The ideal goal for carbon emissions worldwide is to limit future warming to below a total increase of 2 degrees Celsius (which puts us in line with pre industrial revolution levels).
Whether we reach this goal or not is dependent on how aggressively we put in place and act on climate change and greenhouse gas emission solutions.
We look at some of these potential solutions below.
(*Note that no solution works on it’s own and no solution is completely perfect. It takes a comprehensive and holistic approach with different solutions working together to reduce the effects of climate change)
Solutions To Climate Change & Greenhouse Gas Emissions – Summary
The one thing humans can control with climate change is the level of greenhouse gas emissions we emit in the future – we can reduce, or eliminate them altogether (bring emissions to zero).
The main causes behind human emissions of greenhouse gases (mainly carbon dioxide) is the burning of fossil fuels (coal, natural gas and oil) for:
- electricity and heat production
- industry (factories and production of goods and raw materials)
- commercial and residential uses
- and agriculture and clearing of land
The main approach to addressing these causes is:
- Climate change mitigation – involves reducing or eliminating emissions, or creating carbon ‘sinks’ (absorbing carbon from the atmosphere)
Other approaches to addressing climate change are climate change adaptation, and climate engineering.
According to science.com.au, we have 4 options:
- Emissions reduction: reducing climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
- Sequestration: removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere into permanent geological, biological or oceanic reservoirs.
- Adaptation: responding to and coping with climate change as it occurs, in either a planned or unplanned way.
- Solar geoengineering: large-scale engineered modifications to limit the amount of sunlight reaching the earth, in an attempt to offset the effects of ongoing greenhouse gas emissions.
Each embodies a large suite of specific options, with associated risks, costs and benefits. The four strategies can affect each other: for example, doing nothing to reduce emissions would require increased expenditure to adapt to climate change, and increased chances of future resort to geoengineering.
There are many ways to reduce emissions of CO2 and other warming agents, including shifting energy supply away from dependence on fossil fuels; energy efficiency in the domestic, industrial, service and transport sectors; reductions in overall demand through better system design; and efficient reductions in emissions of methane, nitrous oxide, halocarbon gases and black-carbon aerosols. Uptake of all of these options is happening now, and multiple studies have shown that they can be expanded effectively.
Ultimately, some climate change is inevitable and adaptation will definitely be required.
The more CO2 that is emitted in the next few decades, the stronger the adaptation measures that will be needed in future. There are limits to the adaptive capacities of both ecosystems and human societies, particularly in less developed regions. Thus, the decisions we make today on emissions will affect not only the future requirements for and costs of adaptation measures, but also their feasibility.
Solutions To Climate Change & Greenhouse Gas Emissions – Specific Examples
- Potential Options/Solutions For Reducing Greenhouse Gas & CO2 Emissions From Energy (Power) & Electricity Production
- Potential Options/Solutions For Reducing Greenhouse Gas & CO2 Emissions From Industry & Industrial Activities
Commercial and Residential
- Potential Options/Solutions For Reducing Greenhouse Gas & CO2 Emissions In The Residential & Commercial Sectors
Agriculture, Land Use and Forestry
- Potential Options/Solutions For Reducing Greenhouse Gas & CO2 Emissions In Agriculture & Land Use/Forestry
Other Ideas and potential solutions from various sources might include…
Seth Wynes and Kimberly Nicholas outline high impact, moderate impact and low impact ways to reduce carbon dioxide in terms of approximate CO2e reduced per year (kg):
High Impact Actions
- Have one fewer child – 23 700 up to 117 700 CO2e reduced per year (kg)
- Live car free – 1000 up to 5300
- Avoid one long range flight per year – 700 up to 2800
- Purchase green energy – less than 100, up to 2500
- Reduce effects of driving – 1190
- Eat a plant based diet – 300 up to 1600
Moderate Impact Actions
- Home heating/cooling efficiency – 180
- Install solar panels/renewables
- Use public transportation, ride a bike, or walk
- Buy energy efficient products
- Conserve energy – 210
- Reduce food waste – 370
