The need for interventions, such as solar geoengineering, to protect us from adverse climatic conditions often takes the center stage in discussions on climate change. Such discussions are enthralling but we need to comprehend the realities on the ground as well.
Solar geoengineering, i.e., reflecting back solar radiation to space using sulfate particles, to cool the planet is something that casts doubt. The climatic conditions could be significantly altered. According to the book "How to cool the planet", we would need to inject sulfate particles each year before they are rained out. The attempt to adopt solar geoengineering could also turn out to be a motive to continue with burning fossil fuels, including dirty coal, unabatedly.
The hypothesis behind such a stance could be: since solar geoengineering cools the planet, fossil fuels may still be combusted. In a recent article published in the Guardian, the authors logically argued that solar geoengineering cannot eliminate the root causes of human induced climate change.
As we move forward, we will surely need to adopt the new technologies and our research should continue in that direction. However, a recent International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) study illustrates that 70% reduction of energy related emission by 2050 can be possible by accelerating renewable energy, energy efficiency and electrification in the end use sectors (transport and others). There are ample proven approaches and successful mechanisms to work on reducing energy related emission.
Firstly, we are in a race against time to halt the dangerous climate change and we shall spearhead actions rather than procrastinating. While the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), think tanks and research institutions continue to share the likely ramifications of the failure to phase out coal-based power plants before 2050, many large banks of the world have energy policies that have no traction in that vein. They largely have remained in the same fossil fuels financing business.
The green recovery following the Covid-19 led disruptions seems to be in jeopardy due to the fossil fuel financing. The most logical thing, therefore, is to rein in coal financing immediately, minimise financing other fossil fuels and support renewable energy related technologies.
Secondly, despite notable success on the energy transition front over the last decade, the efforts and results, according to different scientific reports, are insufficient to reach net zero emission by 2050. Clean energy transition is still a work in progress as the share of renewable energies to the global electricity generation capacity stands at 36.6%, reported by IRENA.
The increasing competitiveness of solar and other renewable energies is an encouraging sign for many countries to mobilise rapid actions in order to enhance the contribution of renewables to their energy mixes.
The rate at which the cost of storage technologies is falling down would perhaps make them completely viable in several years from now. It would then be possible to pull the trigger to reach close to 100% renewables in a significant number of countries.
Likewise, the electric vehicles are expected to be cost competitive, provided that appropriate policy instruments are in place. Notably, the policy push and new pricing mechanisms have influenced the price of renewable energies, particularly solar and wind, to reach the level that was unthinkable only a few years back.
We also see industries, households and power generation systems energy efficient in many countries. Alongside this, we need to cut back unnecessary resource consumption, be it food, energy, water or others. Addressing these requires changing behaviours and attitudes of people as to how they value these resources.
At the organisational level, devising energy saving policy would help minimise such wastage. While technological interventions to contain energy consumption require investment, behavioral changes do normally come at free of cost.
Forests are carbon sinks and the tropical rain forests are very strong carbon sinks. Indiscriminate destruction and fire hazards have rather made some of these forests net carbon sources. We need to protect and manage these forests to ensure that they remain as net carbon sinks.
The market mechanisms, for example, carbon pricing tools, provide market signals to cut emission at a lower cost. It supports the gradual phase out of environmentally harmful fossil fuel subsidies. Carbon pricing works well when the instrument is properly flanked with national energy and climate policies. Of course, carbon pricing is not devoid of caveats, but a well-designed mechanism could address many of them.
For developing and least developed countries, carbon trading allows technological changes on the ground. As we have gained vast experience from the Kyoto regime, it is possible now to negotiate article VI under the Paris Agreement with better knowledge.
Taking the loopholes of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto protocol into account, article VI shall allow sectoral transformation to happen rather than implementation of few GHG projects in isolation.
Regional distribution of such projects, i.e., the benefits to spread across the developing and least developed countries, is equally important. As the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) is expected to convene later this year, after being postponed last year due to Covid-19, the world would be waiting to see real progress on Article VI.
Finally, we need to build on the proven approaches as these would provide a level of certainty of emission reduction. Furthermore, these approaches are also relevant given that we are yet to reap the full benefits of available proven technologies and eliminate some of the prime causes of human-induced climate change.
As we would also need technological innovations in future, we should let innovations take place. However, enough knowledge on interventions like solar geoengineering is also important. Until then, it would be wise to continue with the technologies and mechanisms that are ready to deliver.
On the other side of the coin, considering the root causes of anthropogenic climate change is more than technological problems. Over-consumption and wastage of resources, therefore, should be dealt with urgency and appropriate awareness raising measures. We are already too late to react and further delay would only increase the cost, as manifested by the rising climate change induced events.
Shafiqul Alam is a Humboldt Scholar; He is an engineer and environmental economist.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.