The 2019 United Nations gathering on climate change (COP25) was an occasion for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to present its latest developments and activities. The Fund’s Readiness programme, aimed at fostering countries’ capabilities to engage with the Fund, was presented. As a result of the programme, beneficiary countries are able to strengthen their climate finance-related capacity, engage stakeholders in consultative processes, realise direct access to the GCF, access GCF finance, and mobilise the private sector.
Stakeholders directly involved in implementing GCF Readiness spoke about their experience at a GCF side event on 9th December, and how the programme had helped their countries become ready to access climate finance.
A representative from the Kingdom of Tonga’s National Designated Authority (NDA) explained how the country ensured its ownership of the Readiness programme by involving their Ministry of Finance as a delivery partner (DP). As most of GCF DPs are usually international entities, having Tonga’s Ministry of Finance responsible for the management and implementation of GCF Readiness funding constitutes an important achievement for the country’s ownership of the climate finance it receives.
Input from Fundacion Avina, a Latin American philanthropic foundation, focused on lessons learnt from their implementation as a DP of the readiness programme in Argentina, Paraguay, Ecuador, and Peru. Securing country ownership of GCF finance often implies enhancing national climate governance, educating stakeholders on climate change and what a suitable project is for the Fund, as well as taking into account a country’s local circumstances.
Finally, the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) shared their experience of implementing Readiness support in Mongolia. The GGGI representative stressed that the programmes’s objective was, first and foremost, to “help the governments to help themselves”, and that the role of international organisations such as GGGI was to provide technical assistance to government and sub-government entities to directly access climate finance. In Mongolia, GGGI contributed to the set-up of the Mongolia Green Finance Corporation (MGFC), which aims to ultimately blend GCF equity funding with international and Government finance, along with funding from national commercial banks.
On the road to ensuring low-carbon and climate-resilient growth to developing countries, it seems that building their own capacity to access climate finance constitutes the linchpin of country ownership. Programmes such as GCF Readiness empower countries to take control of their own development while ensuring its climate alignment.
Acclimatise has provided capacity building to Belize, Guyana and The Bahamas within the framework of their Readiness activities, and is about to support the second Readiness phase in Belize.
Cover photo provided by Caroline Fouvet of Acclimatise.
By Christopher J White, Laura Kelly, and Linda Speight
It’s becoming a familiar scene on the news: sodden British people wading through streets up to their knees in flood water. From Stirling to Sheffield, many parts of the UK in 2019 felt the impact of severe surface water flooding – often referred to as flash flooding – that followed torrential rain. As the climate changes and the UK experiences more intense summer storms, this is becoming an increasingly important issue.
Surface water flooding is what happens in built-up areas when heavy rainfall has nowhere to go. Unable to enter a watercourse or drainage system, the water instead flows over the ground causing flash flooding. Increased development means more areas are paved over, leaving fewer places for rainfall to drain away. And more frequent heavy rains overload the sewer and drainage network, which makes flash flooding more likely.
James Bevan, chief executive of the England and Wales Environment Agency, said this kind of flooding “threatens more people and properties than any other form of flood risk”. In 2016, the UK government included surface water flooding on the national risk register.
Unlike river and coastal flooding, which can be widespread (as was seen in November 2019 across parts of northern England), surface water flooding presents unique challenges because it’s difficult to predict the location, timing and impact of what are typically localised events.
As the climate changes and urban populations grow, the number of people at risk of surface water flooding increases. This risk is particularly high in Scotland with over 100,000 properties identified at risk from flash floods. And for many people, even if their home or business is not at risk, there’s a good chance the roads or railway lines they use are.
Developing an effective forecasting system requires hydrological models that represent surface run-off, inundation and water movement, showing how water travels via surface and urban sewerage and drainage networks. Prediction models are also needed to quantify uncertainty in forecasting the rainfall that causes surface water flooding.
