Atmospheric CO2 has been consistently measured since 1956 in Hawaii. Calculated figures over geological times have suggested vast changes in CO2 levels, surface temperatures and changes in the climate; now we are in the Anthropocene Era, in which mankind alone is responsible for rapid climate change, implied from the very rapid rise in CO2 and other atmospheric pollutant volumes.
The economic impact of change is large – the melting of Arctic ice alone might cost $70 trillion, under current national pledges to cut carbon emissions.
Pre-industry pollution levels were unchanged for centuries, then industry demanded more energy. The global population numbers increased, and a rapid upward spiral began, creating today’s issues – now the big question is how to reverse the pollution, and thus diminish its effect. Confusingly, it is not only CO2 that is problematic, but a range of other pollutants that were drawn into an equation formulated before the 1989 Montreal Protocol on the Ozone Hole – creating the ‘CO2 equivalent’, conveniently called the Carbon Footprint. In parallel, the 1987 UN Brundtland Committee suggested there were three major energy-demanding, thus polluting sectors – Industry, Transport, Buildings. Since then all developed nations’ governments have implemented programs designed to reduce their pollution. Above all, fossil fuel demand has fallen globally relative to early predictions due to better engineering of efficient engines, and the capturing of renewable energy at scale.
Scientific studies on the climate became focused when the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) was incorporated in 1988, charged with regularizing and extending the science and to produce Framework Reports, now at the 5th Edition. In the latter they call strongly to halt average annual surface temperature rising above 1.5 Celsius annually (against pre-industrial levels) by reducing pollution levels. Beyond 2.0 C massive disasters are predicted: severe droughts, tempests, and fluctuating weather patterns: “climate is what we have, weather is what we get”.
The IPCC holds annual global meetings and regularly pressures heads of government to ‘do something’ – one such at Kyoto in 1997 resulted in the world’s first attempt to co-ordinate against pollution with the target date of national actions being 2015. Following, a new set of global actions were agreed in the 2015 Paris Accord with a target date of 2030: supplementary resolutions were formulated at the IPCC COP24 in Katowice, December 2018.
Sadly, many governments are defaulting on their new interim goals, and observers worldwide have become anxious – even schoolchildren are protesting against perceived inaction on the part of governments, science and businesses. The media apparatus has focused on these worldwide protests – such as in the UK, highlighting Greta Thunberg a Swedish schoolchild who flew in to join UK children; and upon many other protesters who blocked parts of London and its airport.
Fact finding, one can read data which shows the EU is on target, averaged over its nations. As part of the Europe 2020 strategy, the EU set three climate and energy targets called the ‘20-20-20.’ That is, a 20 percent reduction in pollution emissions compared with 1990 levels, a 20 percent share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption, and a 20 percent cut in the energy consumption compared to the 2020 business-as-usual projection. If the EU can do this, why not others? And, if the EU has done so well up to now, why don’t people know this? Why protest – causing havoc, and loading the policing costs upon tax-payers?
We ought to note that global leaders and businesses have done much to support science and its commercialization. For instance –
- The Brundtland Commission forced a redesign of fossil-fuelled power stations to thoroughly clean their exhaust gasses. Plus, fossil-fuelled power plants can be co-located with others manufacturing that demands CO2 as a feedstock. Furthermore, science shows how to extract CO2 from the air, converting it into an inert chemical that has potential to be further converted into a clean-burning fuel (but of course re-creating CO2 to be captured later).
- The IMO (International Maritime Organization) is to ban the use of heavy oil by shipping from 2020. Ships will use much less polluting low-sulphur diesel fuel.
- In cities many governments and mayors are banning fossil-fuelled vehicles, commencing with diesels, in favour of battery power. In fact, this has a low effect on overall pollution as the electricity needed for battery charging comes from power stations (though fossil-fuelled ones are polluting, electricity is often sourced from renewables – wind and solar, predominantly). This modal change reduces city pollution, especially of the killer smog which is derived from vehicle exhausts combining with ozone, and with sun-light.
These brief examples indicate wide-spread progress is being made, and businesses are seeing strong opportunities to combat climate change.
Too little calm and realistic discussion is taking place between action takers (governments, businesses and scientists) with the client population: presently confusion reigns. Also, rampant consumerism across the relatively rich world ensures we produce and buy too much, only to send it unused to land-fills.
We do have solutions that are perhaps too weakly applied (all are well formulated in the IPCC targets) but some Big Business as well as lobbyists resist change: and some government leaders are climate change deniers. And as the results of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol showed, those who did not meet their legally binding obligations had no sanctions placed on them thereafter – thus the 2015 Paris Accord was not formulated as a legally enforceable document.
However, I am optimistic – global population will soon begin to fall, demand for fossil fuels is falling as many more renewables come on-line and battery technology advances; and we are becoming more personally aware of our own pollution patterns.
Stemming from protests and from better, clearer information, as well as a transparent analysis of future decisions about their feasibility and cost-benefit we will be able to proceed. The developed nations should accede to the reasonable demands of the poorer. Eventually, let us hope, social pressures will force better management of pollution and climate change in the future.