If anthropogenic global warming is to be limited to under 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit) then technology will need to be developed to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, in addition to the complete ceasing of greenhouse gas emissions by 2085, according to a new study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
To put that another way — even if the industrial, agricultural, shipping + transportation, and military systems and industries are fundamentally changed, even if all of the entrenched interests in those areas are somehow placated or overrun, and even if the political will for all of these actions is there, there will still need to be new technologies developed that can economically remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at a mass-scale (15 billion tons per year by the end of century).
That is, if anthropogenic global temperature rise is to be limited to under 2° Celsius — supposedly the “safe” limit for the continuity of the present industrial civilization.
The new study notes that slashing emissions at the pace outlined in last year’s Paris climate change agreement “may not be enough to keep global warming from blasting past 2°C,” according to lead author Benjamin Sanderson.
Climate Central provides more, noting that while the Paris agreement means that countries “have agreed to cut total annual global greenhouse gas emissions from about 60 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent today to about 54 billion tons in 2030, without steeper emissions cuts sooner, about 15 billion tons of carbon dioxide will have to be removed from the atmosphere every year by the end of the century in order to keep within 2°C of warming.”
A negative emissions researcher at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change in Berlin by the name of Sabine Fuss, noted that the research confirms that “individual countries’ emissions cuts pledges under the Paris agreement are insufficient to meet the pact’s global warming goals.”
Notably, negative emissions technology are not currently in use in any real way — as there are no proven, economically viable options at this point, and most of the proposed options carry significant environmental risks themselves.
Sanderson stated that current areas of inquiry include a method known as “bioenergy, carbon capture and storage, or BECCS. It works like this: Trees and other plants, which absorb atmospheric carbon, are grown specifically for carbon removal, then they’re burned to generate electricity, and the emissions are captured and sequestered underground. Other strategies involve planting large forests across the globe, directly capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and altering soil management to increase the amount of carbon it can store.”
“None of these have been demonstrated to be plausible on a large scale,” Sanderson stated, before commenting that the removal of billions of tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere would come at “a phenomenal cost.”
And, of course, that’s if they worked to begin with, which is an open question.
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