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It would be the world’s first major research centre dedicated to the task of reversing climate change using geoengineering.

The University of Cambridge is launching a new research centre to explore radical technological solutions including geoengineering to fix climate change. The Centre for Climate Repair will investigate radical approaches such as refreezing the planet’s poles and recycling carbon dioxide (CO2) captured from the atmosphere. This first-of-its-kind research lab is being launched in response to the concerns of many climate scientists that reducing emissions might not be enough to stop or reverse climate change.

The initiative is the brainchild of Sir David King, an Emeritus Professor at Cambridge and former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK government. “What we do over the next 10 years will determine the future of humanity for the next 10,000 years,” he said in a conference earlier. “There is no major centre in the world that would be focused on this one big issue.”

Geoengineering Examples:

  1. Brightening clouds above the poles
    The centre will be working on an idea to brighten the clouds above Earth’s poles in order to make them capable of reflecting off more sunlight, which would reduce the temperatures and refreeze the melting ice caps. The idea is to pump seawater up to tall masts on uncrewed ships through very fine nozzles. This will produce tiny particles of salt which will be injected into the clouds making them more widespread and reflective.

  2. Greening the oceans
    The centre will also explore the idea of greening the oceans to make them capable of absorbing more CO2 from the atmosphere. Scientists believe that fertilising the sea with iron salts will boost the growth of plankton and other forms of vegetation in the ocean.
  3. Carbon Capture Utilisation (CCU)
    Another new idea is to develop an advanced version of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology. While CCS means collecting CO2 emissions from coal or gas-fired power stations and other industrial factories and storing it underground, this advanced technology — Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU) — is a scheme that effectively recycles the stored CO2. CCU involves building a plant that converts captured CO2 into products such as methanol, biofuel, and other forms of hydrocarbons to use as alternative and renewable sources of energy.

Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU)

The radical idea 

As a climate mitigation approach, Geoengineering was proposed by many climate scientists in the past. In 1977, Austria-based International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis proposed ways of capturing all of Europe’s CO2 emissions and injecting them into sinking Atlantic Ocean currents. In 1982, Soviet scientist Mikhail Budyko suggested filling the stratosphere with sulphate particles to reflect sunlight back into space. In 1997, Edward Teller, inventor of the hydrogen bomb, proposed putting giant mirrors into space. 

The majority of climate scientists had earlier called these ideas outlandish and ‘redolent of science fiction’. But the overall mood is slowly shifting as the temperatures continue to rise and international efforts to cut down carbon emissions are not yielding the desired results. A large number of scientists today believe that the planet is approaching a tipping point where nothing other than geoengineering can stop the climate crisis. 

The United Nations (UN) released its annual climate change report highlighting the progress made on tackling climate change in 2018, ahead of the upcoming Bonn Climate Change Conference at the end of June.

UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa said in the report that the world showed readiness and determination to act on climate change. “I have hope,” she said. “Alongside new scientific evidence and the increasingly observable signs of climate change – from melting glaciers to massive storms – 2018 showed that the world is now ready and determined to act.”

The report covered key achievements of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) intergovernmental process, particularly in building a consensus around the urgency of action and policy pathways on a global scale. It highlighted the impacts of those activities in support of the Convention, the Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement, which collectively comprise the action framework.

It cited the Katowice climate package, through which the international community agreed on a host of norms in December 2018 to get the Paris Agreement going, as a major achievement. The package provides an operational framework for climate action and guidance on tracking and evaluating efforts at the international level. It outlines how countries will report on their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the specific actions they will take and how they can communicate their progress. This includes mitigation and adaptation measures, as well as financial support for developing countries.

You might also like: COP26 Postponed: What Does This Mean for the Climate Crisis?

The report acknowledges that for many people across the world, climate change is already a matter of life and death

“While current pledges under the NDCs fall far short of where the international community needs to be to achieve its climate goals, by finalizing the Katowice climate package nations showed they are committed to increasing their ambition,” Executive Secretary Espinosa said.

The annual UN climate change report also looked ahead at the work to come. In particular, it pointed out the need to put the final touches to the Paris Agreement Work Programme in 2019.  “Now, we must gather all of our energy and look ahead,” Espinosa said. “Nations need to put the final touches to the Paris Agreement guidelines, including in relation to using market mechanisms to meet part of their domestic mitigation goals and back sustainable development.”