The uncertain nature of intense storms means that heavy rainfall can happen without much warning. This coupled with the pressure that excess natural run-off puts on man-made drainage networks when there are fewer places for water to go, makes surface water flooding forecasting a real challenge.
It’s a particularly acute problem in Scotland where the climate and geography contribute to the high uncertainties around predicting the location and timing of flooding. A 2016 study found the most dangerous flash floods in the UK include those that resulted from rapidly developing thunderstorm systems. Such storms can result in sudden and dangerous flooding in urban areas – yet these are the most challenging weather systems for flood forecasters to predict.
In the past five years, there has been a rapid development of thunderstorm numerical weather prediction computer models and advances in what is called probabilistic ensemble forecasting. This means instead of making a single forecast of the most likely weather, a set (or ensemble) of forecasts is produced, giving an indication of the range of possible weather ahead. Combined with an increase in computing power and skill, it is now becoming feasible to develop flash flood forecasting systems for urban areas.
Earlier this year, we were commissioned by SEPA to review the state of the science behind surface water flood forecasting in Scotland. Based on an extensive review of published research and reports, coupled with discussions with industry experts, we show that recent advances in computing, thunderstorm models, ensemble forecasting and surface water modelling mean that it is possible for SEPA to explore and build on the accumulated global knowledge about flash flood forecasting.
This information is useful to emergency services and the public, but the ability to provide detailed information on the location and timing of flash flooding remains limited. SEPA’s review highlights the growing need to provide more focused forecasts to help those concerned make the right decisions. It also identifies opportunities to learn how other countries respond to similar flooding that could be applied to Scotland.
The review provides several examples of initiatives that could improve the monitoring of flash flood impacts, including better use of crowdsourced data, as happens in the Netherlands, and better weather forecast visualisation tools (such as 3-D interactive displays and animations) as demonstrated in Spain.
It may never be possible to prevent flash flooding, but reliable and early forecasting can help improve the capacity to prepare, respond and recover. The recent introduction of thunderstorm models and ensemble forecasting has resulted in significant advances in forecasting rainfall. This means it may now be possible to forecast flash flooding in urban areas, as well as make forecasts and warnings more focused and easier to understand, which in turn will help people make better, more informed decisions.
Producing flood forecasts for any particular location is likely to remain challenging beyond a few hours in advance – there will always be limits to the predictability of extreme rainfall. But our capacity to predict extreme weather is constantly improving, which SEPA may be able to apply to surface water flood forecasting.
Solutions for communicating uncertainty of heavy rainfall forecasts continue to develop. Our work means that a step-change in flash flood forecasting that builds on the experience of SEPA, the rest of the UK and other countries, is now possible. Making the best use of all available data – including social media and crowdsourced data – will increase awareness of flash flooding and help communities prepare and respond more effectively.
1.What is your role at Acclimatise? What does a typical workday look like for you?
I’ve worked for Acclimatise for nearly 7 years and work
predominantly behind the scenes at Acclimatise in the head office at Hexgreave
near Nottingham. My role is quite varied from assisting staff with issues they
are facing to tracking tender opportunity releases, to assisting John (our CEO)
and Richenda (our CTO) when required.
2. How has climate change affected you personally/ the areas where you live/ the things that interest you?
We moved into our first home in 2014, since then we have noticed an increase in the number of flood events, the main street running through the village has flooded at least once a year, due to an increase in prolonged wet weather.
3. What is your favourite way to unwind on the weekends?
I play golf to a good standard (3 Handicap), My wife and I recently joined the National Trust and enjoy using the membership to visit different areas of the UK. We often take my parent-in-law’s dog (Jeeves) with us, although he’s more interested in chasing squirrels than listening to me!
4. Has working for Acclimatise, affected your personal behaviour with regards to climate change action?
I don’t know about personal behaviour, but working at
Acclimatise has definitely given me more of an awareness of what is going on
around me / how things are being effected as a result of a changing climate.
5. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
We spent our honeymoon in Japan and found the country
fascinating. I’d like to learn Japanese, which would allow me to make the most
of travelling through the country.
