding, paths and surfaces can reduce the need for landfill.
If we change our food consumption patterns, which can be accomplished by public awareness campaigns and pricing mechanisms, there is great potential to reduce greenhouse gases emissions from agriculture In addition awareness of healthy food choices, and improved dietary choices can have net benefits in terms of improved human health, something that is clearly a priority. People can be encouraged to move away from over-processed, over-packaged foods that in many instances contain toxic substances, and are contributing to the pollution of rivers and oceans.
One of the key points for effective land use is the use of large land masses for bio-sequestration of carbon. Another key factor is to make it easier for agricultural activities to generate carbon credits that can be traded or sold. Agribusiness is therefore a key player, with a substantial part of the solution for global greenhouse gas reduction, by making land use more effective. Changing farming practices and better land use has a comparatively low carbon footprint and the potential to contribute massive reductions in the world's greenhouse emissions. Sustainable agribusiness has the potential to provide a clean, green engine of economic growth, given the international situation of rising food prices and land shortages. During the next few years of transformation of the industrial landscape into carbon neutrality, farming has a huge role to play.
Let’s consider a couple of practical examples of agribusiness projects with the potential for carbon trading through emissions reduction, as well as economic and jobs growth from sustainable livelihoods. Mangrove regeneration and industrial hemp plantations are just two of many revolutionary agribusiness initiatives that are having multiple positive effects in the campaign against climate change.
With appropriate levels of financial investment, communities can be encouraged to adapt to climate change and sea level rise through co-management of mangroves and aquaculture. For a modest investment, these activities lead to the establishment of local jobs for sustainable fishing, food production, and dissemination of knowledge about regeneration of mangroves and rainforest that can be shared with other communities in similar regions.
One of the most vulnerable terrains to rising sea levels is tropical coastlines, where deforestation and removal of mangroves, vital fish breeding grounds, have occurred. Projects for restoration of mangroves and control of erosion and sea level rises, for example in Indonesia and Malaysia, have had an excellent effect on local ecosystems. Economic activities for local people include environmental management and generation of sustainable commercial agribusiness. While the existing conditions are understood in terms of stable past climates, more knowledge is required to manage the changes in the local ecosystems that have been caused by changing temperature ranges, weather, tidal and wave patterns, affecting the topsoil, coastal erosion and sedimentation.
Programs for the conservation and protection of coastal areas against climate change and global warming also increase the awareness of the importance of participating in the preservation of nature. Mangrove regeneration programs result in the creation of planting activities for the protection of coastal communities, through the establishment of greenbelt mangrove areas along the shoreline. As well as raising the level of awareness of the benefits of coastal protection, these programs mobilize local communities to actively participate in a wide variety of activities related to the protection and preservation of the environment, often with spinoff benefits of ecotourism business development.
Many local communities nurture the growing spirit of volunteerism by allowing people to engage with, and understand the importance of mangroves, and the role they have to play in having a positive impact on the protection and preservation of the coastal regions of vulnerable island nations. Island and shoreline communities, with a little financial assistance, can develop local jobs for sustainable fishing, food production, and disseminating knowledge about regeneration of mangroves and rainforest through ecotourism information centers.
Another example relevant to fragile countries is the development of an industrial hemp industry. Hemp is capable of enhanced carbon removal because of its properties, such as the ability to provide temporary cover between planting seasons, and cover bare paddocks with vegetation. This protects soil from the sun and allows it to hold more water and be more attractive to carbon capturing microbes. Plantations can also restore degraded land, which slows carbon release while returning the land to agriculture or other uses.
Although there is little in the way of comparative study of biomass growth rates amongst trees, plants and crops, hemp is one of the faster growing biomasses, producing up to 25 tonnes of dry matter per hectare per year. It can be produced organically, and its products are biodegradable. Hemp leaf is 50% nitrogen, enabling it to enrich rather than deplete soil. Historically, hemp was grown with crop rotation required only after a number of years.
It is perfectly suited to large scale agribusiness, providing income to farmers, as well as photosynthesis of CO2 from the atmosphere. This produces organic compounds in the hemp crop, as well as in the soil in which the crop is grown. There is a growing international market for hemp building materials, hemp food products, as well as hemp textiles and fibre products. Canada, WE and China markets have experienced substantial and rapid growth in production in recent years.
Hemp fibre is a crop that has been used since ancient times for food, textiles, and building materials. Once sown, it has unique properties for eradicating weeds, and stabilising soil erosion, helped by harvesting methods that allow the crop to provide ground cover for weeks after cutting, before baling. The fibre can contribute to the manufacture of bio-composite materials. The low density and highly crystalline cellulose content of the hemp natural fibre leads to excellent specific properties, which enable the use of this crop to compete with traditional glass fibres in structural applications without producing toxic residues.
Industrial hemp is not only a low carbon building, packaging and textile material, it also has the capacity to accelerate carbon sequestration in the soil, thus forming a natural carbon sink in land that could otherwise be responsible for increased emissions through soil imbalance. It offers some real environmental advantages, particularly with regard to the limited needs for herbicides and pesticides. It has a natural capability to be used as part of an organic agriculture strategy, and is part of a growing market for clean, green products.
The crop was outlawed in the US at the instigation of newspaper magnate Randolph Hurst, who feared competition for paper production. Germany has already developed industrial hemp non-woven products for the automotive industry. Canada has a policy that actively supports industrial hemp primary and secondary production, research and development. Australia has expertise in industrial hemp primary production research, as well as practical bio-composite research and development.
Hemp fibre has been subject to construction industry development and testing since the 1970s. Unlike tree fibre, where lignin is extracted from forestry products with chlorine, hemp building products do not create dioxins. Medium density fibreboard can be produced in the same machines that currently produce timber based products. As the fibres are much longer than fir or other timbers used in particle boards, hemp has the capacity to be used for structural building beams, because the strength of a product is directly proportional to fibre length.
The industrial hemp industry at this point in time is making efforts to consolidate and propagate specialist knowledge for the advancement of commercial viability for industry participants. As a food source in a world which is facing shortages and other food security issues, hemp is an easily assimilated source of protein which can be grown in a wide range of marginal conditions. Of course it was once a traditional staple in many countries until the exercise of political influence on governments that banned it because of a related plant with different properties.
Plant fibre bio-composites are gaining ground in replacing plastics and packaging materials. Bio-fibres and bio-resins can be integrated and eventually replace plastics, which are so damaging to the ocean, as islands of plastic debris are choking the waterways in every country.
Biodegradable plastics have an expanding range of potential applications, and overall, they are less harmful to the environment. However some bioplastics are more ‘environmentally friendly’ than others. Recycling issues have emerged, requiring action to standardize recycling facilities for bioplastics. A major consideration is the rate of biodegradation and the disposal environment. Currently there is a range of biodegradable plastics available, some more practical than others for particular uses. International regulation is clearly required for bioplastics. This would provide the governance required to ensure quality and recycling methods.
There is an extensive range of potential applications, such as plastic film, shopping bags, garbage bags, sanitary products, and bottles. The list goes on. The preferred method for bioplastics disposal is composting and soil burial. Many cities around the world now compost garden organic material, food waste, cardboard, and paper products. The recycling mechanism is primarily hydrolysis combined with aerobic and anaerobic microbial activity. However CO2 is a by-product, so thought has to be given to effective disposal methods.
Municipal waste, organic waste, used industrial oils, separated sewage sludge, plastics, used tyres and many other substances containing carbon and hydrogen can be used as input to new waste disposal technologies. These substances can be fed into equipment that produces gases containing carbon and hydrogen. A catalyst is used to break the existing carbon bonds in long chained polymers into single carbon fragments that can be recombined to form small chain hydrocarbons for recycled fuels, a process is generally known as ‘biofuels from waste’. There are some pros and cons, and as with bioplastics, attention has to be given to the energy used for processing. Some research and development is using quantum mechanical resonance to produce break the carbon bonds, saving on the large energy consumption from traditional methods of hydrocracking polymer bonds.
The design of modular, self-assembly buildings and shelters for both urban environments, and remote and fragile landscapes is now a reality, with low cost, easy maintenance buildings and a minimal carbon footprint both in manufacture and construction. As well as improvement in design and materials, there are significant advances in rapid deployment of buildings with simple-to-assemble construction frameworks and building panels.
New sustainable, environmentally friendly materials are available for external and internal walls and roofing. Bio-resins and natural fibres are suitable for extruded stud frame houses and commercial constructions. The materials are not only low carbon in manufacture, but have demonstrably superior fire resistance.
