The broad solutions for climate change that are frequently mentioned are mitigation and adaptation.
However, there are also more specific solutions and strategies that need to take into account the individual situation of different countries, States/provinces, cities, and sectors around the world. Individuals can also help with different actions too.
In this guide, we look at how each level of society can contribute and help address climate change.
Summary – A Comprehensive Strategy For Addressing Climate Change
A comprehensive strategy for addressing climate change might involve:
- Being aware of safe or beneficial global warming targets for the future
- Understanding the link between greenhouse gas (specifically carbon) emissions and future warming
- Being aware of general forecasts and projections for future warming
- Being aware of different emission pathways that could lead to different levels of future warming
- Being aware of the main solutions and principles for climate change (mitigation and adaptation)
- Being aware that each individual country may face different variables and factors in addressing climate change, and each country has different cumulative, annual and per capita emission contributions
- Being aware that each individual State or province may face different variables and factors in addressing climate change
- Being aware that each individual city may face different variables and factors in addressing climate change
- Being aware that different sectors of society in each geographical area may have different greenhouse gas profiles in terms of quantities of each type GHG (carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane, etc.) that come from the sector, and activities within the sector that are the source of the emissions
- Being aware that individuals may have different actions that can take to reduce their carbon footprint, as well as looking at the carbon footprint of the everyday things they consume (such as foods and products)
Global Warming Target
The Paris Agreement set a main goal of limiting global average temperature warming to below 2 °C (above pre-industrial levels), and a recent IPCC report has outlined that there will be more benefits in limiting warming to 1.5 °C and below.
It makes sense then, that in addition to global agreements or pledges, solutions and strategies for addressing climate change at the national, city, sector based, and individual levels should align with or contribute to this global goal (whilst also taking into account regional climate conditions).
The Link Between Global Warming & Emissions
Human greenhouse gas emissions are seen as the primary cause for the recent warming trend on Earth since 1850, and these greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide being the main one, with methane, nitrous oxide, halocarbon gases and black carbon aerosols making up the rest) are seen as a primary driver of the climate.
These emissions mainly comes from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas).
Some sources indicate about 87% of human emissions come from fossil fuels as the primary cause, whilst deforestation is a secondary cause at about 7%.
Global Warming Forecast & Projection
It’s hard to accurately forecast future warming because it depends on a number of variables and uncertainties. As a result, future projections are seen as a general guide only.
Emissions Pathways To Different Levels Of Future Warming
Carbon budgets and understanding pathways for how much greenhouse gases can be emitted before a specific level of warming is reached are an estimation, and are not definitive.
To limit warming to 1.5 °C or 2 °C for example, there are different low emissions pathways that have been plotted where emissions would need to peak by a certain year, decrease incrementally each year, and eventually need to reach net zero by a certain year. Positive climate policies would also be needed.
On the flip side of that, there have also been moderate and high emission pathways plotted that show how we might reach higher levels of warming.
Read more about emissions pathways in this guide.
Main Solutions For Climate Change
The main solutions for climate change (and limiting global warming) are:
Involves two main solutions.
The first being reaching peak emissions, and then decreasing emissions yearly until net zero emissions is reached. There’s a number of ways this can happen, but much of it centres around reducing the use of carbon intensive energy sources such as fossil fuels, and either becoming far more efficient with energy use, using a greater share of lower or zero carbon energy sources (such as renewables or nuclear, but, some countries have also switched from coal to natural gas in the short term as it usually has a lower emission rate), or reducing energy consumption altogether.
The second is carbon sequestration & storage. This involves removing/absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, and storing it in carbon sinks (geological, biological or oceanic reservoirs).
This involves adapting to the effects brought about by a changing climate, by either reducing vulnerability to these effects, or offsetting or overcoming any negative impact.
The irony about adaptation is that developing countries may be most impacted by climate change and have the least capacity to adapt.
Wikipedia.org mentions ‘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.’ [and] ‘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’.
Climate engineering is another potential option, but, is not yet seen as a main solution at this stage, or a solution to be widely applied.
Science.com.au defines solar geoengineering as ‘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’
Wikipedia.org also mentions ‘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’
In regards to pursuing different solutions, some relevant comments are:
- [Each solution impacts the other, and carries] ‘associated risks, costs and benefits’ (science.org.au)
- [Although there are trade offs with the mitigations and adaptation to climate change, the total number of possible synergies exceeds trade off when considering energy demand, energy supply and land (although, their net effect will depend on the pace and magnitude of changes, the composition of the mitigation portfolio and the management of the transition)] (report.ipcc.ch)
National/Country Level Solutions For Climate Change
Every country faces a different situation in addressing climate change.
- Emits different quantities of greenhouse gases annually
- Has a different split in terms of the sources of their greenhouse gas emissions
- Faces different challenges, interests, and priorities when it comes to their economy, the environment, technology, the feasibility of implementing climate change solutions, and so on
Ultimately, each country will need to assess their own contribution to climate change, assess their national situation and capabilities, and have their own strategies and timelines for addressing climate change. Just as one example, a developing or low income country will usually have very different considerations compared to a developed or high income country.
Developing countries may take longer for their emissions to peak than developed countries. Developing countries may also take note of carbon efficient or low carbon technology and systems that developed countries are implementing or have implemented, and incorporate them into their economy and society.
A phrase that is sometimes brought up is that a country should do it’s ‘fair share’ to address climate change. What is ‘fair share’ is usually a reflection of the amount of greenhouse gases a country emits per year. In theory, the more a country emits, the more they should do to help address climate change (reduce emissions) , as they are one of the main contributors to the problem.