6. If you could be any fictional character, who would you chose and why?
Probably Harry Potter, school would have been a lot more
There’s little that the left and the right agree on these days. But surely one thing is beyond question: that national governments must protect citizens from the gravest threats and risks they face. Although our government, wherever we are in the world, may not be able to save everyone from a pandemic or protect people and infrastructure from a devastating cyberattack, surely they have thought through these risks in advance and have well-funded, adequately practiced plans?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is an emphatic no.
Not all policy areas are subject to this challenge. National defence establishments, for example, often have the frameworks and processes that facilitate policy decisions for extreme risks. But more often than not, and on more issues than not, governments fail to imagine how worst-case scenarios can come about – much less plan for them. Governments have never been able to divert significant attention from the here and happening to the future and uncertain.
A recent report published by Cambridge University’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk argues that this needs to change. If even only one catastrophic risk manifests – whether through nature, accident or intention – it would harm human security, prosperity and potential on a scale never before seen in human history. There are concrete steps governments can take to address this, but they are currently being neglected.
The risks that we face today are many and varied. They include:
Each of these global catastrophic risks could cause unprecedented harm. A pandemic, for example, could speed around our hyper-connected world, threatening hundreds of millions – potentially billions – of people. In this globalised world of just-in-time delivery and global supply chains, we are more vulnerable to disruption than ever before. And the secondary effects of instability, mass migration and unrest may be comparably destructive. If any of these events occurred, we would pass on a diminished, fearful and wounded world to our descendants.
So how did we come to be so woefully unprepared, and what, if anything, can our governments do to make us safer?
A modern problem
Dealing with catastrophic risks on a global scale is a particularly modern problem. The risks themselves are a result of modern trends in population, information, politics, warfare, technology, climate and environmental damage.
These risks are a problem for governments that are set up around traditional threats. Defence forces were built to protect from external menaces, mostly foreign invading forces. Domestic security agencies became increasingly significant in the 20th century, as threats to sovereignty and security – such as organised crime, domestic terrorism, extreme political ideologies and sophisticated espionage – increasingly came from inside national borders.
Unfortunately, these traditional threats are no longer the greatest concern today. Risks arising from the domains of technology, environment, biology and warfare don’t fall neatly into government’s view of the world. Instead, they are varied, global, complex and catastrophic.
As a result, these risks are currently not a priority for governments. Individually, they are quite unlikely. And such low-probability high-impact events are difficult to mobilise a response to. In addition, their unprecedented nature means we haven’t yet been taught a sharp lesson in the need to prepare for them. Many of the risks could take decades to arise, which conflicts with typical political time scales.
Governments, and the bureaucracies that support them, are not positioned to handle what’s coming. They don’t have the right incentives or skill sets to manage extreme risks, at least beyond natural disasters and military attacks. They are often stuck on old problems, and struggle to be agile to what’s new or emerging. Risk management as a practice is not a government’s strength. And technical expertise, especially on these challenging problem sets, tends to reside outside government.
Perhaps most troubling is the fact that any attempt to tackle these risks is not nationally confined: it would benefit everyone in the world – and indeed future generations. When the benefits are dispersed and the costs immediate, it is tempting to coast and hope others will pick up the slack.
Time to act
Despite these daunting challenges, governments have the capability and responsibility to increase national readiness for extreme events.
The first step is for governments to improve their own understanding of the risks. Developing a better understanding of extreme risks is not as simple as conducting better analysis or more research. It requires a whole-of-government framework with explicit strategies for understanding the types of risks we face, as well as their causes, impacts, probabilities and time scales.
With this plan, governments can chart more secure and prosperous futures for their citizens, even if the most catastrophic possibilities never come to pass.
Governments around the world are already working towards improving their understanding of risk. For example, the United Kingdom is a world leader in applying an all-hazard national risk assessment process. This assessment ensures governments understand all the hazards – natural disasters, pandemics, cyber attacks, space weather, infrastructure collapse – that their country faces. It helps local first responders to prepare for the most damaging scenarios.