In view of the risks of extreme weather events, and other emergency situations forecast to rise with the incidence of extreme weather events, it is a great advantage to have self-assembly building teams from local communities put up buildings such as schools, clinics, accommodation, site sheds, disaster relief shelters, ready to occupy in a matter of days. With current technology advances, this can include framework, plumbing, electrical wiring, and appliances.
Many bio-composite research organizations worldwide are committed to developing sustainable, environmentally friendly bio materials such as natural fibre reinforcements and bio-resins. This enables manufacture of frames for structured insulated panels, from bio-fibre reinforced polymer composites.
Self-assembly building systems can be developed for rural, isolated and developing communities. They can be constructed from natural fibre materials, to be lightweight, insulated, fire resistant, water resistant, termite and hurricane proof. And they can be assembled without the use of skilled tradesman. Components can be manufactured using materials that have a lower embodied energy (energy used in production) than traditional construction materials. They are being designed as ‘flat packs’, for ready transport to building sites.
Assembly teams from local communities can put up buildings such as schools, clinics, emergency accommodation, site sheds, and disaster relief shelters within a short timeframe. This includes final fit out, as well as renewable energy and clean drinking water systems. Locally sourced natural fibre insulation such as industrial hemp, wool, or other fibres and materials, can increase the comfort and decrease the carbon footprint of the supply chain.
Community based developments have a particular need for robust simple technology that has been rigorously tested for use in difficult conditions. There is a global requirement for low cost, sustainable buildings particularly in view of risks from climate change. As well as local communities and households, government agencies and NGOs operating in difficult to access terrain and war zones can all be assisted by self-assembly systems. New materials, systems and technologies are emerging to build rapid response shelters as well as more permanent structures. And the structures can be low cost, easy to transport, and easy to source, with collaboration amongst suppliers, research organizations, government agencies and communities.
Portland cement usually originates from limestone. It is in commonest use around the world, the basic input into concrete, fibre boards, and mortars. It was developed in the 19th century, and its biggest disadvantage is that it contributes to more than 5% of the annual greenhouse gas emissions. This is because production of clinker as part of the manufacture process, as well as the mining and the transport of materials, requires very high energy consumption. Emissions of greenhouse gases and particulates make Portland cements a clear target for replacement with more advanced cement based products.
Roman cements were naturally produced from limestones containing clay. First manufactured in ancient Rome, gypsum and lime were used as binders. Volcanic dusts were added, which made the concrete more resistant to salt water because of a high content of alumina and silica. This natural combination produced binders of great strength and durability. The success of the cement synthesis at low temperatures resulted from the mix of elements, silica, alumina and iron oxide not attained in any man made mixture.
Magnesium Oxide cement products, on the other hand, are a technology extension of traditional cements. They largely satisfy energy efficient criteria, in that, after initial firing, low energy MgO cement curing and production is mostly undertaken at room temperature, so that the embodied energy of the cement products is much less than any other type of cement. MgO cement has fewer process steps and requires a lower volume of raw materials. Prior to being turned into building boards, raw materials processing is undertaken at around 650°C, while production facility processes are mostly undertaken at room temperature. All of these factors account for significantly lower embodied energy from the lifecycle of manufacturing MgO building boards.
MgO cement products have been rated as achieving similar or superior strength, fire and water resistance and other mechanical characteristics and properties, at a lower volume, lighter weight, and with less input material than conventional fibre cement and plasterboard boards, with a longer life span and improved durability. They also exhibit increased bio-degradability and recycling possibilities.
The European Commission has estimated that 80% of carbon emissions in Europe result from electricity. Transport initiatives will see electricity and hydrogen powering the developed world's vehicles by 2020. For manufacturing, retail, mining, and the services industries, the major source of carbon emissions is still the consumption of electricity.
A clear target for carbon emissions reduction, such as substitution of renewable energy for fossil fuels, is the production of electricity. Carbon prices in the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) are lower than expected because of, among other reasons, a lack of accuracy of the estimation techniques for emissions. Providing standards based way for carbon pricing in real-time could stabilize and improve the carbon market.
Emissions Trading Schemes, as set out in the Kyoto Protocol, are reliant on market mechanisms of cap and trade to regulate carbon emissions. Different mechanisms are being used in different parts of the world (although probably the most developed is the European Union ETS). One Emissions Trading Unit (ETU) is equivalent to 1 tonne reduction of CO2 emissions.
There are a few emerging problems with cap and trade schemes, such as the estimation techniques having a significant uncertainty. Many emitters and industries are not covered by the schemes. Another factor has been carbon leakage. This refers to a net increase in carbon emissions because of different pricing and regulation between countries, of which carbon polluters take advantage. Currently there are no guarantees that these schemes will be effective in the actual measurement and reduction of greenhouse emissions into the atmosphere, because practically speaking, it is impossible to fully regulate a carbon market within the timescales required to be sure of limiting temperature rises to an acceptable range. Voluntary regulation has never worked particularly well in markets.
Initiatives for a clean energy super grid by Europe's North Sea countries (able to store power, effectively forming a giant renewable power station) were initially encouraging. With the lesson of the failure of self-regulation by financial markets still fresh, it is surely too risky to allow market forces alone to regulate carbon emission reduction. A better strategy for carbon emissions governance may be to selectively apply a regime of carbon emissions monitoring in near real-time to the electricity grid. Carbon pricing by generator source may serve to actively promote a popular culture of carbon emissions reduction, reflected in the price of electricity. This would provide requisite economic incentive for encouraging the production of renewable energy grids, and the development of micro-grids. There are many possibilities to develop local area networks as well as wide area networks for power generation, using the best available sources of renewable energy. At the beginning of 2015, prices per kilowatt hour are dropping rapidly in response to rapidly declining cost of producing solar energy. A price on carbon would seal the deal.
Currently there are reasonably accurate metrics for greenhouse gas emissions from power generation, by generator type. By gathering data from transmission networks, a carbon price can be place on real-time electricity generation according to the amount of fossil fuel generated power. Electricity supply is a zero sum game, and for traditional generators, supply has to meet demand, so that calculations made on the supply of electricity are an accurate source of information. They can be used by a real-time carbon market as the basis for pricing carbon discounts for energy sources not based on fossil fuels.
Transmission Networks are often known as ‘the Grid’ or ‘the National Grid’. They transfer electrical energy from electricity generators or power plants to electricity substations located near demand centers, often over high voltage networks. New electricity network technology, known as 'Smart Grid', combined with cloud computing is capable of integrating electricity measurement data with a web enabled trading market operating in wide area networks. This would provide spot prices for electricity, with accurate carbon pricing discounts for use of energy provided by renewable energy generation. Cloud data services can be used to aggregate power consumption, and associated carbon emissions, on an immediate basis, by generator source accessible from the internet.
By monitoring scheduled electricity transmission (and therefore consumption) by network operators, a mechanism of carbon emissions pricing discounts, applied to both industry and households, can be made transparent, and web infographics would encourage effective popular support. That is, offering cheaper electricity prices for greener consumption by application of a price on carbon.
A spot pricing market for electricity can thus provide a carbon price. Electricity transmitters, distributors and retailers can access a national energy exchange mechanism via a web portal, to buy and sell energy, receiving an associated discount for buying products with a lower carbon rating, effectively setting the carbon price. To achieve timely, accurate carbon emissions monitoring, it is important that a standard approach is used for the collection of electricity and trading market data.
Data about power transmission by generator type can be collected from Transmission Network Operators, both in real-time, and from forecast demand schedules. Data can be collected from scheduled transmissions, as well as from smart grid network devices can supply near real-time metrics of consumption. As the take up of 'Smart Grid' technology increases, the data will increasingly represent real-time consumption.
Data gathering mechanisms do have a sufficient level of accuracy for market spot pricing, and the accuracy can only increase as electricity monitoring and demand forecasts improve. This provides an enormous opportunity to apply carbon emissions monitoring algorithms to demand and consumption data, providing carbon pricing discounts on the spot to wholesale and retail buyers of electricity.
