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Giving Compass' Take:
• A new report indicates that getting to net-zero carbon emissions requires rapid tech innovation, but the tools might not be available to reach these goals.
• How can donors direct resources toward tech innovation aimed at climate change?
• Read about technology that highlights the effects of climate change.
Global warming can often feel overwhelming, given its political, social, and economic complexities. From a purely engineering perspective, though, it is surprisingly simple. There is a clear goal and a bounded set of technological tools to achieve it — just the kind of problem engineers like to solve.
The clear goal is net-zero global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, a target around which much of the world is coalescing.
Reaching global net-zero is necessary to stabilize the atmosphere at any temperature. Otherwise, it continues warming. “The difference between one and a half degrees, two degrees, and two and a half degrees [of warming] is functionally just the amount of time you have to achieve net zero,” says Julio Friedmann, an energy researcher at the Center for Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. Failing to reach net zero means failing to stabilize the atmosphere.
The term “net-zero emissions” means that for every ton of carbon released from the geosphere into the atmosphere (through mining, drilling, and burning of fossil fuels), one ton must be returned from the atmosphere to the geosphere, either through natural means like absorption in oceans, soil, and plants, or through industrial carbon capture and sequestration. Getting to net zero means reducing emissions as much as humanly possible and burying enough carbon to account for emissions that can’t be eliminated.
Net zero is the clear goal. The tools available for achieving it are clean energy technologies. Given the time it takes for new technologies to scale up to mass-market significance, the 2050 target will almost certainly be met (if at all) with clean energy technologies that currently exist. Some of them may still be in the early stages of development, but they’re already out there somewhere. It’s a large set of tools, but a bounded set.
From an engineering perspective, the central question is whether the tools available are up to the task required of them.
Read the full article about technologies for climate change by David Roberts at Vox.