Addressing climate change requires discarding the business as usual approach

We need to decarbonise, restore, and conserve. This complicated yet straightforward path can help solve the climate crisis.

Written by Tarun

On the journey to the UN Climate Conference at Glasgow (26th CoP), numerous interventions are being proposed to either stop or slow down global warming. Man-made solutions like geoengineering to nature-based solutions are being proposed to sequester the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to limit warming.

The special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlights the perilous impact of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels on natural and social systems and calls for strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change. The temperature target for the report is very ambitious. Achieving it would not just require limiting our greenhouse gas emissions, but also removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

During the recent debates, geoengineering and nature-based solutions have emerged as potential options to offset the global impacts of climate change and reach the temperature goals. Let us understand these solutions briefly. Geoengineering solutions are an umbrella term for human interventions to change the climate systems.

The IPCC talks about two major geoengineering approaches for removing excessive greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The first approach is carbon dioxide removal and solar radiation management. The first carbon dioxide removal approach focuses on removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and locking them away. One of the ways to do it is through carbon capture and storage technologies (CCS). The CCS has significant backing from the International Energy Agency and the IPCC; however, it still is hanging in uncertainty due to high upfront costs in the instalment of such plants.

The other approach IPCC talks about is solar radiation modification. This process does not affect atmospheric greenhouse gases but aims to reflect the solar radiation coming to the earth. The science of the method is, however, largely model-based, and the impacts of deflecting the solar radiations could be unpredictable.

Additionally, due to the thermal inertia of the climate system, removal of the radiation modification could result in the escalation of temperature very quickly, giving significantly less time to adapt. Another side effect of the radiation modification process could be natural vegetation. Since solar radiation is responsible for photosynthesis, sudden masking of solar radiation could significantly affect the process. While these questions remain unanswered, the futures of these technologies remain uncertain.

The second are nature-based solutions. “Nature-based solution” is an umbrella term used for several solutions like green infrastructure, natural infrastructure, ecological engineering, ecosystem-based mitigation, ecosystem-based adaptation, and ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction.

Nature-based solutions have been the centre of attraction during several international negotiations and are primarily recognised as a propitious tool in this war against climate change. The natural systems have played a critical role in sequestering the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by a simple yet miraculous process termed photosynthesis. These systems also have a rich biomass reserve stored in the forest ground and the forest soil.

The potential of natural systems as an effective solution for sequestering carbon dioxide has led to several efforts to scale nature-based solutions to mitigate climate change. These proliferating efforts, however, must take cognisance of the fact that these solutions are effective only when applied while protecting the already existing forest. Additionally, we must not run blindly after planting trees; instead, we must back reason with science. Trees should be planted where they belong, that too with native species, and in consultation with local communities.

Similar concerns were also raised by the recent collaborative report between IPBES and IPCC. The first-ever collaborative report between the two government bodies highlighted that nature-based solutions are effective only when focused on the system’s long-term climate resilience rather than narrowly focusing on short-term climate mitigation.

Both solutions, even if they worked, will not solve the problem of climate change. Thus, we must discourage our business as usual approach. Climate change is not a standalone problem. It is just one piece of the Ferris wheel, what follows it is a vast ecological crisis. Instead of just fixing just one piece of the wheel, we must look at solutions to fix the wheel holistically.

Undoubtedly, the problem is not simple. We need a massive political and economic system change to overcome this. We need to decarbonise, restore, and conserve — this complicated yet straightforward path can help us solve the crisis. Additionally, thinking that someone somewhere will help us sway through this crisis to help with our anxiety will not comfort us. Instead, we need to look for ways to contribute to solving this crisis. It is not just any problem. Everything is at stake for us and future generations. There are no quick fixes.

The writer is a researcher at ICRIER

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