From a greenhouse gas emissions reduction perspective, there is considerable urgency for the electricity marketplace to meet the increasing levels of renewable energy generation. Current mechanisms depend on having a small number of large generators that operate on dedicated power tie lines. This scenario is rapidly changing. In Europe, the European Commission has mandated that information technology is to be used to accommodate renewable energy generation, not the building of new infrastructure. A real time electricity market can offer customer discounts for use of renewable energy, creating further incentives for generators to move away from fossil fuel power generation. Discounts and consumption levels made easily accessible via the internet would prove very popular with consumers. Electricity micro hubs are starting to spring up at a local level. Integrating the existing networks with new micro networks is an effective way to promote the supply of renewable energy quickly and efficiently.
"Over the last twenty years using a Whole System Design (WSD) approach to identifying energy efficiency opportunities, engineers, industrial designers and architects have found they can achieve larger efficiency" Commonwealth Scientific and Industry Research Organisation (CSIRO) Energy, Australia.
Energy efficiency can substantially reduce the greenhouse emissions from energy consumption for all organizations with large energy bills, from energy assessments. Initial site analysis can include building thermal performance, energy usage patterns, as well as the type of equipment installed. A review of energy provider peak and off-peak rates can be made to suit usage patterns. Detailed audits can be undertaken to gather data for input into the recommended energy efficiency solution measures. Smart meters and energy demand management can enable the fillip to further reduce energy bills and associated carbon emissions, by providing information about usage patterns and behaviours.
Carbon pricing makes organizations more conscious of their carbon footprint, particularly as energy retail prices look set to rise further. In the retrofit of energy efficiency into buildings, as well as energy efficient technology, building thermal improvements can be applied to reduce energy consumption. Energy management by reduction strategies is a comprehensive approach to delivery of more savings than any other single mechanism, and of course is a lot cheaper.
Building thermal performance is a prime consideration when designing energy efficiency improvements. Replacement of lighting, energy usage monitoring, and installation of renewable energy can be designed with the characteristics of the whole site in mind, resulting in greater efficiency and proficiency throughout the process of energy consumption.
Understanding and predicting energy consumption behavior to reduce electricity bills, also improves energy efficiency. Better products use less energy. For lighting, LEDs are not only the most efficient technology, the supply chain is much less toxic than fluorescent lighting. Customized design for particular buildings can produce very compelling energy efficiency results. Getting the right equipment for specific company sites can dramatically reduce consumption. While geo-exchange heating and cooling technologies use less electricity, no two buildings are the same. Specific improvements designed to suit the building’s particular characteristics are the best way to maximize energy usage reduction.
Bill analysis of electricity consumption plays an important part in promoting efficient consumption. Scrutiny of historical billing data provides evidence of exactly what equipment usage patterns over time, are costing the most. Change of consumption habits, tariffs, and equipment provides more savings. Smart meters, and the logging of usage data helps organizations to target the reduction of profligate behavior. Best practice monitoring systems allow for observation of real-time data and comparative analysis from a web interface.
End-to-end design and a whole system view of complex buildings with multiple spaces helps reduce peak load by intelligent monitoring of energy usage. Examination of building characteristics and function can identify common sense improvements that further reduce the improvements from energy efficient equipment. Site specific renewable energy generation can provide income by supplying energy back into the grid. In many countries, there are a number of programs and funding options available for energy efficiency building retrofits. In some systems there are no upfront costs, with energy efficiency equipment paid for directly from electricity bill savings.
A site specific program plan can manage the delivery of energy efficiency improvements to building, plant and equipment. At this point in time the programs are mostly targeted at the commercial sector. Household consumption is a poor relative in the programs targeted at increased energy efficiency, and yet this is where the most pain is felt.
Smart meters monitor ongoing energy usage. Used judiciously they can significantly reduce carbon footprint. ‘Advanced metering can enable businesses to identify energy, cost and carbon savings by providing detailed information about the way in which they use their energy. Although this technology is fairly well established in companies with significant energy demands, it is not widely used by small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs)’. Advanced Metering - Carbon Trust UK.
Access to energy data can provide metrics that help to optimize corporate energy consumption. Analysis by time of use, history, seasonal variations and peak/off peak patterns can make some low hanging fruit cost savings. Depending on the available meters, and other energy databases, near real-time data can provide significant cost savings from fine tuning of energy demand management and building problem determination.
Technology equipment savings can be analysed. Replacement of existing energy equipment can be an expensive business. Cost benefit analysis of equipment replacement can determine the best value for money, in view of the current costs of electricity. Site specific analysis can be applied to projected equipment replacement, based on representative sample data regarding the likely payback period, and the annual cost savings.
It is important to develop a strategic roadmap based on requirements gathering to deliver the full benefits of energy efficiency. Comprehensive pre-installation site specific surveys improve performance of energy savings from smart metering, lighting, heating, ventilation, and cooling. For some organizations the installation of wind, solar, tidal and other renewable energy generators can provide large cost savings over time. There is some excellent software available to collected data about energy consumption and production. Insights can be presented effectively in graphs, via reports, dashboards and, some programs provide KPIs of energy usage, and carbon offsets insights provided by near real time data. What can be measured can be managed.
At this point in time energy efficiency programs are mostly targeted at the commercial sector. Household consumption is a poor relative, and yet this is where the most pain is being felt as families struggle to pay rising retail costs.
‘Reinventing Fire’ is the wonderful term coined by the Rocky Mountain Institute to describe the transformation of the pattern of energy consumption away from oil and coal, and nuclear energy. Careful analysis has to be the basis for finding new sources of energy, to ensure that the chosen renewable energy sources make the best use of local conditions to replace fossil fuels in the production of electricity.
So what is the problem? Oil, coal, and natural gas, the ‘fossil’ fuels formed by decomposition of dead organisms are causing excessive greenhouse gas emissions. All three were formed many hundreds of millions of years ago from the decomposition of plants and animals. Oil and natural gas were created from organisms that lived in the water and were buried under ocean or river sediments. Long after the great prehistoric seas and rivers vanished, heat, pressure and bacteria combined to compress the organic material. The processes of the carbon cycle that engage organic material are photosynthesis and metabolism. During photosynthesis, plants use up carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. During metabolism oxygen is used and carbon dioxide is a product. This balance is part of the stability of the composition of the atmosphere, the air that we breathe. What happens when extra carbon that has been locked away in fossil fuel deposits is burnt and released into the atmosphere? The greenhouse blanket gets thicker, and the Earth gets warmer.
Nuclear fission, a chain reaction, releases the enormous energy stored in the nuclei of elements of matter. We humans have not learned to handle the tremendous forces unleashed by this process. It is an unreliable source of ‘fire’ because no solution has been found to its potentially lethal waste products, radioactive isotopes (such as Plutonium 239 which takes hundreds of thousands of years to lose radioactivity). Nuclear power is an accident waiting to happen, and the two major events at Chernobyl in Russia and Fukushima in Japan are just the tip of an iceberg, with nuclear plants located in regions that are geologically unstable. With the biosphere already in a state of uncertainty, pursuing nuclear power would be madness.
Nuclear fusion is one of the basic transformation forces of the universe. When nuclei are combined, matter is transformed, releasing massive amounts of energy. Einstein’s famous equation e=mc2 and some simple arithmetic demonstrates this fact. The speed of light means that photons of energy from the Sun travel the 150 million kilometers to Earth in about 8 minutes. Thus just a small amount of matter can produce a massive quantity of energy.
The good news is that our sun is our natural source of nuclear fusion. Deep in the core of our local star, hydrogen atoms react by nuclear fusion, producing a massive amount of energy that streams in all directions at the speed of light. And it is safely held at a safe distance from Earth by the gravity of space-time, able to be harnessed by photovoltaics or solar cells.
Water is another predictable source of energy, with the cycle of precipitation causing our rivers to flow, and the moon providing tidal motion, both sources of mechanical energy that can be converted readily into hydroelectricity. One of the balance mechanisms of our climate is the winds that form from pressure gradients in the atmosphere providing consistent predictable currents of air, also providing mechanical energy that, like water, can be converted into electricity. It seems that as long as we take care of our climate cycle, we have abundant natural sources of energy that can be tapped with fairly simple, safe technologies, to meet all our energy needs.
The term ‘renewable’ means that tapping into sources of energy that are natural, secure and have proven to be sustainable over time because they are part of the fundamental mechanics of the solar system that support water and carbon based life on our planet. Using a range of technologies suited to local environmental conditions, such as sunlight, wind, tides and rivers, there is abundant cheap energy available on the planet without having to use sources of power that fundamentally cost the Earth because of dangerous side effects
The availability, technology and cost effectiveness means that there is no reason that baseload power cannot be provide by 100% renewable energy. The caveat is that we need to use planning, analysis and foresight to ensure that the transition from our current monolithic generators to a combination of macro and micro grids is achieved as cleverly as possible. The biggest challenge is ensuring that the capacity of energy storage technologies match the renewable energy production.