The Climate Action Summit, which the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres convened for 23 September 2019 in New York City, will be a key opportunity to table concrete, realistic plans to enhance their nationally determined contributions by 2020, in line with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45% over the next decade and to near-zero emissions by 2050.

“Fundamentally, everybody needs to raise their ambition levels. Governments, cities, the UN system, international organisations, civil society, businesses, investors and individuals must all do absolutely everything in their power to act and influence others to do the same,” Espinosa explained in the report. “It means putting aside our differences, whatever they may be, to work together towards a common goal.”

Decarbonising the economy, moving away from fossil fuels and embracing new technologies able to deliver affordable, scalable and clean energy sources to meet future demands remain cornerstone strategies to keep emissions levels below a 1.5 C rise.

Transitioning towards a sustainable and inclusive economy also implies a paradigm shift across the spectrum of human activity, from industry to our own relationship with nature. Safeguarding biodiversity, reducing pollution, accelerating the closure of coal power plants and replacing jobs with healthier alternatives will require solutions coming from both governments and businesses alike.

You can read the full UN annual climate change report here.

 

China and India, the two most populous countries in the world, are making our planet greener through land management, a recent study by NASA reveals. With their aggressive afforestation and agricultural expansion, both countries lead the world in ‘greening’– a term used by climate scientists to describe Earth’s increasing vegetation cover in recent decades.

The two countries have created one-third of the word’s new forests, croplands, and other forms of vegetation in the last two decades, the study published in Nature Sustainability revealed. China, which has 6.3% of the globe’s landmass, alone accounts for 25% of the global net increase in new vegetation.

The data collected by the researchers using Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS)– a NASA satellite imaging sensor- shows that 42% of the greening in China comes from afforestation while 32% comes from newly cultivated farmlands. In India, 82% of the greening comes from new croplands and 4.4% from new forests.

The research also revealed that besides land management strategies adopted by China and India, indirect factors like climate change, CO2 fertilization, nitrogen deposition, and recovery from natural disturbances also lead to the greening. However, they could be a less prominent driver of global greening as compared to human-driven land use.

Green represents regions of net greening and yellow, red and purple showing regions with net browning. White areas depict barren land, permafrost, ice, wetlands, and built-up areas.

The Greening

A group of 15 scientists from various universities of China, France, Germany, the US, and India collected satellite data from MODIS, which mapped Earth’s surface from 2000 to 2017 onboard NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. Their analysis revealed the exponential growth of vegetation in China and India.

China’s massive-scale tree plantations on the low-productive regions of the country lead to a 16% global net greening. In just a single decade–2000-2010, the country increased its total forest area by 19% covering 434,000 Sqkm of land.

China achieved this remarkable feat by implementing a series of programmes to conserve forests, mitigate soil erosion, air pollution, and climate change.  Since the 1990s, China has invested more than $100bn in afforestation programmes and, according to its government, planted more than 35bn trees across 12 Chinese provinces. China’s forestry expenditure per hectare is over three times higher than the global average and has long exceeded that of the US and Europe.

The rapid agricultural growth in China with the help of hybrid cultivars, multiple cropping, irrigation, fertiliser use, pest control, better quality seeds, farm mechanisation, credit availability, and crop insurance programmes also paved the way for a greener nation.

The study concludes that China’s man-made vegetation in the last two decades is equal to that of the greening of Russia, the US and Canada combined.

“China engineered ambitious programmes,” the author says, “to conserve and expand forests with the goal of mitigating land degradation, air pollution, and climate change.”

Greening from forest expansion in China in two decades

The research revealed that India accounts for 6.8% of the global net increase in vegetation cover, with the new croplands contributing the most. This is roughly equal to that in the US or Canada – which both had three times more vegetated areas in 2000.

India’s green revolution which brought massive changes in agricultural production is attributed to a rapidly grown harvesting area throughout the country.

Human Land Use

The data analysis has revealed that the role of human land use in increasing vegetation on a global scale is much more important than previously understood.

Downplaying the contribution of human land use, climate scientists had previously argued that greening was a result of increased CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. But a key finding of the research paper debunks the argument and states “human land use” has been “a dominant driver” of global greening since 2000l.  The greening on Earth in recent decades has had more to do with direct human interference than the indirect effect of climate change or the CO2 fertilisation effect.

Six out of seven “greening clusters” found by the research team “overlap” with regions known to have highly intensive agriculture and human-land use. But regions like Amazone, where human land use is notably low, the rate of greening is much lower.

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