Climate experts caution against being distracted by flashy technology innovations and urge a focus on practical solutions.
Machines to magic carbon out of the air, artificial intelligence, indoor vertical farms to grow food for our escape to Mars, and even solar-powered “responsible” yachts: the Cop28 climate summit in Dubai has been festooned with the promise of technological fixes for worsening global heating and ecological breakdown.
The United Nations conference on climate change has attracted a large number of representatives to a newly constructed, expansive city. The main attraction of this city is a massive dome that produces sound and illuminates with various colors during the evening. The schedule for the two-week event is filled with discussions, activities, and displays highlighting the importance of finding innovative solutions to combat the climate crisis.
Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and a multi-billionaire, stated that the focus on technology is beneficial given the slow response from governments in reducing planet-warming emissions. Despite this, he also acknowledged that the world is still on track for a catastrophic climate crisis while speaking in sunny Dubai.
He expressed his greatest hope in the impressive advancements. He stated that there is a limited willingness for people to invest in climate solutions. Therefore, we must focus on innovation. It’s necessary to create new solutions before abandoning old ones.
At the 28th Conference of Parties, AI has been promoted as a method for monitoring emissions and utilized by youthful environmental advocates to share impactful messages from the future by digitally aging themselves to appear as if it were 2050. A showcase has showcased individuals presenting climate advancements through holograms, and a corporation has advocated for the use of macaúba palm fruit in Brazil to produce aviation fuel.
Certain advancements seem well-suited for the United Arab Emirates, a country rich in oil and known for its luxurious coastal resorts. For instance, a recent event was held on Tuesday to promote responsible yachting. A representative from Sunreef Yachts, a company that prides itself on eco-friendly yachts, acknowledged the significant emissions from these vessels. However, they also stated, “The world of yachting is vast and varied. We are here to explore alternative solutions.”
However, this focus has caused concern among scientists and climate activists who caution that these technologies may be diverting attention from the main goal of reducing the burning of fossil fuels. Sultan Al Jaber, the president of Cop28 and also the head of the UAE’s national oil company, has raised doubts about the practicality of phasing out fossil fuels.
A historic amount of lobbyists representing fossil fuel companies are present at this Cop meeting, including Darren Woods, the CEO of Exxon. Woods has expressed his desire to prioritize a problem statement centered on eliminating emissions rather than one solely focused on the oil and gas industry.
Pierre Friedlingstein, a climate researcher at the University of Exeter, expressed concern over the potential exploitation of carbon removal technologies as a lucrative business opportunity. He believes that this approach may hinder progress towards tackling climate change.
The combined amount of CO2 emissions from technology:22
The elimination of carbon dioxide, not including natural methods like reforestation, only eliminates 0.01 million tonnes.22 emissions
Recent research conducted by Friedlingstein shows that current fossil fuel CO2 emissions are over one million times higher than the emissions being studied.2 emissions.
Although its impact may seem insignificant, many climate models and plans implemented by countries and companies heavily depend on extensive methods of carbon removal. This is done in order to prevent exceeding a 1.5C increase in global temperatures since before the industrial era, which could lead to devastating consequences such as extreme heatwaves, droughts, floods, and other detrimental effects.
Friedlingstein stated that while scaling up by a factor of 100 in the next 10 to 20 years would be impressive, it is unrealistic to expect a scale up by a factor of 1 million. He emphasized the importance of focusing on reducing emissions significantly rather than relying on technology as a solution.
We possess housing insulation, electric vehicles, renewable energy sources, and batteries. While expanding their use is not simple, we do not require a miraculous new technology for the majority of this issue.
During Cop28 on Wednesday, representatives from various countries, such as the US, UK, Brazil, and Kenya, reached a consensus that in order to meet climate goals, there must be increased focus on “carbon management”. This involves both directly removing carbon and capturing emissions at their source from industrial facilities, as well as finding a way to store them.
Staying within the 1.5C threshold is unattainable without the implementation of carbon capture and storage (CCS), according to John Kerry, the US climate envoy, during the meeting. He emphasized that this is not just the stance of the US, but a scientific fact. Without carbon capture, achieving net zero emissions is not possible. Kerry recognized the significant difference between current emissions and the required reductions, but stressed the importance of making an effort.
According to Majid Al Suwaidi, the UAE’s chief climate negotiator, capturing carbon is not a replacement for reducing emissions and increasing the use of clean energy. However, he acknowledges that we must address our current energy systems while simultaneously working towards the energy systems we desire.
According to Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, in order to combat global emissions, there needs to be a reduction of almost 50% in this decade and then reach net zero by 2050. Approximately 10% of this reduction will likely come from carbon management techniques. However, Birol pointed out that the expectations for these technologies have not been met, stating, “When I examine the past 15 years, the progress of CCS has been quite underwhelming.”
Governments are currently discussing the potential inclusion of a fossil fuel phase-out in the Cop28 agreement. The final agreement may include terms regarding “unabated” emissions, which would shift the focus to carbon removal and CCS efforts, but this would also come with a financial burden.
A recent report by Climate Analytics has cautioned that if CCS is utilized but fails to meet expectations, an additional 86 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases could be emitted by 2050. Additionally, a separate study by Oxford University has determined that a significant expansion and adoption of this technology will result in an annual global cost of $1 trillion.
But the lack of urgency in cutting emissions – 2023 is about to set new records in both heat and carbon pollution – means that no options should be discounted, according to Steve Smith, executive director of Oxford Net Zero.
The speaker emphasized that we cannot exclude any options if we hope to achieve our climate objectives. It is not a matter of choosing one over the other, but rather utilizing both. The technology being discussed is not a deceptive answer; there is no single solution.
For nations facing the challenges of the climate emergency, only the complete termination of the use of fossil fuels will suffice. Tina Stege, climate envoy for the Marshall Islands, which is highly vulnerable to the consequences of global warming such as sea level rise and other hazards, expressed appreciation for the initiative to increase renewable energy and other technologies. However, she emphasized the urgent need to completely phase out coal, oil, and gas.
She stated that we must address the root cause of this issue, as it is not something we can ignore. It is also not feasible to pretend that there are alternative methods for achieving a 1.5C temperature limit when so many lives are in danger.