Energy is a zero sum game. That is, energy supply has to exactly meet energy demand. Currently we are burning fossil fuels on demand. A more efficient way to meet our energy needs is to be able harvest energy when it is available, for example the sun and the wind, and store it somewhere until it is required to produce power. Energy storage has to be part of the solution.
In January 2015, the Climate Group launched its RE100 program. It is a bold initiative that encourages energy companies to commit to be 100% renewable energy. Their strategy and their analysis is excellent, however does depend on investment not only in cost effective renewable energy generators, but also energy storage. Electricity can be converted into different forms of energy which can be stored and retrieved later to meet demand from consumers. It really depends on the length of time, how much electricity has to be stored, and what is available in the local area, as to which storage technologies are the most useful. A brief look at some of the best energy storage solutions that are key to enabling a 100% renewable energy grid shows that with investment, there are mature technologies ready, willing and able to replace fossil fuels. Even though there are associated capital costs to be met, the long term outlook is very profitable, and associated benefits are a sustainable renewable economy for us all.
For regions with a suitable topography, like Norway and Switzerland, hydroelectricity is a brilliant storage mechanism. The basic mechanism is to use excess energy to pump water up to a higher reservoir, from whence it falls to a lower reservoir, creating electricity by so doing. Large plants have high capital costs, and take a long time to design and build. Anywhere there are suitable natural reservoirs, enclosed to minimize evaporation are good places to establish solar, wind and other renewable energy generation capacity. The ability to use hydro storage means that stable baseload power can be delivered when needed.
Compressed Air Electricity Storage (CAES) also looks promising. It requires underground storage capability, such as artificial salt caverns. Current plants have installed capacity around 200 Megawatts. Thermal oil and molten salts are also being investigated as storage options. Hydrogen fuel cells are developing rapidly as the costs are decreasing. Utility scale hydrogen fuel cells can produce hydrogen with electrolysis, able to be stored for use in fuel cells to generate electricity. Supercapacitors are much faster than batteries can deliver a lot of power in a very short period of time, so they are useful for fluctuations of power quality on the grid. There are many more renewable and sustainable storage solutions that are beginning to come into play, as investment increases, and we have the incentives in place to leave oil, coal and natural gas in the ground.
Micro grids have a significant role to play in providing access to clean energy. Large scale micro grid initiatives and projects currently underway in Asia and Africa. There is a staggering one and a half billion people who currently live in rural areas, most with no access to electricity, including rural Africa and the myriad islands in Indonesia and the Philippines. The forecast is for micro grids to supply around 40% of new rural capacity by 2030. Investment is key to developing this capacity. Currently there are a number of NGOs engaged to ensure commercial viability is being augmented by government policy, local skills and knowledge, and careful selection of renewable energy technology to match local resources.
Hybrid electricity generation based on local resources, and the potential for bio energy as backup capacity, combined with new types of local storage solutions, may mean that micro grids may become mainstream in the short to medium term. By 2030, micro-grids may become a reality for all communities, making today’s national grids eventually obsolete. Electricity high voltage networks are inefficient distributors of power over long distances, with significant line losses, so it makes sense to replace fossil fuel centralized generation with multiple smaller renewable local solutions. A realistic price on carbon makes micro grids a good financial option.
Most people think of photovoltaic (PV) solar rooftop cells when they think of renewable energy. Today’s technology is streets ahead of the first generation of solar panels. The photovoltaic effect is the use of sunlight to make use of semiconductor materials and the difference in their energy states to produce an electrical current. Nanostructured materials and photonic enhancements offer unprecedented opportunities to control both the optical and electrical properties of the next generation of solar cells. These cells can be produced at low cost, 3D printed onto building panels and public structures, for inbuilt electricity production. There is even a solar paint that can generate electricity from the sun. Before long, buildings can be provided sufficient solar capacity during construction for sustainable household use. Retrofitting could become as easy as a new coat of paint.
Concentrated Solar Power or (CSP) uses the principle of focusing energy in a relatively small area, by using mirrors and lenses to concentrate solar radiation which is converted to heat. CSP plants are capital intensive, but have virtually zero fuel costs. Parabolic trough plants however require thermal energy storage. Adding cost effective energy storage technology is the key to large scale adoption of CSP as a supplier of existing electricity grids. Operational and maintenance costs can be reduced significantly the more plants that are built.
Wave power makes use of dynamic ocean movements to capture energy perpendicular to the motion of the waves. Floats are partially submerged in the water, and when a wave rolls in, they are lifted upwards in succession by the wave crest. Wave motion generates hydraulic power which can be converted into a steady power output to the electricity grid. Hydraulic cylinders, supply power to a common fixed pressure system, which effectively is an energy storage system. This energy can be converted to electricity as required. Ocean wave power technologies are mature, and are in early stages of adoption into power grids.
Tidal power from rivers and seaways has some very interesting advances allowing for energy from current as slow as 2 knots. The vortex is a physical phenomenon that can manifest in water. Vortices can form in moving liquids and gases, a spiral that has properties of angular and linear momentum, and energy, as well as mass. A vortex turbine can use the vibration energy in the water current. The energy is a result of the difference in pressure between the core of the vortex, and the perimeter. The movement of the cylinder resulting from the pressure gradient is then converted to electricity. Observation of a whirlwind gives an idea of how much power vortices can generate from relatively small, but constant input tidal flow. This form of energy has great potential for towns and villages near a water course where there is no access to an electricity grid. In the short term remote, developing and fragile regions are the prime benefactors of this type of technology, particularly in those regions where micro grid projects can supply most of the future energy needs.
Geothermal energy is an interesting option. It is heat from the Earth itself. It is clean and sustainable, and comes with its own storage. From shallow sources of hot water and rocks to molten magma, there is an enormous potential to exploit this untapped energy, with appropriate investment. Currently one of the early uses of geothermal energy is to provide cooling in summer and heating in winter for buildings. Geothermal heat pumps transfer heat into the indoor air delivery system. In the summer, the process is reversed, and the heat pump moves heat from the indoor air into the heat exchanger. This form of renewable energy has the potential to provide large scale grid power in geologically suitable locations.
Biogas is produced from raw materials such as agricultural waste, manure, municipal waste, plant material, sewage, green waste and food waste. As such, many local authorities are investigating and investing in biogas energy production, because it also solves part of the growing waste disposal problems that faces almost every municipality in every country.
The problem is to find practical alternatives, and transition strategies, so that petroleum combustion engines can be gradually replaced or upgraded to run on newer fuel types, such as hydrogen and electricity. The transition away from fossil fuels may be able to utilise the existing fuel stations as part of the renewable energy solution. Renewable energy technologies can now deliver baseload power (predictable, constant power in excess of 10 megawatts). A particular problem for the electricity transmission authorities, independent of generator source, is the ability to meet the demands of peak power supply, as power is a commodity that is difficult to store, and both households and industry are rapidly increasing their consumption of electricity.
Large scale solutions for storing energy are expensive, have a long lead time, and may not prove to be the optimal solutions to supply peak and off-peak power demands in a cost effective way. Smaller scale facilities can be more flexible, and more easily backed up to provide local power in case of electricity blackouts and brownouts. This also avoids the problem of a single point of failure effecting large geographic areas in case of extreme weather or even disasters. With the evolution of transport energy systems to electric motors, vehicles require new types of fuelling stations to supply both electricity and hydrogen to fuel the new vehicles being delivered by manufacturers. A cost effective, energy efficient and low carbon solution may be to co-locate electric and hydrogen vehicle energy stations with renewable energy generators, using hydrogen and other forms of local storage to store excess energy for supply at peak times into the local electricity grid. Hydrogen may be interesting, as it is not only a fuel, it can be used as an energy storage medium.
New renewable energy technologies provide a range of options, suitable for particular locations. Tidal power, wind turbines, solar-thermal and solar generators can all provide industrial strength energy at commercial levels. The conversion of petrol combustion engines to use electrical and hydrogen energy can be accelerated by the development of energy stations powered by renewable energies.
