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• Confluence Explores Climate Geoengineering

July 10 2018
July 10 2018
By

How could we meet our goals for preventing climate change?

Passage of the UN Paris Agreement, the bountiful flow of capital feeding clean energy, and the continued floundering of the coal industry have signaled to us all that warming is on track to reach around 3.3°C, instead of the nightmarish 4.2°C of “business as usual.” But 3.3°C is still well above the ultimate UN goal of 1.5°C. So, what next?

Recently, Confluence Philanthropy gathered a group of Members to explore how to  close the remaining gap by looking at the suite of options available, particularly newer approaches such as pulling greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere (known as “carbon dioxide removal” or CDR) and the terrifying prospect of spraying chemicals high up in the sky to reflect sunlight (known as “solar radiation management” or SRM).

 

elephant

Figure 1: The Climate Elephant - Retelling the ancient Indian fable. Sometimes we experience one part of a system, and fail to see the whole.

 

Participants chose from a suite of twenty possibilities (different parts of the entire “climate elephant,” in the picture), ranging from growing more trees to promoting electric cars to pumping liquified carbon into the ground. Then I showed them the impact on climate goals in the En-ROADS simulator.

Lively conversation ensued, spanning many topics. But several insights seemed most relevant to the participants and, we hope, the broader Confluence community:

  1. Silver buckshot, not silver bullet. No single action (e.g., eating vegetarian, carbon price, energy efficiency, reducing oil subsidies) solves an overwhelming part of this problem. Instead, the combination of actions in many areas, together, can add up to get the work done.

  2. We’ll need to remove carbon dioxide from the air. One piece of “silver buckshot” is likely a suite of CDR actions such as retaining carbon in agricultural soils, pumping captured carbon underground, and growing trees in new locations. But they are no silver bullet – they look to provide 5-14% of needed temperature reduction, according to our modeling at Climate Interactive, and need to be considered alongside the sustainable development goals.

  3. Top investment priority keeps fossil fuels in the ground. The highest leverage actions for protecting the climate would directly (e.g., divesting from coal, oil, and gas) or indirectly (e.g. more wind and solar or energy efficiency) lead to less burning of fossil fuels. Divest Invest remains one of the most powerful climate solution tools.

  4. Shareholder advocacy could influence future deployment of geoengineering technologies. For example, publicly held manufacturers may choose to design new airplanes to deliver sulfate aerosols to the stratosphere. Investor Advocacy may influence such an action to promote public safety, enforce environmental standards, or to oppose these practices altogether. Climate investors should keep an eye on this sector, which is in fast development, over the next 7-10 years.

  5. Tech brings high hope and high uncertainty. For example, “direct air capture” machines, currently in pilot testing, are expensive and require large amounts of energy to liquify carbon dioxide and then pump it underground. Some analysts forecast the price and energy requirements will fall, but it is unclear. How do we maximize the contribution from carbon removal and not let it distract us from the primary task of eliminating sources of emissions, like fossil fuels?

  6. Successful scenarios remain possible. Combinations of actions can prevent an enormous amount of future global warming and improve the future of humanity. We can do it.

 

Climate Interactive invites members of the Confluence community to engage with these and similar questions in this simulation-based workshop to reach their own conclusions.

 

 

drew

 

-Drew is Co-Founder and Co-Director of Climate Interactive. An expert on international climate and energy issues, he is a system dynamics modeler, keynote speaker, and designer of simulation-based learning environments.

 

 

climate interactive



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