Finland’s Committee for the Future, meanwhile, is an example of a parliamentary select committee that injects a dose of much-needed long-term thinking into domestic policy. It acts as a think tank for futures, science and technology policy and provides advice on legislation coming forward that has an impact on Finland’s long-range future.
And Singapore’s Centre for Strategic Futures is leading in “horizon scanning”, a set of methods that helps people think about the future and potential scenarios. This is not prediction. It’s thinking about what might be coming around the corner, and using that knowledge to inform policy.
But these actions are few and far between.
We need all governments to put more energy towards understanding the risks, and acting on that knowledge. Some countries may even need grand changes to their political and economic systems, a level of change that typically only occurs after a catastrophe. We cannot – and do not have to – wait for these structural changes or for a global crisis. Forward-leaning leaders must act now to better understand the risks that their countries face.
A collaborative project between the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Acclimatise, and the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), has explored the barriers to, and opportunities for, increasing private-sector uptake of NbS in the infrastructure sector in Latin America and the Caribbean.
While the value of Nature-based Solutions (Nbs) to society is well understood, particularly by the conservation community, the adoption of NbS for sustainable infrastructure in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) remains low. At a time where infrastructure investments are crucial in keeping up with economic and population growth, it is especially vital that LAC explores multifunctional solutions, like NbS, to help build climate-resilient infrastructure in the face of a changing climate.
Four findings have emerged and
NbS needs to be better mainstreamed into policy, legislation, and regulations
Project developers in LAC require additional skills, methodologies, tools, and capacity to incorporate NbS into infrastructure projects
Defining the business case is an important first step to build support and secure finance for NbS projects in LAC
There is a need to improve the conditions and scalability of financial instruments suitable for NbS investment in LAC
The project collaborators agree – coordinated action by all those involved with infrastructure development, including policy makers, project developers and financial institutions, is needed to create the enabling conditions for private sector uptake of NbS.
Acclimatise’s Amanda Rycerz authored the report and recently led a panel discussion event ‘Scaling Private Sector Uptake of Nature-Based Solutions for Climate Resilient Infrastructure’ at the United Nation’s Climate Change Conference (COP25). Additionally, she produced an infographic highlighting the benefits of adopting Nbs solutions.
People who directly depend on the natural world for their livelihoods, like farmers and fishers, will be among the greatest victims of the climate crisis. In vulnerable hotspots, such as the arid lands of Kenya and Ethiopia, farming communities are already struggling with droughts and water scarcity that kill their cattle and threaten their very survival. The glacial-fed river basins of the Himalayan mountains, or the deltas of Bangladesh, India and Ghana, are increasingly prone to floods, landslides and powerful cyclones.
As a result, men are often migrating further to keep their families going, looking for casual work in neighbouring towns or villages for a few days or weeks at a time, or to cities further away. Many try to return home when they can, with whatever they have earned. But during their absence, the entire burden of maintaining the family is on women.
Researchers are in a race against time to predict how climate change will affect these communities and help them adapt, with drought and flood resistant crops and cattle breeds for example. But it’s often overlooked that climate change will affect one half of humanity significantly more than the other. Longstanding gender inequality means that within regions of the world that are particularly vulnerable to climate change, women are likely to suffer more than men.
Isolated and overburdened
In a recent study, we found that extreme weather and unpredictable seasons disproportionately weaken the agency of women to find well paid work and rise above rigid gender roles, even when these appear to be bending after decades of reform and activism. Without support in the form of assured drinking water, energy, childcare or credit, women end up working harder and in poorer conditions for lower wages.
Women already in poverty are increasingly finding themselves in a vicious cycle of low productivity, indebtedness and food insecurity as crops and livestock fail, as we found particularly in semi-arid parts of Africa and India. Women in northern Kenya complained that they could no longer afford meat, so ate rice and potatoes instead, even when this wasn’t enough to satisfy their hunger.
