Our climate is deeply threatened
Here we explore seven multi gigaton ‘low hanging fruit’ solutions. The ‘Moon Shot’ is to plant the continent-sized landmass, the size of North America, globally, that is available, to account for 20% of greenhouse gas emissions, and adopt these further low hanging fruit options at scale. While forest planting and protection are very important parts of climate stabilisation, they need to be accompanied by interconnected action in several areas. At Balance we think about ‘seven simple solutions’, which implemented together would add up to a massive, multi-gigaton impact in addressing climate change and protecting life.
The seven solutions are:
The re-creation and preservation of natural forests are some of the most effective things that we can do to protect our climate. Trees turn carbon dioxide into oxygen and wood and planting a trillion trees globally, though not a single panacea, could reabsorb up to 20% of our greenhouse gas emissions. Globally there is a landmass the size of North America that can be re-planted. But as stated above, tree planting has its most powerful effect when done in a way that fully supports biodiversity, delivering many benefits from medicine to flood protection, creating rain clouds that intern reflect sunlight, eco-tourism, and the improvement of our ability to cope with unforeseen, more extreme, natural events. By supporting biodiversity, we are together helping maintain the balance of nature.
1 Gt of unnecessary CO2 can be avoided through intelligent refurbishment. The world’s Industry currently pumps out about 38 gigatons of CO2 per year, and it is estimated that over a gigaton of that comes from poorly tuned buildings. As buildings age, heating, cooling and ventilation systems need to be replaced. This is an opportunity. Instead of putting in new versions of old equipment, modern improved upgrades can reduce emissions by up to 60% and substantially reduce running costs within existing refurbishment budgets.
5 to 7 Gt available.
Prairie land captures 40 to 50 tonnes of carbon per hectare, but intensive agriculture commonly reduces this to about 7 or 8 tonnes. Sustainable agricultural practices can help close this gap significantly, reabsorbing vast amounts of CO2 and creating healthier, more sustainable food sources that are in tune with today’s eating trends.
For example, one practice gaining ground is biochar, a technique first developed by indigenous peoples in South America over five hundred years ago. Biochar is a charcoal produced at relatively low temperatures, which improves soil fertility and fosters helpful microorganisms while at the same time soaking up carbon.
50% of the world’s agricultural land is used in meat production accounting for over 20% of global CO2 equivalents. As plant-based protein and synthetic meat diets come on stream this will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by several more gigatons.
Moving from microorganisms to slightly larger beings, There are 7.5 billion people on the planet. If 1 billion of us, from the industrialised world reduced by just one tonne, this would add up to 1 Gt. One by one, tonne by tonne.
The average American generates a massive 16 tons of CO2 per year (source: Wikipedia/EDGAR), and the average European around half that. If us heavy emitters shift our behaviour enough to reduce their CO2 footprint by a tonne a year, this would have a considerable impact. Most of the changes needed are not onerous, and some are positively pleasurable; recycling rubbish, turning off lights and air conditioners, unplugging chargers, buying energy-efficient equipment, and food shopping from local farm shops. They all add up, and ‘one by one, tonne by tonne’ we collectively add up to a gigaton of savings every year.
A multi gigaton solution is available fast if the fossil fuel industry becomes a renewable energy industry. Global tax benefits to the fossil fuel industry in the direct and indirect subsidies are estimated at around $5 trillion per year. Lord Nick Stern, the author of the Stern report, estimates the global cost of addressing global warming now is $2.5 trillion. Put pressure on your MPs to address this problem. We’re giving twice the amount to the fossil fuel industry in tax benefit per annum that it would cost the global economy to sort out in one go.
Imagine if energy companies were legally compelled to devote their vast resources to cleaning up the effects of global warming. This is not only possible but has parallels in the history of legal challenges to Big Tobacco. For many years the tobacco companies were successful in legal cases brought against them. However, their opponents persisted and ultimately, from the mid-90s, tobacco companies were forced to pay billions in damages.
Class action lawsuits against fossil fuel energy companies have already begun in the United States. Although legal challenges require persistence, they can have several benefits: the attached publicity and even the mere threat of losing pressure energy companies to seek environmentally responsible solutions. And if damages can eventually be obtained, the sums involved could be huge. Even the cost of extra flood defenses against rising sea levels has been monumental: how great would it be if such sums were made available to improve the environment?
We are in the third climate emergency within the lifetime of most people. Encouragingly, the first two have largely been resolved thanks to political measures. The hole in the ozone layer was repaired by the Montréal accord and acid rain is much less of a problem than it was. This at least shows that progress is possible and that political will can make a difference to environmental issues. If politicians make emissions reduction targets legally binding, and create other laws in favour of protecting biodiversity, this will make a huge difference. But being politicians, they are more likely to do this if they feel strong public pressure to do so. In the past, UN-sponsored summits like Kyoto and Paris have ultimately failed because they have been ambitions, not legal obligations. Now, we must work together to compel politicians to pass the laws that are needed to reduce greenhouse gases by many giga tonnes per year. Tell Government they’re Net Zero targets must become obligations. Choose one or all of these points and write to your MP on this basis.
In partnership with customers industry can deliver a multi gigaton solution.
Large corporations have a substantial global responsibility to change, accounting for a significant proportion of emissions. Corporations are always concerned about their reputations, particularly in the ‘conscious consumer’ age. This is why it is good news that companies accounting for two-thirds of the global economy are now disclosing their C02 output thanks to organisations such as the Carbon Disclosure Project. In this way, they act transparently and can then clearly set out what steps they are taking to reduce and balance those emissions. Those could include mandating electric vehicles in goods distribution, switching to renewable tariffs, sustainable sourcing suppliers that are balanced, and seeking environmentally sound raw materials. And when emissions are unavoidable, they can be balanced by planting and protecting forests in ways that support biodiversity, which is where we come in.