Aggressive action on carbon emissions needed

8th December 2015

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Adaptation ,
  • Mitigation ,
  • Generation


Stephen Allen

New research by the University of Aberdeen says heavy reliance on carbon capture technologies to deal with climate change is extremely risky, and calls for "immediate and aggressive action" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The study found there are significant constraints to carbon capture and storage (CCS) and other so-called negative emissions technologies. Professor Pete Smith, who led the study, said: "We decided to examine negative emission technologies since most global integrated assessment models used to examine pathways to a stable climate show that negative emissions technologies may be required in combination with aggressive greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions reductions to limit climate warming to safe levels."

Negative emission technologies include relatively simple options such as planting more trees, which as they grow "lock up" CO2, and crushing rocks that naturally absorb carbon dioxide and spreading them on soils to remove CO2 more rapidly. More advanced options include CCS, which involves using chemicals to absorb CO2 emissions from industrial processes and storing it permanently deep below the ground.

The work was carried out by a team of 40 collaborators as a contribution to the Global Carbon Project. The research showed that negative emission technologies have a range of impacts on land use, GHG emissions, water use, reflectivity of the Earth and soil nutrient depletion, as well as the energy and cost requirements for each technology, which need to be addressed if these technologies are to play a significant role in achieving climate change goals.

The study concluded that a heavy reliance on the future use of negative emissions technologies to offset current emissions from fossil fuels is extremely risky because the ability to stabilise global warming declines as cumulative GHG emissions rise.

As the deployment of these technologies is likely to be limited because of environmental, economic or energy constraints, the study suggests that "Plan A" must be to reduce GHG emissions aggressively, now. A failure to initiate such cuts may leave us with no "Plan B" to stabilise the climate within the 2ᵒC target, the report concludes.

"It is important to publish these findings now, as ways to limit climate change are currently being discussed at the climate negotiations in Paris, and we want negotiators to have the best current information," Smith said.


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