A Portfolio Designed to Win on Climate Stabilization
To have a serious chance of success at slowing and ultimately stabilizing the climate’s disruption, our “climate stabilization portfolio” must be comprehensive, with diverse approaches, actions and investments.
There are 3 main arenas that need investment.
A core element of the portfolio must be on ‘decarbonizing’ the global economy as quickly as possible, which includes getting greenhouse gases out of energy, transportation, building, agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and all other greenhouse gas producing sectors.
The ingenuity and innovation required to achieve this will be enormous; contributions need to come from many discipline, sectors and jurisdictions. Private and public investment is needed at scales far exceeding where we are today.
However, it is apparent that decarbonization alone is unequivocally not enough to get to the goal of global climate stabilization. With this recognition, the IPCC and other leading climate scientists have conceded for some time that “negative emissions” are going to be absolutely necessary as another element of our climate ‘portfolio’.
The negative emissions portfolio is about finding and fielding initiatives that draw carbon out of the atmosphere and bring atmospheric carbon down from the dangerous levels of 411+ parts per million [and rising] where we are now. Climate stabilization is posited to be achievable around 300 ppm or less. This is no small challenge.
An effective negative emissions portfolio is going to require enormous ingenuity, innovation, energy and investment. And it will likely need a variety of approaches – both natural (nature-based) and industrial/mechanical. Yet at the moment the global ‘negative emissions’ portfolio is barely a sliver of overall global investment in the climate response portfolio. It needs to be significantly expanded with [again] innovation across multiple geographies and sectors needed.
BUT MORE IS NEEDED...
These two parts of the portfolio – decarbonization and negative emissions – are equally important and can no longer be played off against each other. While there may indeed be “moral hazard” associated with a full focus on negative emissions, there is a far greater moral hazard of letting ideological positions get in the way of stabilizing a dangerously disrupted global climate system.
But decarbonization and negative emissions are not enough to ensure a safe and stable climate...
Even successful scaling of the negative emissions portfolio, coupled with a robust decarbonization portfolio, will still leave us with a less than fully robust portfolio.
In other words, there is a probability greater than zero of unacceptable losses, in the form of the destabilization of critical parts of the global climate system, and resulting “runaway” climate change. Any portfolio that exposes all of us, the ‘trustees’, to that sort of failure at any level of probability, cannot be considered sound.
These include Arctic sea ice (the globe’s air conditioner); the permafrost (which holds more carbon and methane that are currently in our atmosphere), the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets (whose melting will have calamitous impacts on coastal communities around the world); acidification of our oceans (which threatens the foundations of oceanic life); and extreme warming and deoxygenation of the seas (which threatens global primary production and atmospheric oxygen).
There are tipping points in every one of these systems, which if exceeded mean there may be no going back, and each of which create positive feedback for more climate disruption. The problem is that we are not sure where these tipping points are for each of these systems.
Therefore, it is only prudent to know whether or not there are possible interventions that can buy us time, if we need it, while we are actively working to see the first two sections of the portfolio will succeed. The more time we can buy, the better our chances for overall climate stabilization.