Hydrogen as a fuel for transport is now a mature technology. There are two main uses of hydrogen in vehicle engines. They are the adaptation of existing combustion engines either to run on hydrogen, and the use of hydrogen fuel cells to provide power for electric vehicles. These fuel cells take in hydrogen and oxygen, and give off water, providing electricity to power the electric motors.
Hydrogen is also an efficient energy storage mechanism, and a two way process can take electricity, store it as hydrogen, and then when required, provide fuel cells with energy that can be converted back into electricity, suitable for supply into the electricity grid. Electric powered vehicles, using either batteries or hydrogen cells as a power source, are becoming increasingly available. These vehicles require either electricity or hydrogen or both to operate. Co-location of vehicle depots with renewable energy production to supply electricity into a local electricity grid hub can provide a viable business model, particularly in the current situation of rising electricity prices.
The production of hybrid electric and hydrogen vehicles is slowly increasing. Acceleration of production of new energy fuels for vehicles is set to continue, with or without regulation of emissions, and associated carbon pricing offsets. Vehicle manufacturers such as Honda, Mercedes, BMW and Toyota are producing electric powered vehicles with hydrogen fuel cells for the marketplace, scheduled to make a serious entry in 2015. Clearly new vehicle fuels require new energy resourcing stations, however in the early periods of operation, this is unlikely to be profitable until the take up of the new vehicles becomes widespread. The cost of production of fossil fuels is rising as supply is declining. For enabling vehicle fleets with clean energy, the problem remains to provide convenient supplies of hydrogen and electricity, particularly in view of rising electricity prices because of the need to bolster aging grid infrastructure to meet increasing demand. New energy supplies for vehicles can facilitate the transformation of land transport fuel consumption. The technology also provides improved engine performance, particularly with the advances in hydrogen fuel and fuel cells.
Many companies are engaged in the development of vehicle engines, and as the technology matures, costs are coming down. In January 2015, Toyota offered royalty free use of the fuel cell related patents related to fuel cell stacks, high pressure hydrogen tanks, fuel cell system software control, hydrogen production and supply. This is clearly going to be a game changer, and by 2020 hydrogen stations for transport may well replace service stations selling fossil fuels such as petroleum, diesel and even ethanol. (The problem with biofuels is that very often they are being grown in place of food crops, in regions where agricultural land of food is in short supply, and is not biosphere sustainable.) The colocation of renewable energy and hydrogen stations for vehicles may yet prove a winning combination.
The United Nations is an intergovernmental organization to promote international co-operation, comprising 193 member states. The countries meeting in Paris was intended to come to an agreement on climate change. The agreement reached was to set some goals for containing temperature rises, and some targets for committing finance to achieving these ambitions. There was no discussion or agreement on any scientific strategy or methods to achieve these goals, nor was there a commitment to a global price on carbon. So what is the current state of play?
Up until now, we have placed no monetary value on either unpaid labour, much of it performed by women, and on the natural resources of fresh water, forests, clean air, healthy soils, and unpolluted rivers, seas and oceans. This is clearly a situation that has to be addressed as part of the measures to stabilize the biosphere, and has to be implicit in the activities that are funded to address the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Putting a value on clean water and non-toxic food supply is surely a starting point. Funding community based enterprises into sustainable agribusiness, environment management, and micro businesses for renewable energy is a priority of the United Nations Environment and Development programs, and there are many links between these programs and the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change. Encouraging the leadership and the full participation of women in these initiatives as seen as a very effective strategy for economic development in fragile regions.
The United States, the European Union and China, that together account for half of all greenhouse gas emissions, have pledged to do more, however it may not be enough. All nations were expected to make their emissions cutting commitments known in the first half of 2015, and these pledges were the basis for the ambition of the final agreement to be reached in December 2015 at the 21st Conference of Parties in Paris.
Mandatory carbon cap and trade schemes worldwide would see a rise in carbon price. Currently the low price means that the largest emitters of greenhouse emissions do not spend as many mandatory carbon credits on reducing their own emissions, because it is cheaper to meet commitments with projects that are successful, but do not have a very significant effect on overall reduction of emissions. A significant rise in the carbon price would mean that the large polluters would address their own emissions, rather than spending their emissions reduction budget in less developed parts of the world. It has been very difficult to get emissions trading schemes up and running, as countries put carbon pricing jurisdictions in place. An ETS guarantees the outcome, but not the price. Taxation, on the other hand, guarantees the price but not the outcome. With an increasing concern for meeting United Nations targets for reducing emissions to keep global temperature rises within defined limits, more countries are supporting an outcomes based approach.
A stable price on reducing tonnes of Carbon Dioxide equivalent emitted (tCO2e, the standard for Global Warming Potential reduction) is universally acknowledged as the most effective method to reduce the hazards and disasters stemming from climate change and the extreme weather events now being experienced in every part of the globe. And yet the political will to tackle the large corporate polluters is still half-hearted, with governments apparently in thrall to vested interests that either manufacture or have substantial financial investment in energy from fossilized carbon, or large-scale deforestation.
There is no economic justification for not adopting the viable industry of the future based on renewable energy resources. The reluctance appears to be psychological, in that the current corporate status quo does not want to change habits or ways of doing business. (The big corporate sector is the major culprit for greenhouse gas emissions on the planet, and currently governments are serving big business in preference to serving the people.)
The EU trading system was the vanguard, and other jurisdictions have been able to learn from the early experiences. Increasingly each year, regional carbon markets are growing. They had a value of 30 billion USD in 2014. Multinational corporations can clearly benefit by an integration of the separate carbon markets into an overarching international system. China is on track for a national trading system during 2016, and a gradual harmonization of local systems is a stated goal. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has new rules for restricting emissions from existing power plants. The California cap and trade system is being considered by other states. Many countries have national and regional trading systems.
Linking of international Emissions Trading Systems has proved challenging. When the building blocks of the system are identical, there is no real difficulty. However, most systems have technical and structural differences, as well as political differences. While there is a real intention to harmonize regional markets into a national system, the problems and challenges of integrating data and information that are not standard have become obstacle courses.
This is not a new challenge, in fact it has been faced by other industries trying to make diverse systems communicate in real time. Notable examples are banking to connect live financial markets, and the utilities initiative ‘Smart Grid’ for balancing supply and demand across regional borders. The Information and Communications Technology industry has been at the forefront of meeting the technical challenges of facilitating information from different sources to be standardized, organized, distributed and managed from heterogeneous systems. Experience shows that taxation systems can coexist with a market pricing scheme. Taxation can be used to underpin a low carbon price, although this leads to a discrepancy in the cost of emissions reduction. The adjustment of taxation with offsets is similar to the way an emission trading system works, and this means that adjustments can be applied on a regional basis. Taxation can be used for protection of national industries, and for some countries this may be an attractive option.
A multiplicity of systems means that currently there is a huge range of prices for emissions in a global sense. In 2014 this was a discrepancy of more than 250%. Clearly this does not guarantee the outcomes required, and that is a focused, consistent reduction in emissions targeted at the industries that are the major culprits for greenhouse emissions, and thus global warming and climate change. Perhaps the lesson to be learnt is that targeting the major sources of greenhouse emissions at source as a starting point for an international Emissions Trading Scheme is essential to guarantee the results. Chinese experience shows that voluntary engagement in carbon trading only works to a small degree.
In the international context, it is clear that the wealthy corporations who are the major polluters continue to be self-serving, meaning that further policy and market mechanisms, regulation and public pressure all have to be applied to build up a comprehensive collaborative approach for real reductions of greenhouse emissions. We have to encourage, manage, and police the emissions reduction targets so that they meet the objectives set out by the scientific bodies charged with advising the countries engaged in the Kyoto Protocol negotiations. Near enough is not good enough when it comes to meeting the clear scenarios identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for limiting temperature rises to as close to less than two degrees Celsius as possible. Most organizations now recognize that we have missed the boat to achieve the lowest global temperature band rises, by failing to achieve concerted action to date. By 2011, we had already emitted about two thirds of the maximum cumulative amount of carbon dioxide that we can emit if we are to have a better than two thirds chance of meeting the 2°C target.
Because of our past performance burning fossil fuels for electricity, transport fuels, and the manufacture of concrete, even if emissions are stopped immediately, temperatures are going to remain elevated for centuries due to the effect of greenhouse gases. Limiting temperature rise will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. Financial resources were moving into climate adaptation and mitigation on an increasing scale in the lead up to the new international climate agreement to be forged in Paris in 2015. There is a window of opportunity to take concerted, cost effective action to reduce emissions. However it is a brief window.
