Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 31st 2015 Contents DECEMBER 31 • 2015 www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
2015: YEAR IN REVIEW | BG21
If governments are serious about
the global warming targets they
adopted in Paris, scientists say
they have two options: eliminating
fossil fuels immediately or finding
ways to undo their damage to the
climate system in the future.
The first is politically impossible---the
world is still hooked on using oil, coal and
natural gas---which leaves the option of a
major cleanup of the atmosphere later this
Yet the landmark Paris Agreement,
adopted by 195 countries on December 12,
makes no reference to that, which has left
some observers wondering whether politi-
cians understand the implications of the
goals they signed up for.
"I would say it s the single biggest issue
that has to be resolved," said Glen Peters
of the Cicero climate research institute in
Scientists refer to this envisioned cleanup
job as negative emissions; removing more
greenhouse gases from the atmosphere
than humans put in it.
Right now we re putting in a lot, about
50 billion tonnes a year, mostly carbon
dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels
There are methods to achieve negative
emissions today but they would need to
be scaled up to a level that experts say
could put climate efforts in conflict with
other priorities, such as eradicating hunger.
Still, if the Paris climate goals are to be
achieved, there s no way to avoid the issue,
said Jan Minx of the Mercator Research
Institute on Global Commons and Climate
change in Berlin.
"My view is, let s have this discussion,"
he said. "Let s involve ourselves in devel-
oping these technologies. We need to keep
The Paris Agreement was historic. For
the first time all countries agreed to jointly
fight climate change, primarily by reducing
the emissions of carbon dioxide and other
Governments vowed to keep global
warming "well below" 2 degrees Celsius
(3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared with
preindustrial times. But even 2 degrees of
warming could threaten the existence of
low-lying island nations faced with rising
seas. So governments agreed to try to limit
warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F),
which is just half-a-degree above the global
average temperature this year.
That goal is so ambitious---some would
say far-fetched---that there s been very
little research devoted to it. In Paris, politi-
cians asked scientists to start studying
how it can be done.
Minx and others said it s clear the goal
cannot be reached without negative emis-
sions in the future, because the atmosphere
is filling up with greenhouse gases so fast
that it may already be too late to keep the
temperature rise below 1.5 degrees C.
"We are late with climate policy. We
need to buy back some time," Minx said.
That means allowing warming to exceed
1.5 degrees temporarily and then bringing
it down by removing carbon dioxide, which
traps heat in the atmosphere.
The task would be enormous. One recent
study said hundreds of billions of tons of
carbon dioxide would have to be removed
in the second half of this century.
That has led some scientists to consider
controversial geoengineering solutions like
fertilising the oceans with iron to make
them absorb more carbon.
But the more viable methods being dis-
cussed today include planting more forests,
which absorb carbon dioxide naturally as
they grow, and combining bioenergy with
carbon capture technologies.
Bioenergy comes from burning biological
sources such as trees or crops. That results
in zero net emissions, if the carbon dioxide
released when one tree is burned is offset
by the carbon dioxide absorbed when a
new tree grows up.
However, if you also capture the emis-
sions from the bioenergy plant and bury
them underground, you are actually remov-
ing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Although the technology exists, it has
received very little attention from policy
makers, advocates say. There s only one
large-scale biomass facility worldwide
using the method: a bioethanol plant in
"It s been treated as an esoteric, maybe
unnecessary field of research," said Henrik
Karlsson, who heads Biorecro, a Swedish
company that specialises in the process.
The obstacles are many. Carbon capture
technology is very expensive. And then
there s the issue of finding places to store
the carbon dioxide once you ve captured it.
Typically it is injected into rock formations
deep underground, but "people don t like
carbon stored under them," said Peters. "It s
not just a few tonnes. It s billions of tonnes
Another problem is that to reach a point
where the method actually generates enough
negative emissions to enable the 1.5-degree
target, bioenergy would need to be much
a bigger part of the global energy mix. It s
just 10 per cent today.
Critics say that could mean converting
millions of acres of farmland used for food
production to grow biocrops, which could
clash with Article 2 of the Paris Agreement,
which says the battle against climate change
must be carried out "in a manner that does
not threaten food production."