As environmental stresses accumulate, community support networks break down. When people are displaced and have to settle elsewhere, men search for work and women are left behind at home, often in unfamiliar surroundings and lacking support from friends and relatives. But even if they do know people, with all the challenges of running the household in a strange environment, there is little time to help others.
With full responsibility for household chores, farming and caring for the children and elderly, women have less time to socialise or take part in community events, including meetings of the elected village government. If the state or charities can help, there’s often competition for securing those benefits. In Namibia, people tend to stick with their ethnic groups to guarantee access through collective effort, but this means that ethnic minorities in the region are often excluded.
In Mali, heavier burdens are placed on women who are young and less educated. In India or Pakistan, women belonging to a lower social class or marginal caste suffer the most. Gender relations differ in each place and according to each situation – they’re often too variable to emerge in broad national and global assessments. We tried to find a way to generalise our findings across 25 very diverse locations, in Asia and Africa, without losing the nuance of each woman’s experiences.
The bare necessities
If much of the problem is structural, then short-term solutions like cyclone shelters or drought relief won’t address the underlying causes of poverty and precariousness. Social safety nets that can ensure the basic necessities of food and shelter are needed, like the public distribution system for cereals in India, or the pensions and social grants available in Namibia.
To ensure that the health of people in these places doesn’t irreversibly decline, women need to be supported with child and healthcare services, but also drinking water and cooking fuel. The role of community support is crucial during crises, but there’s little that women can do to help themselves without resources and skills.
Competitive labour markets are also undervaluing the labour of poor women. Ensuring minimum wages and fair working conditions would help, but these are hard to implement across borders. As climate change causes traditional livelihoods to collapse, migrant men are similarly exploited by new employers. Deprived of adequate food and rest, many end up sick and spend their earnings on medical treatment.
Tackling the climate emergency and making sure these women and men live meaningful lives will take more than overcoming gender stereotypes. If given support, they can find creative solutions to the disruption that climate change has brought. But this support must mean the guarantee of universal access to food, shelter and basic services. At COP25 in Madrid, world leaders should help vulnerable communities to adapt to climate change with resources and solidarity, not warm words and rhetoric.
The new rules, proposed by the European Commission in May 2018, will set out harmonised minimum water quality requirements for the safe reuse of treated urban wastewaters in agricultural irrigation.
Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, said: “With this provisional agreement, we are equipping the EU with a powerful tool to tackle some of the challenges posed by climate change. Together with water savings and efficiency measures, the use of reclaimed water in the agriculture sector can play an important part in addressing water stress and drought, while fully guaranteeing the safety of our citizens”.
Currently, the practice of water reuse is established in only few Member States and it is deployed much below its potential. The newly agreed rules will facilitate and stimulate the uptake of this beneficial practice, which can ensure a more predictable supply of clean water for the EU farmers and help them to adapt to climate change and mitigate its impacts. By setting minimum requirements, the new rules will ensure the safety of the practice and increase citizens’ confidence in agricultural produce in the internal EU market. This harmonised approach will also facilitate the smooth functioning of the internal market for agricultural produce and create new business opportunities for operators and technology providers.
Under the new legislation, treated urban wastewaters, which have already undergone certain treatments under the rules of the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive, would be subjected to further treatment to meet the new minimum quality parameters and thus become suitable for use in agriculture.
Besides the harmonised minimum requirements, the new legislation also sets out harmonised minimum monitoring requirements; risk management provisions to assess and address potential additional health risks and possible environmental risks; and a permitting procedure and provisions on transparency, whereby key information about any water reuse project would be made publicly available.
The provisional agreement now has to be formally approved by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU.
Following approval, the Regulation will be published in the EU’s Official Journal and enter into force 20 days later.
The Regulation proposed by the Commission aims to alleviate water scarcity across the EU, in the context of adapting to climate change. It will ensure that treated wastewater intended for agricultural irrigation is safe, protecting citizens and the environment.