New directions are required for adaptation and mitigation of climate change. Positive action and enhancement to current financing processes has to take place. We cannot fit sustainable technology projects to set guidelines, as we do not yet have the depth of knowledge or experience to do so. The approach has to be to fit the governance to the projects. We must adapt. The winds of change for financing developing country climate change projects are blowing strongly. The UN FCCC Scaling Up Climate Finance participants seem united on that count. There have to be new pathways for mobilising climate finance, however they have yet to be agreed and instituted.
The UN Conference of Parties COP 21 in Paris in December 2015 was a partial success. There also have to be pathways to community project finance in the developed world, as this is where innovation is most likely, and where the networks to communicate new and improved technology are the most powerful, and most likely to succeed without the impedance of vested interest by rich and powerful companies. The outcome was mixed, both encouraging and disappointing. On the plus side, the countries agreed to a temperature limit of “well below 2C”, and proposed that there should be “efforts” to limit it to 1.5C. This is stronger than many countries had hoped, but falls short of the desires of many island and vulnerable nations, which had pushed for 1.5C as an absolute limit that would see, for example, many Pacific island nations with substantial land masses submerging under the Pacific Ocean.
It also remains to be seen whether the countries walk the talk of the Paris conference, or whether the pledges remain idle rhetoric. Only pressure by citizens can determine the final result. What was clear from the conference is that community groups, various cities, and the developing world is leading the way to address climate change in a positive way.
A global carbon price was not discussed in any meaningful way that would result in address the harmonization of global carbon trading systems, their limited application, and lack of accuracy and uncertainty for the value of greenhouse emissions reduction activities and projects going forward, thus limiting investment possibilities in viable low carbon agribusiness, transport and electricity industry.
Greenhouse gas emissions reduction can be summarized by just a few activities. Firstly, replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy is key to reduction strategies. Sequestering carbon directly can be achieved by planned stabilization of the natural environment such as finding alternative activities to logging and over-fishing the oceans. Sequestering carbon indirectly can be achieved by planting crops that have high absorption properties, and the use of building materials that absorb greenhouse gases. Making communities energy efficient and sufficient through public awareness campaigns to change the way people and organizations use energy is also a highly effective and critical measure.
Anecdotal evidence indicates that many community projects capable of reducing emissions are foundering on the rocks of slow and inefficient climate finance. It is not only habitat that has been sacrificed on the altar of financial gain, investors and governments have been loath to fund greenhouse gas reduction research and technology. For example, market-ready renewable energy, bio-composite materials to replace plastics, carbon sequestering agribusiness, energy efficient construction technologies and energy from waste technologies have been unable to gain funding. New pathways are required, as well as lightweight governance mechanisms for mobilising climate finance to accelerate greenhouse gas emissions reduction. Micro and direct finance can provide a kick start to climate mitigation projects and clean technology innovation.
Greenwashing has to be curbed. It is imperative to provide robust processes engaging relevant climate professional organizations and individuals, to ensure that money is effectively spent. The pooling of knowledge and experience about climate finance and science can expedite emissions reductions, by making finance accessible to small projects in both developing and developed countries. Climate change does not respect borders, and urgent action and resources, is required for projects in every corner of the globe. The expertise, technology, people and organizations are already in place.
It is time for an international initiative to fund the projects that are ready to go, with technology that has already been developed. Why continue to try to fit sustainable technology projects to inadequate guidelines that can be politically exploited or easily corrupted? The approach has to be to fit governance from appropriate professional scrutiny directly to the projects. Funding channels and instruments can be applied to local community projects and innovative technology. Professional evaluation, can provide simple online pathways for approval to mobilize climate finance. Web workflows can be backed up by specialist knowledge, experience, case studies and skillsets to enormously speed up climate finance delivery.
A public search facility can ensure that scientific and economic analysis can be recorded and made accessible to get the right information to the right people at the right time in support of climate funding approvals processes. Simple intuitive interfaces can facilitate the uploading of project data, photos and text, subsequently linked to geospatial and scientific information, analysis and other data. Mapping of data can be automated in the background.
A web submissions process can enable real-time feedback for rapid clarification of information, ensuring that project approvers gain a real sense of the value of a project to the local community and economy, as well as a reasonably accurate estimate of the associated emissions reduction. International expertise and knowledge can be readily accessed to solve local problems. Cloud hosted reporting by project, ecology, climate systems, as well as spatial location, can provide insight into emissions reduction measures, local ecologies and micro climates. This information can then be shared globally and publicly.
Climate finance and scientific expertise can engage in capacity building and transfer of technology, ensuring that existing information can be shared to enable accurate assessments of climate change risk to communities. Information technology monitoring can place a real value on the natural environment to the global economy.
Disaster response in view of recent extreme weather events, such as hurricane Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013, and the increasing annual devastating bushfires and floods in Australia requires additional effort to mobilize local and international large scale relief efforts. Collaboration of organizations and processes has to be a priority. It is apparent that there is a pressing need to make the right information available at the right time to enable flexibility for gathering essential resources, such as water, food and medical aid. Access to knowledge and existing information is critical to ensure that responses make the best use of available resources. And yet immediate crisis response is only part of the story.
Risk management begins with mitigation. Climate mitigation and adaptation activities and projects have to be financed on an increasing scale. The recent IPCC AR5 report found that not only is Earth’s climate warming, the rate has increased over the past few decades. The ocean is heating up, storing more carbon, and becoming more acidic, so that animals’ protective shells are weakening. Globally, regions of ice and snow are decreasing. The number of detailed scientific reports, anecdotal evidence from local knowledge, findings and observations is accelerating to the point of information overload.
And yet collection, storage and ready access to information can be mobilized for global access. Climate risk related information access can be automated for public and private purposes. Decisions can be informed by interactive, location based mobile applications. Instead of multiple uncoordinated efforts, consolidation of pathways to climate data can be orchestrated to ensure effective use of resources, people, finance and information. Real-time text translation of conversations, data and information can promote improved response to the growing number of challenges, by facilitating collaboration amongst all stakeholder groups engaged in climate related activities. Particularly important is managing responses to disasters, and events that may lead to loss of life and damage to property and community.
Technology can provide the basis for a coordinated global response to the diverse activities of people and stakeholder organizations engaged in addressing climate disaster management. Messaging can not only facilitate collaboration amongst people and organizations, it can be harvested after the event for response analysis. Mobile data and the internet can provide timely information. The prerequisite is to establish a common terminology and a translation facility for search, access and display of information resources relating to managing risks and disasters stemming from extreme weather events. A common pictorial taxonomy would be a key asset.
There is also a clear requirement to provide access to scientific data from a search capability. Facilitation of communication amongst peers is going to ensure that data is interpreted consistently and accurately. Taxonomy mapping can provide data across scientific disciplines. Flexible response mechanisms have to be devised so that valuable knowledge can be shared internationally. Risk as it relates to the exposure and vulnerability of communities to climate extremes, has to be addressed with ready, easy-to-use communications technologies such as mobile phones and social media sites.
Currently, data on disasters and disaster risk reduction are lacking at the local level, inhibiting improvements in local risk reduction and rapid response. Local knowledge databases can help mobilize disaster relief. Appropriate sharing of information across communities with similar problems can also improve the co-ordination of individual efforts. The key is providing data access when it is needed. Humanitarian relief is going to be called upon more often if prevention measures are inadequate. Logistics for the supply of relief and reconstruction resources can be further automated and communicated to improve responses times.
Data collection mechanisms for resources for risk reduction, disaster relief and reconstruction projects can be developed. Communication and collaboration amongst peer groups is essential for mobilising the best possible preventive measures. Review of best practice can be shared globally to ensure that mistakes are avoided. Timely specialist advice can provide better decision making. Sharing information about disaster risk management and climate change adaptation into local, regional, national, and international development policies and practices can provide many benefits. Relevant information about methods and practices for responses to threats and risks can be made easy to search. Practical information and specialist expertise can be provided on demand.
Opportunities that exist to create synergies in international finance for disaster risk management and adaptation to climate change have just begun to be explored. One way to identify these synergies for disaster risk management, mitigation and adaptation to climate change can be facilitated by simple, pictorial web pathways to relevant information for common scenarios. Making information easily accessible can prevent the reinvention of wheels for disaster response and risk mitigation. Experience already shows that stronger efforts at the international level do not necessarily lead to effective, rapid results in local communities.
