CLIMATE CHANGE REAL: Decarbonization and carbon sinks inevitable

CLIMATE CHANGE REAL: Decarbonization and carbon sinks inevitable

Many people are with different opinions about the reality of “climate change” (CC) and the kind of efforts and attention it demands. Some are even still skeptical to accept that, the damaging effects of climate change are unbearable. The effects of climate change affect agricultural productivity as well as endangering the lives of animals and biodiversity.

World leaders and relevant stakeholders knowing the importance and the havoc that lies ahead realized the need to have a concerted effort and action towards reducing human activities either directly or indirectly that will put the whole world at risk because of the issues of climate change. This desire brought about the popular “Paris Climate Agreement where in the year 2015, nearly 200 nations committed to holding this century’s average temperature to well below 2 degree Celsius (°C) and to pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change. Since then, there has been policy action from various Government agencies and the private sector to find long lasting solution to climate change.

To reduce the impact of climate change, there should be reduction in the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) content in the atmosphere among others. This means that, the reduction in the emission will slow the world’s advancement toward a dangerous temperature threshold beyond which climate impacts are likely to become more severe and widespread, including droughts, extreme heatwaves and floods.

As stated earlier, the causes of climate change results from human activities and these include the continuous burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas to generate electricity, running cars and other forms of transport on fossil fuels, and power manufacturing and industrial activities with it. Human activities through deforestation are also a major factor contributing to climate change. The roles played by GHGs is enormous such that gases like water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), and methane (CH4) absorb energy, slowing or preventing the loss of heat to space thereby acting like a blanket, and making earth warmer than it would otherwise be. 

Reality and Havoc

There has been extensive research into the reality of climate change, conducted by various reputable research institutions, private organizations and Governmental bodies. The results of these researches have awakened the need for pragmatic actions by state agencies and private stakeholders to reduce actions that contribute to climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was set up by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to provide an objective source of scientific information on climate change, revealed that climate change is real. It identified human activities, largely the release of polluting gases from burning fossil fuel (coal, oil, gas), as the main cause. A report from the IPCC on the effects of climate change shows that, a 1.1-degree increase are here today in the increased frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events from heatwaves, droughts, flooding, winter storms, hurricanes and wildfires.

In 2019, a research conducted by the WMO revealed that, the year 2019 recorded a decade of exceptional global heat, retreating ice and record sea levels driven by greenhouse gases produced by human activities. All these and many others are scientific evidences to support the fact that, climate change is real and its impact is of a great concern to the survival of man.

It has been established that most of the causes to climate change emanates from human activities. A report by Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii revealed that the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2)​​​​​​​ in our atmosphere, as of May 2020, is the highest it has been in human history accounting for about 416 parts per million (ppm). The last time Earth’s atmosphere contained this much CO2 was more than three million years ago, when sea levels were several meters higher and trees grew at the South Pole.

The most abundant greenhouse gas, accounting for about two-thirds of GHGs, carbon dioxide (CO2), is largely the product of burning fossil fuels, whiles methane, another component of the GHG which is also the primary component of natural gas, is responsible for more than 25 per cent of the warming we are experiencing today. It is a powerful pollutant with a global warming potential over 80 times greater than CO2 during the 20 years after it is released into the atmosphere.

In addition, 11 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans are due to deforestation comparable to the emissions from all of the passenger vehicles on the planet. Human activities of deforestation, bush fires, firewood’s, illegal mining activities, and human settlements among others have destructed the beauty of the world’s vegetation cover. When forest areas are burnt carbon that took decades to store is immediately released back into the atmosphere. Another research has revealed that 11 percent of the world’s population which amounts to about 800 million people are currently vulnerable to climate change impacts such as droughts, floods, heat waves, extreme weather events and sea-level rise.

De-carbonization and Carbon Sinks

Realizing the real impact of climate change and the havoc it is causing to human lives and properties, there is the need to ensure that human activities that causes climate change is limited and this can be done in ways that can reduce the carbon content in the atmosphere. Of course, this is possible through de-carbonization and carbon sinks.

De-carbonization is the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions using low carbon power sources, achieving a lower output of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) into the atmosphere. De-carbonization of the energy mix is to achieve two key objectives: one is the displacement of the fossil fuels from the electricity generation sector, the other one is their displacement from the transportation sector. Reducing the amount of carbon dioxide occurring because of transport and power generation is essential to meet global temperature standards set by the Paris Agreement in 2015.

Kroposki et al. (2017) and MIEM (2018) finds that displacement of fossil fuels from the electricity generation sector can be considered at a mature stage: in many regions, electricity from wind and sunlight is already integrated into the power grid, and in some cases (e.g. Norway, Costa Rica, Uruguay) the power mix is now close to 100 percent renewable. Power generation from renewable sources like wind and solar which is considered efficient and environmentally friendly, is gaining traction globally. Renewable energy sources are now producing a third of all power capacity worldwide.

While displacement of fossil fuels from the electricity generation sector is at a mature stage, replacement of liquid fuels within the transportation sector lags behind. For short distance applications, battery electric vehicles seem to be the most suitable solution. For medium-long distance or heavy load applications, battery sizes and their weight become a barrier; in these cases, electric vehicles fueled by hydrogen are promising alternatives (Hydrogen Council, 2017). The global transport system is run primarily on carbon-based fuels such as diesel and petroleum, and so electric vehicles becoming more widely-used would improve the contribution of the transport sector to reducing carbon emissions. The global gradual shift towards “Green and sustainable energy” is to reduce the production of fossil fuels and its usage; a prominent way de-carbonization may be achieved.

Another way to escape from the harmful and catastrophic effects of climate change is to maximize the use of carbon sinks. A carbon sink is anything that absorbs and stores more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases as carbon dioxide. Thus, the need to manage ecosystems and habitats that act as critical natural carbon sinks to ensure that they retain as much of the carbon trapped in the system as possible and don’t tend to become sources to the atmosphere.

Carbon sinks are natural or artificial deposits that absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere helping reduce the greenhouse effect. The main natural carbon sinks are plants, soil and the ocean. The performance of these is affected by climate fluctuations and the seasons, during the summer, when the weather is warmer, the plants and trees can absorb more CO2, during the winter they absorb less which causes the CO2 atmospheric levels to rise. Proper management will ensure that natural carbon sinks are protected in order to function effectively. As nature will have it, it has programmed its activities for the planet to balance the temperature of the earth through the carbon sinks.

Oceans are considered the main natural carbon sinks, as they are capable of absorbing about 50 percent of the carbon emitted into the atmosphere. Ocean and land carbon sinks absorb around half of the carbon emissions. There are also artificial carbon sinks that helps absorb and capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and reduce its concentration in the air. Ultimately, the role of carbon sinks in preventing carbon levels to rise is of paramount importance when it comes to controlling the emission of carbon dioxide content into the atmosphere.

Seeing that climate change is real, the earlier the world act the better. World leaders must rise to the point of fulfilling all the pledges made to the 2015 Paris climate change agreement. Policy actions from Governments and private stakeholders towards mitigating the adverse effects of climate change must be enhanced. Post Covid-19, massive investments into Green and sustainable energy sources will be key in economic recovery. 

Xatse Derick Emmanuel is a Research Analyst at the IES, and holds a Masters in Economics. Email: D[email protected]

Emmanuel Kpogo is an IES Professional Member working in the downstream sector of the petroleum industry, with research interest in sustainable energy supply. He is a Chartered Supply Chain, Procurement and Logistics professional, specialized in Contract Management, Oil and Gas Operations, Strategy and Business Process improvement.

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