- Eat less meat – 230
- Reduce consumption in general (of products)
- Reuse – 5
- Recycle – 210
- Eat local – 0 up to 360
Low Impact Actions
- Conserve water
- Eliminate unnecessary travel
- Minimize waste
- Plant a tree – 6 up to 60
- Purchase carbon offsets
- Reduce lawn mowing
- Eco tourism
- Keep backyard chickens
- Buy Eco labelled products
- Calculate your home’s carbon footprint
- Spread awareness
- Influence employer’s actions
- Influence school’s actions
– iopscience.iop.org, and phys.org
Some specific solutions to mitigating GG emissions and climate change might include:
- More efficient use of residential electronics, and new technology for household electronics
- More efficient use of residential appliances
- Retrofit residential HVAC
- Tillage and residue management
- Insulation retrofits for residential buildings
- Hybrid cars
- Waste recycling
- Lighting – switch from incandescent to LED lights (residential)
- Retrofit insulation (commercial)
- Better motor systems efficiency for vehicles
- Cropland nutrient management, particulary with fertilizer
- Clinker substitution by fly ash
- Electricity from landfill gas/methane
- Efficiency improvements by different industries
- Rice management
- 1st generation biofuels
- Small hydro
- Reduced slash and burn agriculture conversion
- Reduced pastureland conversion
- Grassland management
- Geothermal energy
- Organic soil restoration
- Building energy efficiency in new builds
- 2nd gen biofuels
- Degraded land restoration
- Pastureland afforestation
- Nuclear energy
- Degraded forest reforestation
- Low penetration wind technology and energy
- Solar CSP technology and energy
- Solar PV technology and energy
- High penetration wind technology and energy
- Reduced intensive agriculture conversion
- Power plant biomass co-firing
- Coal CCS new build
- Iron and steel CCS new build
- Coal CCS retrofit
- Gas plant CCS retrofit
Ideas for mitigation in each sector where greenhouse gases come from might include:
- eliminate the burning of coal, oil and, eventually, natural gas
- invest in companies practicing carbon capture and storage
- use plant-derived plastics, biodiesel, wind power, solar and renewable energy
- Invest in building upgrades and new buildings – thicker and better insulation
- Build Better roads
- More efficient cement production processes – more efficient fuels to fire up the kilns
- Less vehicle travel – more transit, bike and walking.
- Better and less use of planes and jets
- Buy less in general – energy is used to make all products, so it makes sense to cut back
- Use more efficient lighting and appliances
- Go vegetarian
- Stop deforestation, and plant more trees
- Work on overpopulation
- Renewable energy experimentation
- Biofuels, and hydrolisation
- Carbon taxes and carbon tariffs
- Choose a utility company that generates at least half its power from wind or solar and has been certified
- Insulate your home, and have more efficient heating and cooling
- Offer tax credits for homes and businesses that install carbon efficient tech
- Energy efficient appliances – refrigerators, washing machines, and other appliances, look for the Energy Star label
- Saving water reduces carbon pollution, too. That’s because it takes a lot of energy to pump, heat, and treat your water. So take shorter showers, turn off the tap while brushing your teeth, and switch to WaterSense-labeled fixtures and appliances.
- Eat the food you buy. Make less of it meat. Meat is resource intensive
- Change to LEDs – LED lightbulbs use up to 80 percent less energy than conventional incandescents.
- Pull all plugs and ‘idle’ devices
- Gas-smart cars, such as hybrids and fully electric vehicles, save fuel and money. And once all cars and light trucks meet 2025’s clean car standards, which means averaging 54.5 miles per gallon, they’ll be a mainstay. For good reason: Relative to a national fleet of vehicles that averaged only 28.3 miles per gallon in 2011, Americans will spend $80 billion less at the pump each year and cut their automotive emissions by half.
- Maintain cars -If all Americans kept their tires properly inflated, we could save 1.2 billion gallons of gas each year. A simple tune-up can boost miles per gallon anywhere from 4 percent to 40 percent, and a new air filter can get you a 10 percent boost.
- Planes, trains and automobiles – choosing to live in walkable smart-growth cities and towns with quality public transportation leads to less driving, less money spent on fuel, and less pollution in the air. Less frequent flying can make a big difference, too. “Air transport is a major source of climate pollution,” Haq says. “If you can take a train instead, do that.”