Local knowledge can be presented in context with scientific and economic data to improve the quality of response to climate change. Harvesting local knowledge is critical. A combination of scientific, technical and economic information resources can help communities to develop realistic solutions on the ground. Sharing of subject matter expertise, problem solving in similar situations is an important currency for propagating best practice. Encouraging people to share information using internet communications is a very effective way to reduce risk. Being able to access knowledge and information automatically in the context of geographic location can make the difference between life and death.
And of course, for disaster relief and reconstruction, it is essential that communications are established to enable access to knowledge and expertise exactly when the need arises. These functions are well within the capability of current computing technology systems.
For data exchange about climate projects, science and economics, standard information taxonomies are absolutely essential. They are the first step to international public information shared by geographic location. The deployment of global climate information systems can provide dissemination of local knowledge from hands-on experience, as well as established climate science.
Most countries are responding to climate change with specific activities addressing agriculture, horticulture, silviculture, and aquaculture as well as improvements to local ecosystem management. All industries can benefit from sharing knowledge about non-proprietary research and development. There is a unique opportunity to provide real-time location connected data for a wide range of climate mitigation, adaptation and remediation activities, fostering collaboration and knowledge-sharing of solutions for particular problems with respect to maintaining human habitat while enhancing regional biodiversity.
A searchable, publicly available, common climate information service can ensure application of climate science, and economic data in the context of new community and regional climate projects, by ensuring that local and global knowledge is widely, publicly and rapidly accessible. A standard cloud technology approach can accelerate information dissemination to people and organizations involved in addressing climate adaptation, mitigation, and risk and disaster management.
Human timescale (rapid response) data exchange depends on using a combination of high speed search technology indexed by a common information model. This is an efficient and effective way to deliver meaningful global climate information from distributed data centers via mobile phones and internet to local communities. Trust and confidence, open conversation on the strategies for adaptation is required. Donor countries have different national systems for accounting. We have to streamline the accountability. Better, lightweight governance can have positive effects, as climate finance money becomes less scarce. Micro finance can encourage the sharing of roles between donor and developing countries. There is no single answer for the enabling pathways to climate finance. Flexibility and agility have to be the watchwords to allow human beings to do what we have been doing for several hundred thousand years, and that is adapt to change.
We know that there is a correlation between the levels of greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere and temperature, and that at a certain point climate feedback loops can tip the balance in life supporting ecosystems. The clear pathways to support slowing the rate of CO2 emissions are to increase renewable energy, stop logging old growth forests, monitor emissions from supply chains, and to make buildings and habitats energy efficient. The good news is that there is plenty of expertise, case studies and metrics in all of these fields to develop new sustainability technology projects that could be funded into the community by online project financing services.
This is largely true for both developed and developing world countries. The biosphere does not have national borders, all of the earth's micro climates are inextricably linked to the whole planetary ecology. Rather than just focusing on national approaches to climate policy, and individual projects with limited competencies, the next step has to be large scale enabling of projects that can pass the science scrutiny. Governance mechanisms can be advised by climate scientists and sustainable technology organizations, who can be empowered to direct projects that result in rapid and sustainable greenhouse gas emissions reduction, not only in the developing world, but also in wealthy donor countries, where the politics are also infiltrated with vested interest.
Everyone is pretty much agreed on the outcomes of the low carbon economy, where clean, green sustainable business provides social and fiscal benefits for the many. There is room for multiple approaches to ensuring real projects with real merit in reducing greenhouse gas emissions can get off the ground, rather than the situation commented upon by one national delegate to the September 2013 UN Climate Finance Pathways meeting in Incheon, Republic of Korea ‘We create so many plans, frameworks and policies, that we do not have the capacity to implement real solutions'. Positive action and enhancement to current finance processes has to take place. We cannot fit sustainable technology project to set guidelines, as we do not yet have the necessary knowledge and experience set in stone. An improved approach must be to fit the governance to the projects.
Climate related projects can take into account local emissions factors and select the right projects to provide real emissions reduction. Sharing of knowledge about climate ecosystems has to be uninhibited by geography and national borders. The funding of projects, not only within country ownership and national fiscal frameworks, has to allow individual projects and local eco groups to apply for climate finance directly, free of national agendas. Prevention of greenwashing can be served by developing a network of ecology, climate, technology professionals and organisations to serve on governance panels for particular projects within their sphere of expertise.
We have to abandon the approach of applying traditional economic indicators to climate sustainable technology (which do not work, as the natural resources of the environment are not currently assigned an economic value), and instead focus on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions as the key success factor as a measured and measurable result, preferably linked into an international price on carbon. So-called ‘donor’ communities may be looking for traditional metrics, based on statistical series collected over time, to provide evidence of strategic value. A more agile process is required, given the urgency indicated by the overwhelming evidence collected by climate science. We have to lose the mentality of a developed and developing world finance patronage. We are all in the same climate change boat.
Above all we have to develop the habit of rewarding innovative methods of doing business, as it is only lateral thinking and new approaches that can save us from short term thinking, the kind of thinking that caused the problems in the first place. Is the UNFCCC framework too cumbersome? We have to change the framework! Flexible approaches are needed. Country based priorities are not enough, we require strategic global approaches as well. One of the human shortcomings of any program in any country is that agendas can be skewed by vested interests.
Economic transformation can accompany adaptation and mitigation strategy. Direct access by communities to finance has to accompany current investment mechanisms. The most important enabler is a strong policy signal from leaders to take action, and that a price on carbon takes the impetus away from donor countries directing action, usually from an incomplete picture of the problems, based on political concerns, rather than a global view of the health of the planet's biosphere.
Lessons can be learnt to apply to the climate finance agenda. Most countries have highlighted the importance of direct access to climate finance. Aid effectiveness analysis does not necessarily lead to better outcomes. Policy frameworks focus on sustainability, and this is a field that is qualitative. Greenhouse gas emissions are quantitative, not political, and the clock is ticking away on the energy balance of the biosphere on our blue planet.
Social media, and the setting up of better communications between climate scientists and climate finance people can be a very powerful tool to ensure that news, views and experiences on the ground can be exchanged between climate sustainability projects and financiers. The human race has survived extreme climate events over several hundred thousand years. We did not survive because of protocols, rules and regulations. We survived because of our innate ability to develop technology to adapt to changing conditions.
In January 2015, one of the traditional newspapers in the UK published a headline of climate scientists begging governments to ensure that the rest of the fossil fuels, natural sinks for greenhouse gases, remain in the ground, sequestering rather than releasing them into the atmosphere. The old saying that we the people get the government we deserve seems apt. Do we change the governments, reflecting a healthy attitude to our own future, our children’s children, and this amazing planet that has nurtured us for hundreds of millennia? To reduce carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels and deforestation of old growth forests is the choice we have to make, and we don’t have long to make it.
This work started with a historically attributable quote by Gregoire de Tours on the collapse of a mountain in the 6th century, when the local people had sixty days warning in the form of loud rumbling noises of the instability of the rocky terrain. And yet a large number of them chose to ignore the signs, and were observed to perish in a terrible way, as the walls of rock collapsed on their settlement, or were washed away by the torrential rising of the river to terrifying heights. It is not the knowledge and technology that are lacking, it is the collective will of the people to empower ourselves to make the requisite changes, to acknowledge the reality, understand the consequences of failing to address climate change. Now is the time to act promptly and decisively to avert impending disasters by understanding that it is the symbiosis of Earth’s biosphere that currently nourishes and supports our wellbeing. Time to stop the denial of the havoc we are wreaking on this planet by failing to acknowledge the value of the natural world. Time to honour the ancestors and the incredible sacrifices they made so we can have the life we have today. And that includes all the plants and animals as well as us human beings.
There are clearly some human behavioral anti-patterns that are inhibiting the determination and speed at which we address climate change. We accept bad behavior by wealthy international corporations, as though they are just a fact of life. Of course, we are the shareholders. So the question becomes, how do we achieve the critical mass of public consciousness needed to change the way we deal with the urgency of limiting greenhouse gas emissions? From the experience of the ancestors, and the history of human achievements to date, it is clear that it is neither conquest, nor adhering to tradition, nor by being wealthy, nor by being wise after the fact that can address the causes of runaway climate and weather variations.