The proposal delivers on one of the commitments of the Circular Economy Action Plan, and completes the existing EU legal framework on water and foodstuffs. It also contributes to reaching the UN Sustainable Development Goals in the EU (in particular Goal 6 on water and sanitation), as well as contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Several Acclimatise staff members are in attendance at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP25) in Madrid this week. Get in touch with these friendly faces if you are there and would like to request a meeting. Follow @Acclimatise on Twitter for more information about their plans.
Maribel has over 15 years of experience working in climate change adaptation and finance, providing strategic guidance to governmental, multilateral and non-governmental organisations on integrating climate change into their decision-making processes.
Maribel will be at COP25 December 10th-12th.
10/12/19 18:30-22:00 – 4th Annual Climate Resilience and Adaptation Investment Side Event
11/12/19 11:00-12:00 – Cities and Climate Change: from baseline diagnostics to concrete measures for resilient and low carbon cities (Panelist)
11/12/19 14:30-16:00 – Greening the financial market
Caroline has over four years of experience in sustainable development and climate change. At Acclimatise, she is a climate finance analyst assisting countries to build their national climate finance capacities, secure accreditation to international funds, and develop project concepts and projects for investment.
Based in Asheville, North Carolina, Amanda supports Acclimatise’s clients on projects related to climate services, nature-based solutions and communications. Amanda has supported various communications consultancies for clients, including C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and The Rockefeller Foundation (ACCCRN).
Amanda will be at COP25 December 4th-6th.
04/12/19 18:00-20:00 – Scaling Private Sector Uptake of Nature-Based Solutions for Climate Resilient Infrastructure (Panelist)
05/12/19 10:30-12:00 – Community Climate Action: From Global to Local Restoration
05/12/19 16:45-18:25 – Nature-based adaptation to climate change in cities
Banks and insurance companies in France will undergo climate
risk stress tests to ensure they are adequately managing their exposure to both
the transition risks and physical risks of climate change. Speaking just before
the start of COP25 in Madrid, France’s central bank governor Francois Villeroy
de Galhau announced that France’s financial regulator would begin the tests
from next year.
Banks and insurance companies in France have been required
by law to disclose climate risks for over three years. “We will run climate
stress tests for French banks and insurance next year,” Villeroy told a green
finance conference in Paris. “This will be very important progress in order to
assess the kind of climate risks that are already nascent in banks and
insurers’ balance sheets”.
The financial services industry has come under increasing
pressure to understand and manage its climate risk exposure. In 2015, the Bank
of England Financial Stability Board’s Taskforce on Climate Related Financial
Disclosure (TCFD) released recommendations to encourage the banking sector to
manage its climate risk.
The financial sector has responded by beginning to grapple
with its climate risk exposure. Last year for example, sixteen leading banks, UN Environment Finance
Initiative (UNEP FI) and Acclimatise, published new methodologies that help
banks understand how the physical risks and opportunities of a changing climate
might affect their loan portfolios.
The methodologies, published in the report “Navigating a new climate”, were piloted across three
climate-sensitive industry sectors: agriculture, energy and real estate. Using
the methodologies, banks can begin to assess physical climate risks in their
loan portfolios, evaluating the impacts on key credit risk metrics –
Probability of Default (PD) and Loan-to-Value (LTV) ratios. The forward-looking
assessments offer longer-term insights that go beyond the usual stress-testing
horizon of 2-3 years.
The move by France’s financial regulator comes on the back of similar moves from other countries. The Bank of England said in October it would stress test the financial system under various climate “pathways” and the European Central Bank said earlier this month it was also considering it. Last month, Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, warned major corporations that they have two years to agree rules for reporting climate risks before global regulators devise their own and make them compulsory.
When it comes to tackling climate change the UK is still taking baby steps. A lot more needs to be done – and fast – to hit the 2050 net zero carbon emission targets, which involves offsetting any emissions by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere.
