Many of us wonder what needs to be done to achieve a brighter climate reality, a future in which we do not need to fear the devastating consequences of climate change, but instead live a more sustainable and healthier lifestyle.
The good news is, the means to achieve this brighter climate reality already exist, they are the so-called “climate solutions”. Implementing them will counteract our climate crisis and can even reverse some of the temperature increase that already occurred on our planet.
To understand the solutions, we first need to understand the basics of our current climate situation: the so-called “sources” that release carbon into the atmosphere are higher compared to the “sinks” that decrease atmospheric carbon. The main sources are electricity, food & agriculture & land use, industry, transportation, and buildings – together, they are responsible for 90% of the greenhouse gases causing climate change. Sinks on the other hand are natural systems like the ocean and the land. They withdraw carbon from the atmosphere and absorb more than 40% of human-made emissions.
What needs to be done in the future is simple: we reduce the carbon sources and enhance the carbon sinks, complemented by improving our society. Listed below you find climate solutions for each of the three aspects. Additionally, for each climate solution you find the respective “solution potential”, which indicates how much atmospheric carbon can be reduced by a certain solution. (For a comparison: human-made emissions are currently around 40 Gt per year globally).
The Solutions: Reduce Source
The main sources with their respective current contribution to climate change and their solution potential are listed below.
1. Electricity (solution potential: 200-440Gt)
One quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions comes from electricity. Most of our electricity is created by fossil fuels i.e., burning of coal, oil, or gas with buildings and industry being the main end-users. Under a bright climate reality, an electric transformation with enhanced efficiency that reduces the demand for electricity generation, and a shift away from fossil fuels and towards renewable electricity production takes place. Solutions like onshore wind turbines, solar- and geothermal power, and green roofs with their respective solution potential can be found here.
2. Food, Agriculture, and Land use (solution potential: 204-273 Gt)
Almost one quarter of the global emissions derive from agricultural and forestry activities. Emissions derive mostly from deforestation for livestock farming or food production, methane from animals or rice, and fertilizer or manure. Under a bright climate reality, less food is wasted, and we switch to plant-rich diets. Further, by improving food production on existing farmland we protect ecosystems by sparing them from clearing. Finally, by improving our practices towards a more sustainable agriculture, we can reduce greenhouse gas release from land use and soil degradation. More solutions like change in diets, forest protection, and conservation agriculture with their respective solution potentials can be found here.
3. Industry (solution potential: 129-144 Gt)
The industry creates more than 20% of all heat-trapping emissions mainly from metals, cement, chemicals, and waste. Under a bright climate reality, plastic, metals, and cement are replaced and waste is reduced and reused by circular economy. Solutions like bioplastics, alternative cement and refrigerants and their respective solution potential can be found here.
4. Transportation (solution potential: 57-97 Gt)
The contribution of transportation to global greenhouse gas emissions is 14%, mostly by road transportation and a minor part by flying. Under a bright climate reality, we shift to alternatives: public transport, walking, cycling, and car sharing. Remaining vehicles are made fuel-efficient, and vehicles are fuelled by renewable electricity. Solutions with their respective solution potential like walkable cities, public transit, and electric cars can be found here.
5. Buildings (solution potential: 74-141Gt)
Buildings emit 6% of greenhouse gases contributing to climate change and use more than half of all electricity, e.g for heating, cooking, or hot water. Under a bright climate reality, we enhance building efficiency and shift energy sources. Solutions with their respective solution potential like green roofs, net-zero buildings, and smart thermostats can be found here.
The Solutions: Support Sinks
Sinks like the land and the ocean absorb more than 40 % of the emissions humans release in the atmosphere, only 60 % of the human-made emissions stay in the atmosphere.
1. Land sinks (solution potential: 243-388 Gt)
Land sinks withdraw a quarter of human-caused emissions by absorbing carbon through photosynthesis and subsequently storing it in the vegetation or soil. Under a brighter climate reality, we protect ecosystems to support them in maintaining their natural sink potential. Further, by restoring ecosystems we add new sinks e.g., by planting trees. Solutions with their respective potential like forest restoration, tree intercropping, and silvopasture can be found here.
2. Ocean sinks (solution potential: 1-1.5 Gt)
Oceans absorb around 17% of the heat-trapping emissions through photosynthesis, carbon dioxide dissolving in the seawater, and calcium carbonate used for shells. Additionally, oceans have absorbed 90% of the heat caused by global warming. Under a bright climate reality, we maintain this natural carbon sink by protecting and restoring ocean ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrass meadows and shift our agricultural practices, more here.
3. Engineered sinks (solution potential: 2.2-4.4 Gt)
Machines that pull carbon out of the atmosphere and store this carbon or ideally, use it for e.g. jet fuel or plastic are nowhere near being deployable, but they may play a role in the future.
The Solutions: Improve Society
Health and education (solution potential: 85 Gt)
Improving equality, access to education (especially for girls), healthcare, and securing rights of indigenous communities also leads to climate benefits, more here.
The concept of the climate solutions with their respective potential to halt and even reverse global warming show us that a bright climate future is possible. Now we must demand their implementation.
– Vote, Strike & Spread Awareness –
Sources: IPCC (2018) Summary for Policymakers. In: Global warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty. World Meteorological Organization, Geneva, Switzerland, 32 pp. // Hawken, Paul (Hg.) (2017): Drawdown. The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming. New York: Penguin Books. // IPCC (2013): Climate Change 2013. The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
A summary based on the research by Hawken 2017