The Dirty Secret of the World’s Plan to Avert Climate Disaster

You can read the original articles from Wired from the link below.

The Dirty Secret of the World’s Plan to Avert Climate Disaster

In climate science, 2°C has actually become a magic number.

It is the accepted threshold below which many climate researchers believe global temperature rise has to be kept to avert catastrophic consequences. The 2°C limit is the backbone of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and requires massive cuts in carbon dioxide emissions. Abby Rabinowitz and Amanda Simson take a close look at the UN’s computer-model-generated climate scenarios and the technology that might help the world stay within the 2°C limit.

Among the key objectives of the article

  • Why the UN’s 2°C climate change goal is currently unrealistic,
  • How carbon is removed from the atmosphere, and
  • What kind of technologies could save the world from catastrophic temperature rise. 

The article main reading point

  • The rise in global temperature is unlikely to stay within the 2°C limit that many scientists consider safe.
  • UN climate models assume removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. 
  • Carbon capture technology is still in its infancy. 
  • Researchers are exploring other options for removing carbon from the atmosphere.

The key reading points in finer details

The rise in global temperature is unlikely to stay within the 2°C limit that many scientists consider safe.

In 2010, climate scientists calculated that to prevent a rise in global temperature of less than 2°C above preindustrial values and accepted as a limit defined within the Paris climate agreement meaning humans can emit no more than an additional 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide in total.

With humans currently emitting 40 gigatons of carbon dioxide annually, it becomes difficult to imagine that the target can be reached through emissions cuts alone. Therefore, we are in need to create a negative carbon emission initiative to avert such catastrophe.

UN climate models assume removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. 

In 101 out of 116 scenarios in which the 2°C goal is met, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assumes that humans will soon have the capacity to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere on a large scale, thereby creating “negative emissions.”

Can Removing Carbon Dioxide Save the World

The technology behind carbon capturing is known by the acronym BECCS (Bio-energy with carbon capture and storage). BECCS facilities would grow crops, which consume CO2 through photosynthesis, and then use the crops as biofuel to generate electricity. The facilities would then capture the emitted CO2 and permanently store it underground. Achieving the two-degree temperature target via BECCS, however, would require land for biomass production one or two times the size of India.

“The 2°C goal was a theoretical limit for how much warming humans could accept.”

Carbon capture technology is still in its infancy. 

BECCS plants do not yet exist at a commercial scale. The Illinois Industrial Carbon Capture Project in Decatur, Illinois, is the world’s only working BECCS plant. The plant grows corn to produce ethanol, and subsequently injects the captured CO2 into saline sandstone at 7,000 feet below the ground, where it becomes solidified.

The saline reservoir underneath the Decatur facility has the capacity to store up to 100 billion tons of carbon dioxide,and that is around one sixth of the amount of carbon that would have to be sucked out of the air to meet the two-degree temperature target.

However, the Decatur plant expects to add only five million tons to the reservoir within the next couple of years, which is little considering that the United States is emitting around 14 million tons of carbon dioxide per day.

“Has the world come to rely on an imaginary technology to save it?”

Researchers are exploring other options for removing carbon from the atmosphere.

Natural options for capturing carbon include carbon sinks (land that absorbs more carbon than it releases), planting trees and carbon sequestration by adding biochar to soil.

In addition, scientists are developing technologies that capture carbon dioxide directly from the air. In Squamish, British Columbia, a startup named Carbon Engineering has developed a process for transforming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into calcium carbonate pellets. Although the company is currently using the pellets to create a synthetic fuel, it would have the option to store the pellets underground, thus creating negative emissions.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom has initiated the world’s first government-funded negative-emissions research project, while other governments are expected to pay more attention to negative emissions solutions when the next Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report comes out next fall.

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