If we use two examples – China and the US are two countries that are significant emitters. The US is the current leader for cumulative emissions (total emissions throughout history), and the China is the leader by a long way for annual emissions. China’s emissions come heavily from coal usage, and industrial activity like construction (and the power needed for these industrial activities). Whereas, the United States gets more energy from natural gas, and has more of an even split between transportation, electricity and industry as the main emitting sectors. Read more in these guides about greenhouse gas breakdowns for each country, and also globally:
- Summary Of Greenhouse Gas Emissions In The US
- Summary Of Greenhouse Gas Emissions In China
- Summary Of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Globally (per capita emissions can change the narrative of the top emitting nations – China slips further down the list when per capita emissions are taken into account)
Solutions to address climate change for countries may involve:
- Peaking, reducing and bringing their emissions to net zero
- Looking at the sources of their emissions, and focussing on the main sources (by industry/sector), or wherever they can be most effective in reducing emissions
- Formulating and implementing national climate policy to help with the above
Each country should have their own custom strategy and solutions to address climate change based on the above factors, and other relevant factors. But, each State/province, and also the locales within a country may also have more specific strategies and solutions.
Just using one country, Australia, as an example of what their targets might be, and how they might track their own impact on climate change in the future:
- You can view Australia’s 2030 climate change target as an example (environment.gov.au)
- Australia’s target – Australia will reduce emissions to 26-28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030.
- This target represents a 50-52 per cent reduction in emissions per capita and a 64-65 per cent reduction in the emissions intensity of the economy between 2005 and 2030.
- You can also see how a country like Australia might measure and compare their emission target (climatecouncil.org.au)
- It involves knowing what your baseline year is, and knowing what current rate of emissions are, amongst other factors
Some climate tracking organizations also exist, who rank countries with different metrics and measurements based on their emissions and perceived level of effort to reduce emissions. These rankings can gives us a further idea of, or act as an additional tool for assessing which countries may be insufficient in their efforts to address climate change, and also which ones may be 2 degrees or even 1.5 degrees compatible. Read more at climateactiontracker.org
The rating system is explained here (climateactiontracker.org)
As of 2019, a few examples of ratings were:
- Countries With A Critically Insufficient Effort, & Efforts In Line With a 4+ Degree Celsius Temp. Rise – Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, USA, Ukraine
- Countries Showing Compatible Effort With A 1.5 Degree Celsius Temp. Rise – Morocco, The Gambia
City Level Solutions For Climate Change
Cities are where a large proportion of the human population live – and, as a result, are responsible for a significant amount of emissions in a concentrated geographic area. It makes sense then that a major city or major cities within a country are where significant focus can be applied when it comes to assessing and addressing a country’s climate change issues and strategy.
But, there’s also different types of cities to consider – producer cities vs consumer cities for example.
Everything we outlined about countries having different factors to consider in formulating a climate change strategy applies to the individual cities around the world as well.
One of the main things a city might do is reduce overall consumption, but also, make changes to the sectors and activities within a city responsible for the most emissions. They may also target the activities where the the most effective results can be achieved compared to the time, money or financial investment made.
Some sources report that some of the biggest cities in the world have been able to peak and decrease emissions, whilst still experiencing economic growth and population growth, by making changes with some of the following actions:
- Decarbonisation of the electricity grid
- Optimizing energy use in buildings
- Providing cleaner, affordable alternatives to private cars
- Reducing waste and increasing recycling rates
- Investment in sustainable infrastructure and policies
- Collaborating with national and regional governments and businesses operating within cities, as well as citizens, to deliver the collective action needed to cut emission
Sector Based Solutions For Climate Change
The world, but also countries, States/provinces, and cities are composed of different sectors that help society and economies run.
Different regions in the world have a different profile when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, and the share of each type of gas that comes from each sector, as well as the overall quantity of each gas that comes from each sector (and activity within each sector). Some sectors may even provide a carbon sink (in the case of forests and vegetation).
We already outlined above that, right now, a significant amount of carbon emissions in China come from industry (construction being a major emitter). Emissions also come from the energy and electricity required to power industry.
Additionally, a sector like Agriculture usually emits a higher % of other greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide (from fertilizers, and livestock and their manure).
So, in each geographic location where there are populations of people, the different sectors and activities that make up those sectors have to be assessed to understand the greenhouse gas emissions that result from them, and the activities responsible for those emissions.
Apart from reducing consumption, and increasing efficiency of production or consumption, two examples of solutions in the different sectors are moving from fossil fuels to renewables (and other low carbon energy sources) in power production, and moving to hybrid, electric and alternative fuel vehicles from fossil fuel powered vehicles in transport.
Some activities like reforestation, afforestation, and land and soil restoration, can even provide a carbon sink (where carbon can be absorbed from the atmosphere and stored in plant matter and soil). Man made technology like CCS can do something similar, although, with sometimes questionable results, and investment required.
Read more about the different sectors in these guides:
- Solutions For Addressing Climate Change In The Transport Sector
- Solutions For Addressing Climate Change In Power & Electricity Production
- Solutions For Addressing Climate Change In The Commercial & Residential Sectors
- Solutions For Addressing Climate Change In Agriculture, Land Use & Forestry
- Solutions For Addressing Climate Change In Industry
How Individuals Can Help With Climate Change
On an individual level, there might a target carbon footprint individuals can strive for.
There may also be high, moderate and low impact actions individuals can take to reduce their carbon footprint.
Individuals should also be aware of estimated carbon footprints of the products and foods they consume on an everyday basis.
Read more in these guides:
- What Is A Sustainable Carbon Footprint To Aim For?
- Best & Most Effective Ways To For An Individual To Reduce Their Carbon Footprint
- Carbon Footprints Of Everyday Products & Things
3. IPCC Fifth Assessment Report – http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/SYR_AR5_FINAL_full_wcover.pdf
4. http://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_spm_final.pdf (‘Summary For Policy Makers’ IPCC Special Report)