An Ocean-Climate Restoration Agenda Designed to Win
To have a realistic chance of success at slowing and ultimately reversing the climate’s disruption, we need a climate restoration agenda that is 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 means getting greenhouse gases out of energy, transportation, building, agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and all other producing sectors.
The ingenuity and innovation required to achieve this is 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, decarbonization alone is unequivocally not sufficient to arrest climate disruption, much less get to a better goal of global climate restoration. Recognizing this , the IPCC and other leading climate scientists have conceded for some time that “negative emissions” are now absolutely necessary as another element of our climate agenda.
The negative emissions portfolio is about designing and deploying initiatives and technologies 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 restoration 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 need a variety of approaches – both natural (nature-based) and industrial/mechanical.
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 innovation across multiple geographies and sectors needed.
BUT EVEN MORE IS NEEDED...
These first two elements of the agenda – 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 effort 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.
However, decarbonization and negative emissions are not necessarily enough to ensure a safe and stable climate.
Even successful scaling of negative emissions , coupled with robust decarbonization, still leaves the planet with is a probability greater than zero of unacceptable losses, in the form of the unraveling of critical parts of the global climate system, and resulting “runaway” climate change.
There are key parts of the system that are so important to life on the planet that we cannot allow them to be lost.
Any climate agenda that exposes us and all other living beings to that sort of failure, at any level of probability, cannot be considered sound.
Critical climate foundations include Arctic sea ice (the globe’s air conditioner); permafrost (which holds more carbon and methane that are currently in our atmosphere), Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets (whose melting will have calamitous impacts on coastal communities and ecosystems around the world); acidification of our oceans (which threatens the very foundations and viability 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.
Accordingly, 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 how long it will take the first two parts of the agenda to succeed. The more time we can buy, the better our chances for overall climate stabilization and ultimately restoration.