While this process can build on future innovations, the technologies are actually already in place to make a real difference – technologies that, of all things, are based on the skills of the oil and gas industry.
The world is currently approaching an average global temperature increase of 1ºC compared to pre-industrial times, largely attributed to increasing atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide (CO2). Meanwhile, the BP Energy Outlook predicts a future increase in the use of fossil fuels.
The world population is growing and more people will be moving from low incomes to higher ones, resulting in a higher energy demand towards the end of the century. So achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 will be a tremendous challenge, requiring engineering solutions at mega-scale.
The world already has effective engineering solutions to manage climate change and to limit global temperatures from rising above 1.5°C – a target set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But there is a desperate lack of conviction from politicians and society to address the climate emergency.
Morgan Stanley estimated that meeting the 2050 targets requires an investment of US$50 trillion. Put into perspective, that’s about 50 times the company value of Apple.
The report states that investments need to be in electric cars, renewables, hydrogen, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and biofuels. Many of these technologies rely on the need to use the geological subsurface for producing heat in the form of geothermal energy, permanently storing carbon dioxide or for temporarily storing hydrogen. For CCS, CO2 is pumped into porous underground formations (such as water-bearing saline formations or depleted oil and gas reservoirs) at a depth of 1km or more, where a tight sealing layer prevents these fluids from leaking towards the surface.
In Australia, for example, oil and gas giant Chevron has started a large-scale CCS project where 3.4-4 million tons of CO2 will be stored beneath the seafloor annually, but this initiative is by no means unique. There are currently around 18 international CCS projects that are removing between 30 and 40 million tons of CO2 each year. While these figures may sound impressive, they only represent about 10% of emissions produced by the UK alone each year.
CCS is a technology that can be linked to large-scale fossil fuel combustion for decarbonising the energy sector. It can also be linked to direct CO2 capture from the air or CO2 produced from using biofuels, both having the potential to achieve net negative CO2 emissions.
According to the recent IPCC special report, CCS, when deployed globally, could amount to a reduction of hundreds of billions of tons of CO2 emissions by 2050. The scale of the problem is vast and existing global projects need to be scaled-up between 100 and 1,000 times their current size to be truly effective.
What lies beneath
Another energy solution – where size is not an issue – is harnessing the tremendous heat that lies beneath the Earth’s surface to generate electricity and heat. Investment in these geothermal energy projects is increasing, but not at the pace required.
Geothermal energy can provide decentralised, affordable and continuous energy to heat homes or produce electricity. While this energy is right beneath our feet, progress on adopting it is slow due to a lack of investment and political support compared to other renewable energies such as wind and solar.
While the operational cost of geothermal energy production is competitive with other renewable energies, the downside is that investment costs are high, especially when producing from a greater depth. As a consequence, installed capacity is less than 1% of the global electricity consumption.
The same is true of progressing towards a hydrogen economy. Hydrogen can be produced in many ways and used to heat homes, fuel cars or produce electricity. Hydrogen reacts with oxygen to form pure water. It can be produced from renewable energies or from natural gas in a refining process.
The drawback of a hydrogen economy is that it produces CO2 as a by-product, which must ultimately be integrated into the CCS chain. Hydrogen consumption is demand-driven while renewable energies produce energy independent of demand. Overproduction can temporarily be stored in geological formations, and back produced when demand is increasing.
All these technologies depend on using the subsurface either as a temporary or permanent solution. It requires the expertise of geoscientists and petroleum engineers – highly skilled specialists who have delivered a fossil fuel-based economy in the past, and who will contribute to providing energy in the future. But more than that, it calls for visionary political ideas and legislation. For many people it is a crucial issue in the December general election.
But given what is required, society has still not yet fully recognised the urgency required to combat climate change. An energy transition at this scale will change the way people live and work, but it will also require people to properly grasp the scale of the problem. Student activist group Fridays for Future and groundbreaking young campaigners like Greta Thunberg pave the way. But only political leadership, policies and funding can make it happen.