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Make negative emissions, not net-zero, priority: Cambridge University group

01 September 2021 Cristina Brooks

A group funded by Cambridge University in the UK is warning that countries must adopt net-negative rather than net-zero emissions strategies.

The report by the Climate Crisis Advisory Group (CCAG) comes two months out from the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow at which nations are due to strengthen their emissions-cutting pledges.

Over 100 countries have pledged to reach net zero, spurring climate-friendly policies. The US pledged to reach net-zero GHGs by 2050 in April following similar pledges by countries including the UK, South Korea, Japan, and China.

But the Cambridge group said net-zero promises were too weak as current projections meant it was "inevitable that the world will pass 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, and that every fraction of a degree of additional warming will amplify the climate risks humanity will face."

The group looked at current trends in emissions reduction and mitigation, estimating the global average temperature was likely to first breach 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels for at least a month, but possibly an entire year prior to 2030.

"Following a pathway leading only to net zero by 2050 is now too little too late," the report's authors wrote.

They concluded that even while countries aim to limit temperature rises to 2 degrees C, the second-tier target within the Paris Agreement, the consequences of exceeding 1.5 degrees C would be "catastrophic."

All IHS Markit outlooks, including two that model the world reaching net zero, come to a similar conclusion: A breach of 1.5 degrees C is likely by midcentury. IHS Markit scenarios imply a range of temperature increases of between 1.9 degrees C and 3.1 degrees C by 2100.

IHS Markit net-zero cases, however, foresaw positive outcomes of 1.5 degrees C and 1.6 degrees C by 2100 provided that there were net-negative global GHG emissions between 2050 and 2100.

The Cambridge group's report drew from the IPCC's Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), which issued a warning on the urgent need for greater climate protection and mitigation measures as it expects climate change to render some of the world uninhabitable.

Climate repair a solution

The university-backed group proposed that countries pledge to reach net zero sooner than the typical 2050 deadline, so that afterwards they can turn their attention to carbon-negative technologies and give developing states more time to reduce emissions.

Carbon negative solutions could include Direct Air Capture technologies, currently at a development stage, as well as nature-based solutions, such as planting trees. GHG reduction technologies using marine kelp, sea grasses, and seaweed farms were "especially encouraging," according to the report's authors.

Of these options, tree planting and nature-based solutions were more popular because they had greater public acceptance, the report found.

However, the report recommended only supporting technologies capable of capturing and sequestering at least 1 billion metric tons per year of CO2 per project.

The authors also suggested research was required on ways to keep glaciers and ice caps frozen in order to correct weather patterns, slow down ice-melt, stabilize sea levels, and break global warming feedback loops.

"Climate repair requires removing GHGs from the atmosphere at scale and buying time by rapidly researching ways to protect the melting of the polar ice caps," they said.

Finally, the report called for more funding to be poured into research on carbon-negative technologies, such as those proposed by the Mission Innovation initiative launched in 2015 by Bill Gates.

The initiative aims to secure funds for states' cleantech projects from the Breakthrough Energy Coalition investor group, which includes billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Mike Bloomberg, and George Soros.

Posted 01 September 2021 by Cristina Brooks, Senior Journalist, Climate and Sustainability


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