Some of the technologies that can help mankind in climate action are already here, some are emerging.
Technology will play a key role in global climate action. It has become imperative given the how fast the window for any meaningful efforts to keep warming to under 2oC from pre-industrial levels by 2100 is closing. As the International Energy Agency’s estimate of action necessary underscores, keeping catastrophic climate-change at bay will need the paradigm across markers of human consumption to shift—and within deadlines that seem impossible to meet in a business-as-usual scenario.
Some of the technologies that can help mankind in climate action are already here, some are emerging. Many companies have either developed or are working on carbon-capture technology, which can “vacuum out” carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sequester it underground or supply it to industries for use as a raw material. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the worst climate culprit so far, has increased by close to half of what it was before industrialisation; so, the potential of carbon-capture is nothing to be sneezed at. Many other solutions are in the offing: while food scientists and companies like Impossible Foods are working on making meat-alternatives more meat-like, research in agriculture will also likely push the world towards cultivation of low-carbon crops. Solar Foods is using hydrogen from water and bacteria to create a flour-substitute (yet to be licensed for commercial purposes). There is talk of creating, using biological algorithms, milk-, fish- and egg-mimics that can lower the carbon footprint of these items. Solidia is developing cement through a process that cuts emissions by a third over the conventional process; throw in proposed curing using carbon dioxide, and the reduction could be a whopping 70%.
The cement industry is a major emitter, and consumption is a gargantuan four gigatons annually; low-emission cement would be manna from heaven. UK-based Zelp is working on lowering methane emissions from cattle—the gas is 85X more heat-absorbing than carbon dioxide and grazers account for a third of global emissions—through wearables for cattle. From hydrogen-fuelled ships that Scandinavian countries are collaborating on—maritime shipping accounts for 2.5% of global carbon dioxide emissions—to tapping tidal energy, from Arborea’s “bionic leaves” that will trap carbon dioxide through photosynthesis to more efficient solar cells that BlueDot Photonics has developed, there is an explosion of climate-technology that nations must quickly tap into.
It could be true that the technology to make present levels of consumption “less harmful”, as has been argued by a clutch of international scientists in Nature Energy, may not be the answer. The argument proffered is high-income nations will have to focus on economic stability at present levels rather than economic growth even as less-developed nations pursue poverty mitigation with an emissions trade-off. But, there is no denying that technology and innovation can only be enablers in the climate effort, as the UN Climate Change body’s Technology Executive Committee says. It is heartening that corporates are committing to green action; Europe’s Green Digital Coalition represents this ethos, with many large new-age tech companies participating. The need is now for developed countries to push adoption of climate-related tech in developing and poor nations, through more ambitious and committed funding than seen so far.