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New Carbon Capture Technology Now Able To Fight Climate Change: Experts

While the U.S. federal government may have other priorities, U.S. states, cities, corporations and other countries around the world are investing in fighting climate change.

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Climate change, carbon
This undated photo provided by the U.S. Forest Service shows yellow-cedar trees growing along Sheep Lake east of the Cascade crest in Washington State. Adding and restoring forests is a cheap way to get substantial amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere, a new report says. VOA

Four cost-effective methods are ready today to remove substantial amounts of planet-warming carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, according to a new report from a panel of top scientists.

All four take advantage of nature’s ability to take carbon from the air and store it.

However, fully implementing all of them still would not be enough to prevent potentially catastrophic levels of global warming, according to the report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Nearly all nations have signed on to the Paris climate agreement, which pledges to keep global warming to less than a global average of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and ideally below 1.5 degrees.

Climate change, carbon
Traffic moves as smoke emits from the chimney of a factory on the outskirts of Gauhati, India. VOA

Emissions from burning fossil fuels and other sources have already warmed the planet about 1 degree. At the current pace, temperatures will likely top 1.5 degrees by mid-century, according to the latest report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Zero emissions technologies such as wind farms and solar panels will not be enough to stop global warming, the U.N. report says. Negative emissions technologies will be needed as well.

Trees are tops

The National Academies panel looked at existing strategies for removing CO2 from the atmosphere and found four that are ready for widespread use.

The first is among the most tried-and-true: planting trees.

Climate change, carbon
The Amazon Tall Tower Observatory stands in Sebastiao do Uatuma located in the Amazon rain forest in Brazil’s Amazonas state, Aug. 22, 2015. The tower, built by Brazilian and German governments, collects data on greenhouse gases. VOA

“It’s even kind of a misnomer to call it a technology,” said Princeton University biologist Stephen Pacala, who chaired the panel.

Adding and restoring forests, plus better management of existing forests, are the two cheapest ways to get substantial amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere, the report says.

Farm and ranch lands offer the next biggest and cheapest CO2 removal strategies.

Overused soils lose carbon, as well as nutrients. Rebuilding them increases their fertility and water-holding capacity.

“And you get a negative emission because the carbon comes from the atmosphere,” Pacala said.

“We know how to do quite a bit of this,” he added, with soil conservation techniques that began after the 1930s Dust Bowl in the U.S. Great Plains.

Amazon, Climate, carbon
This Sept. 15, 2009 file photo shows a deforested area near Novo Progresso in Brazil’s northern state of Para.. VOA

The fourth ready-to-go approach, the report says, is known as biomass energy with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS. It generally involves burning or fermenting some kind of plant matter to produce electricity, fuel or heat, then capturing and storing the carbon emissions in underground sinks or elsewhere.

The report says BECCS has the biggest CO2 removal potential of the four but is also the most costly.

Big gap

Applied worldwide, these techniques together have the potential to pull up to 10 gigatons of CO2 out of the atmosphere per year.

The world emits about 50 gigatons per year.

Climate, Carbon removal
A facility for capturing CO2 from air of Swiss Climeworks AG is placed on the roof of a waste incinerating plant in Hinwil, Switzerland, July 18, 2017. VOA

The authors note that devoting more land to CO2 removal would mean diverting land needed to produce food and clothing.

For example, they say removing 10 gigatons of CO2 by BECCS alone would consume nearly 40 percent of the world’s cropland.

Even 10 gigatons of CO2 removal is extremely optimistic, the authors note. It assumes all the strategies are used to their fullest extent everywhere.

The panel also considered emerging technology that captures carbon dioxide directly from the air.

Currently, it is too expensive to be practical. But if the costs come down, Pacala said, it “would have essentially unlimited capacity to remove carbon.”

Climate, Carbon removal
The research has been conducted by C40 Cities, The Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy and the NewClimate Institute. VOA

Another promising approach would take advantage of the ability of certain naturally occurring minerals to react with CO2 and lock it up. But the authors say the fundamentals are poorly understood.

Also Read: A Warmer Winter For The US Due To El-Nino And Climate Change

The report outlines a detailed research agenda to maximize all of the strategies. It notes that while the U.S. federal government may have other priorities, U.S. states, cities, corporations and other countries around the world are investing in fighting climate change. The country where the tools are developed stands to gain an economic boost, it says. (VOA)

Next Story

Students Worldwide Skip School to Protest Government’s Failure against Global Warming

They're angry at their elders, and they're not taking it sitting down

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global warming, climate change
Students from different institutions hold placards and banners as they participate in a climate protest in New Delhi, India, March 15, 2019. VOA

They’re angry at their elders, and they’re not taking it sitting down.