There is only one primary attribute of human behavior that has been consistently successful in ensuring our survival, and that is our ability to thrive under changing environmental conditions. This has been demonstrated consistently over the period that we have managed to make a record of our collective past, based on DNA analysis of migrations, archaeological evidence and climate records as well as written anecdotal accounts. It is our ability to innovate with technology, to think our way out of a crisis, and to act decisively and determinedly to change past patterns that no longer work for us that are going to count from now on.
This is a vital time for humans to evolve to the next stage of consciousness. Time to learn to live in harmony and peace with our natural environment, maintain the remaining wilderness areas, improve the sustainability of our food production in consideration of the long term health of the land, and above all, to respect the other animals as having the same rights to exist as we accord ourselves. It is high time to abandon the old economy of short term profitability with no value placed on the natural environment. Can we adopt and adapt to our collective new role of custodians of this beautiful blue planet, the only home we know, in time to stabilize the atmospheric conditions and the oceans, the forests and the soils, before living systems change so quickly, in such unexpected ways that we humans have no time to adapt? It has happened in the past. We humans can change our ways. We can avoid becoming one of the casualties of the sixth mass extinction event on Planet Earth.
Throughout the millennia, information, knowledge and education and an innate passion for technology innovation have been the major evolutionary influences. Counteracting this has been unhelpful behavioral patterns that have had a devastating impact on the human condition and the biosphere, the living systems of the planet. Life on Earth has its own destiny, it is not dependent on human beings, and like the sorcerer’s apprentice, we meddle with the planet’s homeostasis at our peril.
When the solar system formed, although the level of our sun’s radiation was less than today, the early Planet Earth was warmer. It turns out that the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been self-regulating for 4.5 billion years, keeping the temperature range of the planet capable of supporting the evolution of stable carbon based life. As the sun gets brighter and hotter, atmospheric CO2 is deposited as carbon into the rocks. This causes the level of greenhouse gases blanketing the planet to decline, cooling the planet. The carbon cycle has been keeping the Earth’s temperature stable, despite the increased level of radiation. The current situation is that human activity has been pumping additional CO2 in the atmosphere, causes a corresponding increase in the warming effect of the sun’s radiation trapped by the layer of greenhouse gases. This is the effect that climate scientists have discovered is changing the planet’s natural carbon cycle.
The carbon cycle is a dynamic process, however it is not clockwork. As far as optimal conditions for life were concerned, the pendulum has swung too far in the past for a healthy biosphere. Twice in the last two and a half billion years, before humans evolved, the planet became a giant snowball. As the tectonic plates shifted to the warmth of the tropics, it caused a faster rate of rock weathering, which in turn produced chemical reactions that ended up locking more carbon into limestone. Snowball Earth conditions were eventually stabilized because of volcanic activity, although it took a long time, because ice cover is a powerful amplification mechanism, more ice reflecting more heat back into space. It shows that feedback loops keeping the temperature range of the planet stable can cause extreme effects. The Earth is orbiting the sun at a temperature range where water is present as a liquid, providing a habitable zone for carbon based life. Other planets, such as Venus and Mars may once have contained water, but today are too hot and too cold respectively to support life as we know it. Earth’s climate has lurched from one extreme to another several times since the planet was born.
The climate has been changing from cold to warm and back for millions of years. How does this affect us humans? After all we have only been around for a couple of hundred thousand years. People have been adapting to natural variability in the climate, however humanity only just survived the last glaciation, with the population numbers declining dramatically. Predictable changes take place caused by differences in Earth’s inclination and orbit. In the past hundred years, increases in temperature cannot be explained by these effects. The rise in the level of atmospheric CO2 is the cause, triggered by burning the deposits of fossil fuels vast quantities of which were ironically laid down in one of the great mass extinction events. Petroleum and natural gas were formed by the anaerobic decomposition of organisms including phytoplankton and zooplankton that settled to the sea bottom in large quantities when the oceans were starved of oxygen. Most deposits were a result of the Permian Triassic mass extinction, over 250 million years ago, nicknamed The Great Dying, since a staggering 96% of species died out. All life on Earth today, including us human beings, is descended from the 4% of species that survived. The exact cause is not known, though suggestions range from massive volcanic activity to a runaway greenhouse effect triggered by sudden release of methane from the sea floor.
Geophysical observations of sediment in lakes and the oceans, and analysis of wind and wave patterns provide rich sources of data for analysis of past climate patterns. Past temperatures and rainfall can be read from annual tree growth. Volcanoes cause climate variation, and in the short term, ash in the atmosphere reflects radiation back into space. Natural solar variations also cause increases and decreases, and this has occurred several times in recorded history. Ice core data, from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets and glaciers provide time series analysis for air bubbles trapped in the ice, providing data from as long ago as 800,000 years.
The loss of ice mass in the Arctic is a function of the rise in ocean temperatures, melting glaciers and calving of icebergs at the periphery of the ice sheets. While Antarctica currently has no net loss, its stability is threatened by wind and sea temperature changes. Ice core data gathered from annual ice forms (rather like tree rings) at the Vostok base in Antarctica has provided valuable information of past temperature variations and their correlation to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. The level of deuterium (heavy hydrogen) measurements is a function of, and can be used to determine air temperature variations. The interpretation of Vostok ice core data, over a long period, shows a close correlation between Antarctic temperature and atmospheric concentrations of CO2. The changes are associated with glacial to interglacial transitions.
When the Earth was born, the atmosphere was predominantly composed of carbon dioxide. The past trend however has been variable with an overall steady decline. In the geologically recent past, particularly since the evolution of humans, the atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have been relatively stable. There are seasonal variations, because of plant lifecycles, and regional variations, due to the large metropolitan areas with high levels of traffic and industrial activities. Past records show atmospheric concentrations of CO2 ranging from 180 to around 300 parts per million. However, since the industrial revolution, levels have been rising steadily. In 2014, levels of CO2 rose above 400 parts per million for the first time, unprecedented during the past 800,000 years.
Global temperature rises dance in synchronicity with the level of atmospheric concentration of emissions of greenhouse gases that cause a blanketing effect on the Earth, warming up the surface. While water vapour is the major greenhouse gas, the addition of extra carbon dioxide by our industrial activities has provided the lion’s share of global average rises in the past hundred years. Because it is unknown how and when feedback loops, such as melting ice sheets and changing wind patterns, are going to interact with one another, we may well be on very shaky ground. Presently we cannot accurately predict the complex effects between the climate systems of Earth’s biosphere, including global temperatures. The result? We just do not know exactly how the systems that make up our climate are going to respond as a result of the warming in the oceans, on the land and in the atmosphere. Because although we can measure some of the results of our experimentation with burning vast quantities of fossil fuels (thus releasing correspondingly large quantities of CO2), we simply cannot predict the way feedback loops are going to change the climate systems and thus the weather. Nor do we understand all the causes and effects that we have unleashed. The inference is that we have a high probability of letting ourselves in for a period of certain climate instability over the next millennium.
The time to act is now to gather the information required and to develop technology to address the risks of further destabilization to the natural environment and human society. And the imperative? We know that climate change is accelerated by emissions of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, so we simply have to stop burning fossil fuels. This means continuing to upscale the renewable energy sources for the major emitting countries, China, the US, India and Russia. (It is worth noting that Australia is the largest source of emissions per capita). Most of the emissions are caused by the burning of fossil fuels for electricity. The other notable major source of emissions is deforestation. A global carbon market is urgently required.
Time to get serious about addressing climate change, before drought, flood, fire and famine, cause more havoc than capacity for risk and emergency response than we can handle, irrespective of geographic location. Collectively, we have to use all our innovative skills and knowledge to find a way to stabilize our weather systems, and deal with the fact of unstoppable rising sea levels, even as some nations are already slowly submerging beneath the waves in the Pacific. All responsible parties and governments agree, unfettered emissions from burning fossil fuels are completely unacceptable. We have to address the root causes of the risks to the planet’s stability, the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, blanketing the planet. We have to respond to the sudden onset of global temperature rises and the melting of the ice sheets and glaciers, before the only response left to us is disaster management.
Time to examine whether we can use our current technologies to address the inherent causes of the problems of the accelerated global temperature rises. We clearly have to address our social and cultural issues, as well as the technological and scientific solutions. And we have to put a price on carbon, and a value on the natural environment.
Time to commit deep financial and human resources, to find the best possible solutions for reducing emissions. We do have to be careful to avoid the unintended consequences of early adoption of new technologies by providing ready access to shared knowledge and information. Our very existence is under threat from global warming and climate change, symptoms of neglect for the biosphere that sustains us. We have to collaborate to survive.