Right now the idea of achieving negative
emissions may seem like a pipe dream. Gov-
ernments are still trying to stop record emis-
sions from growing even higher, while allow-
ing developing countries including India
and China to expand their economies.
Oliver Geden of the German Institute for
International and Security Affairs said the
temperature goals governments adopted in
Paris don t match the actions nations are
taking to limit emissions.
"It s so easy to have this kind of target,"
he said. "I don t understand that given the
history of the (UN climate talks), everyone
is taking this seriously."
Peters said achieving the 1.5-degree C
target is "pretty unlikely" and that even the
higher temperature target would be difficult
and most likely require negative emissions.
"It s really hard to see that 2 degrees will
remain on the table unless you have some
fundamental technological breakthrough,"
he said. "There are just too many competing
"The test of a first-rate intelligence," F Scott Fitzger-
ald, a sometime Parisian, once wrote, "is the ability
to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time."
By this standard the 195 countries that gathered
outside Paris in the two weeks prior to December 12
to negotiate a new agreement on climate change have
to be counted bright indeed. It is vital, they declared,
that the world s temperature does not climb much
more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels; and yet
they simultaneously celebrated a new climate agree-
ment that got nowhere close to preventing such a
The individual pledges that nations made going
into the Paris talks---which they will now be expected,
though not compelled, to honour---are estimated to
put the world on course for something like 3°C of
warming. In the nonlinear universe of climate change,
3°C represents much more than twice as much risk
and harm as 1.5°C. It could well, for instance, be the
difference between the Greenland ice cap staying put
and the sea-level rising, in the course of centuries,
by as much as 20 feet.
For someone to propose means that fall so far short
of their purported ends might seem like cynicism or
stupidity. Sure enough, some of the keenest devotees
to action on climate change have accused the Paris
negotiators of both.
In fact, however, the deal really did demonstrate
The nations of the world know that they cannot
suddenly force each other to stop emitting greenhouse
gases, because fossil fuels are fundamental to the way
that economies work. Many countries also want to
reduce the risks posed by climate change, however,
and know that they need to find ways to work together.
The Paris agreement offers a range of mechanisms
to make this happen.
Countries now have a framework to ensure that
each is doing what it said it would. They have pledged
more money to help the poorest and most vulnerable
countries adapt to the effects of climate change. They
have a task force for looking at the issues raised by
those who cannot adapt and need to find new places
to live, and they have the basis for new carbon-pricing
deals. They also have agreed that big developing coun-
tries, which largely were spared by earlier deals, should
consider making a greater contribution.
The Paris agreement provides a timetable for
increasing the ambition of countries emissions pledges
as technology improves and experience accumulates.
Outside the main negotiations, Paris also saw a com-
mitment from rich countries and individuals to under-
take a great deal more research into new sources of
All this has signaled to investors that both developed
and developing countries intend to act. This will not
in itself bring about the end of the era of fossil fuels.
It is, though, a step in that direction.
There are a daunting number of further steps need-
ed, however. Some relate to administrative capacity.
In many poor countries the ability to assess action
on climate change and promulgate effective adaptation
is inadequate, so it must be nurtured.
Others relate to the use of private capital. If investors
are discouraged from bankrolling fossil fuels, they are
under no obligation to redirect their money to clean
energy: They may prefer not to invest in energy at
all. Governments will need to structure their power
markets, and plan for their growth, in ways that make
sense to long-term backers. Without the lure of profits
in low-carbon energy, climate action could result in
hundreds of millions of people who now lack modern
energy services being left in the darkness for longer.
Sustained determination could be the difference
between an agreement that deals with climate change
and one that turns out to be another wasted oppor-
tunity. The Economist
This image made
available by the National
Thursday, December 17,
2015 shows warmer or
the world for January
through November 2015.
If governments are
serious about the global
warming targets they
adopted in Paris,
scientists say they have
two options: eliminating
fossil fuels immediately
or finding ways to undo
their damage to the
climate system in the
(NOAA via AP)
Climate goals mean emissions
need to drop below zero
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