Students worldwide are skipping class Friday to take to the streets to protest their governments’ failure to take sufficient action against global warming.

The coordinated “school strikes,” being held from the South Pacific to the edge of the Arctic Circle, were inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who began holding solitary demonstrations outside the Swedish parliament last year.

Since then, the weekly protests have snowballed from a handful of cities to hundreds, driven by social media-savvy students and dramatic headlines about the impact of climate change.

climate change, global warming
Students attend a protest ralley of the “Friday For Future Movement” in Berlin, Germany, March 15, 2019. VOA

Thunberg, who was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, was cheered for her blunt message to leaders at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland this year, when she told them: “I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day.”

Friday’s rallies are expected to be one of the biggest international actions yet. Protests were under way or planned in cities in more than 100 countries, including Hong Kong; New Delhi; Wellington, New Zealand; and Oulo, Finland.

In Berlin some 10,000 protesters, most of them young students, gathered in a downtown square, waving signs with slogans such as “There is no planet B” and “Climate Protection Report Card: F” before a march through the capital’s government quarter. The march was to end with a demonstration outside Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office.

Organizer Carla Reemtsma, a 20-year-old university student, said social media had been key in reaching people directly to coordinate the massive protests in so many different locations, noting that she was in 50 WhatsApp groups and fielding some 30,000 messages a day.

“It’s really important that people are getting together all over the world, because it’s affecting us all,” she said.

Critics, supporters

Some politicians have criticized the students, suggesting they should be spending their time in school, not on the streets.

“One can’t expect children and young people to see all of the global connections, what’s technically reasonable and economically possible,” said the head of Germany’s pro-business Free Democratic Party, Christian Lindner. “That’s a matter for professionals.”

climate change, global warming
Students hold signs during a rally for global climate strike for future in Seoul, South Korea, March 15, 2019. VOA

But scientists have backed the protests, with thousands signing petitions in support of the students in Britain, Finland and Germany.

“We are the professionals and we’re saying the young generation is right,” said Volker Quaschning, a professor of engineering at Berlin’s University of Applied Sciences.

“We should be incredibly grateful and appreciative of their bravery,” said Quaschning, one of more than 23,000 German-speaking scientists to sign a letter of support this week. “Because in a sense, it’s incredibly brave not to go to school for once.”

Scientists have warned for decades that current levels of greenhouse gas emissions are unsustainable, so far with little effect. In 2015, world leaders agreed in Paris to a goal of keeping the Earth’s global temperature rise by the end of the century well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

Yet at present, the world is on track for an increase of 4 degrees Celsius, which experts say would have far-reaching consequences for life on the planet.

“As a doctor, I can say it makes a big difference whether you’ve got a fever of 41 degrees Celsius (105.8 Fahrenheit) or 43 C (109.4 F),” said Eckart von Hirschhausen, a German scientist who signed the call supporting striking students. “One of those is compatible with life, the other isn’t.”

Other action

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have publicly welcomed the student protests, even as their policies have been criticized as too limited by environmental activists.

In France, activist groups launched legal action this week for failing to do enough to fight climate change, citing a similar successful effort in the Netherlands.

climate change, global warming
Hundreds of schoolchildren take part in a climate protest in Hong Kong, March 15, 2019. VOA

In Germany, environmental groups and experts have attacked government plans to continue using coal and natural gas for decades to come. Activists say that countries like Germany should fully “decarbonize” by 2040, giving less-advanced nations a bit more time to wean themselves off fossil fuels while still meeting the Paris goal globally.

Other changes needed to curb greenhouse gas emissions include ramping up renewable energy production, reining in over-consumption culture now spreading beyond the industrialized West and changing diets, experts say.

“The fight against climate change is going to be uncomfortable, in parts, and we need to have a society-wide discussion about this,” said Quaschning.

ALSO READ: The Flamboyant Plastic Waste Boat Reminds The Global Policy-Makers The Urgency To Address Impact Of Plastics on The World’s Marine Environment

That conversation is likely to get louder, with several U.S. presidential hopefuls planning to campaign on climate change.

Luisa Neubauer, one of the Berlin group organizing Fridays for Future, said politicians should take note of the young.

“For the European elections in May, we’re urging everyone to think about whether they want to give their vote to a party that doesn’t have a plan for the future and the climate,” she said. (VOA)