The current climate agenda is wrong – and needs urgent revision
WBA Editor Jon Hughes says the west’s fascination with all things new and novel exposes a north-south divide that is skewing the climate agenda and hampering meaningful action on climate change.
There is a tendency when we talk about climate change to focus on big-ticket, high tech solutions, such as DACCS (Direct Air Carbon Capture and Storage) and hydrogen. In doing so we absolve populations of their immediate responsibility to urgently act; why change behaviours if a magic solution to draw carbon out of the air and decarbonise the global power sector is coming down the track?
In this way, business as usual carries on and solutions that deliver immediate results are overlooked. Biogas and anaerobic digestion are victims of this mindset.
The inconvenient truth about rice
The outlook reflects the fact that the ongoing debate is dominated by vested interests, requiring vast capital projects to keep afloat and fighting tooth and nail to model a new world as they see fit. This would explain why the low hanging fruit of renewable energies – ready and easy to adopt solutions to mitigate against climate change – remain marginalised. It also reveals a gaping north-south divide. With over 2.7billion lacking access to clean cooking facilities and 1 billion access to electricity, who is to pay for the required grids to be established, over what time frame? Or the installation of DACCS tech when it eventually comes on stream?
This is catastrophic. If we are to keep global warming at 2C or below we need to start pulling carbon out of the environment today not tomorrow. Both a hydrogen economy and DACCS are only in their formative stages. By the time they eventually come on stream we are warned it will be too little too late to stop the worst ravages of climate change. In the meantime, carbon keeps multiplying in the atmosphere. Yet, as we look to the much-touted high-tech future, current carbon-emitting practices continue unabated.
Take rice for instance, a staple food for over half the world’s population and the globe’s third largest farmed crop. Rice cultivation is responsible for over half of all carbon emissions from global agriculture. Annually, the current methods of production emit more GHGs than aviation. Yet aviation and the recognised need to develop a high-tech carbon neutral fuel is the issue that excites attention.
There is no denying these new technologies are exciting and hold great potential, and in particular a potentially integral role for biogas as the feedstock for advanced refining and the development of fuels for the aviation and maritime sectors. The issue is the negative impact the touting of these infant technologies has on more immediate and available measures.
Mosquitoes are the Covid-19 sequel
The Covid-19 pandemic should be the wake-up call as well as being an opportunity to build back better. With increased global temperatures the spread of disease will naturally follow, as rising temperatures will increase the habitats and transmission periods of airborne vectors such as mosquitoes.
A terrifying study, published in the Public Library of Science (PLOS) Neglected Tropical Diseases journal, warns that almost all of the world’s population will be exposed to mosquitoes in the next 50 years unless action is taken to reduce global temperatures.
Mosquitoes are amongst the world most lethal and efficient killers, causing millions of deaths every year from such infectious diseases as malaria, dengue, Zika, chikungunya, yellow fever, and at least a dozen more. Climate change is expected to make them even deadlier. As the planet heats up, these insects will survive winter and proliferate, the report warns, causing an estimated billion or more new infections by the end of the century.
Covid-19 is a zoonotic disease, passed from animal to humans as habitats crash into each other. This is a warning we should hear loud and clear. We do not have the luxury of time.
Biogas is the fast-action transition fuel
Biogas can deliver a 12% cut in global carbon emissions over the next decade. Last year, the World Biogas Association issued its report The Global Potential of Biomethane, which was endorsed by among others the UN and International Energy Agency.
This showed biomethane has the potential to reduce global GHG emissions by between 3,920-4,360 MtCO2e through the generation of renewable energy in the form of biogas from the anaerobic digestion of wastes and landfill gas, combined with emissions avoided through the management of organic wastes and avoided fossil fertiliser manufacture, crop burning and deforestation, using technology available and widely used today.
Governments of the 196 countries to have signed the Paris Agreement will this year submit their second set of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) to keeping global warming below 2C. NDCs are essentially five-year plans.
We urgently need to see the inclusion of biogas in all NDCs. It is the transition gas that delivers an immediate climate dividend and allows us time to develop the high-tech solutions that hold so much promise. It is not an either or. Rather it is a recognition of the urgent need to re-jig the climate agenda to address the world’s needs and prioritise support for those technologies that of ready and available to deliver today.