- Pay for carbon offsets
According to OurWorldInData.org:
- To keep global temperature rise below the agreed 2°C, global carbon emission must peak in the next decade and from 2070 onward must be negative
- The goal, with the Paris Agreement in mind, is limiting warming to 2℃ above pre-industrial levels. The Paris Agreement went further, aiming to “pursue efforts” towards a more ambitious goal of just 1.5℃. Given we’re already at around 1℃ of warming, that’s a relatively short-term goal.
- The warming will slow to a potentially manageable pace only when human emissions are reduced to zero. The good news is that they are now falling in many countries as a result of programs like fuel-economy standards for cars, stricter building codes and emissions limits for power plants. But experts say the energy transition needs to speed up drastically to head off the worst effects of climate change
- The energy sources with the lowest emissions include wind turbines, solar panels, hydroelectric dams and nuclear power stations. Power plants burning natural gas also produce fewer emissions than those burning coal. Using renewables can be costlier in the short term
- Burning gas instead of coal in power plants reduces emissions in the short run, though gas is still a fossil fuel and will have to be phased out in the long run
- “Clean coal” is an approach in which the emissions from coal-burning power plants would be captured and pumped underground. It has yet to be proven to work economically, but some experts think it could eventually play a major role.
- Mitigation of climate change are actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or enhance the capacity of carbon sinks to absorb greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
- There is a large potential for future reductions in emissions by a combination of activities, including energy conservation and increased energy efficiency; the use of low-carbon energy technologies, such as renewable energy, nuclear energy, and carbon capture and storage; and enhancing carbon sinks through, for example, reforestation and preventing deforestation.
- A 2015 report by Citibank concluded that transitioning to a low carbon economy would yield positive return on investments.
- Apart from mitigation, adaptation and climate engineering are other options for responses.
Climate change mitigation:
- Mitigation involves reducing emissions, becoming more efficient with energy usage, or increasing carbon sinks (reforestation)
Climate change adaptation:
- Climate change adaptation is a response to global warming, that seeks to reduce the vulnerability of social and biological systems to relatively sudden change and thus offset the effects of global warming.
- Even if emissions are stabilized relatively soon, global warming and its effects should last many years, and adaptation would be necessary to the resulting changes in climate.
- Adaptation is especially important in developing countries since those countries are predicted to bear the brunt of the effects of global warming.
- That is, the capacity and potential for humans to adapt (called adaptive capacity) is unevenly distributed across different regions and populations, and developing countries generally have less capacity to adapt.
- Furthermore, the degree of adaptation correlates to the situational focus on environmental issues. Therefore, adaptation requires the situational assessment of sensitivity and vulnerability to environmental impacts
- Climate engineering or climate intervention, commonly referred to as geoengineering, is the deliberate and large-scale intervention in the Earth’s climate system, usually with the aim of mitigating the adverse effects of global warming.
- Climate engineering is an umbrella term for measures that mainly fall into two categories: greenhouse gas removal and solar radiation management.
- Greenhouse gas removal approaches, of which carbon dioxide removal represents the most prominent subcategory addresses the cause of global warming by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
- Solar radiation management attempts to offset effects of greenhouse gases by causing the Earth to absorb less solar radiation.
- Some carbon dioxide removal practices, such as afforestation, ecosystem restoration and bio-energy with carbon capture and storage projects, are underway to a limited extent.
- Most experts and major reports advise against relying on climate engineering techniques as a main solution to global warming, in part due to the large uncertainties over effectiveness and side effects. However, most experts also argue that the risks of such interventions must be seen in the context of risks of dangerous global warming.
According to Wikipedia:
- Excess CO2 emitted since the pre-industrial era is projected to remain in the atmosphere for centuries to millennia, even after emissions stop. Even if human carbon dioxide emissions were to completely cease, atmospheric temperatures are not expected to decrease significantly for thousands of years.
1. IPCC Fifth Assessment Report – http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/SYR_AR5_FINAL_full_wcover.pdf
16. Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2018) – “CO₂ and other Greenhouse Gas Emissions”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/co2-and-other-greenhouse-gas-emissions’ [Online Resource]