How to avoid dramatic climate change?

Mitigation

Climate change is happening. However, it is still possible to ‘mitigate’ the climate change i.e. to slow it down and to make sure that it doesn’t get out of control. Below is a list of possible mitigation measures.

Note: These mitigation measures have to be distinguished from the adaptation measures. Under adaptation we understand the measures that are needed to adapt the world to the consequences that have already become unavoidable. A common example is the building of dikes to protect lower areas against sea level rise.

Using renewable energy

The production of heat and electricity by electricity companies (to be sold to the industry, households and others) is the main source of greenhouse gases in the EU. The second largest source of European greenhouse gases is transport.

For more graphs with emissions per sector, and the evolutions of the emissions, see the Greenhouse Gas Data Viewer of the European Environment Agency.

The good news is that it is possible to drastically reduce these emissions, not only by reducing the use of electricity through energy saving measures, but also by switching to renewable electricity.

The emissions of the European energy production are already gradually reducing, thanks to an increased use of wind and solar energy. But more has to happen.

Renewable energy can also help to bring down the emissions of the transport and residential sector. We shouldn’t only switch to electric transport and install heat pumps, we should also make sure that our electric devices are using renewable electricity.

More ways to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions

Here is a list of more actions that have to be taken if we want to limit climate change. Do not hesitate to contact us to add other proposals.

a. Energy saving in our everyday lives

Energy-saving measures are measures to reduce the consumption of energy. There are two ways to save energy; energy efficiency, or life-style changes.

The term ‘energy efficiency’ refers to the possibility of reducing the quantity of electricity used without compromising the final result for example by insulating a home or by installing LED lights. Alternatively, it can be achieved through the design of buildings (see for instance the concept of passive houses) or through the improvement of technology, for instance electric appliances.

Changing our lifestyle means changing habits in order to save energy. For instance by using the bike instead of the car, by heating the house less, or by unplugging electronic devices when they are not being used.

Combining both methods can save significant amounts of energy.

If you want to know more about how to make energy savings, check the Energy Saving Trust website.

A lot of electricity suppliers give their customers suggestions about how to save energy. If your electricity seller doesn’t stress the importance of energy saving, it may be a good idea to switch your electricity contract to another electricity seller.

According to the European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, “energy efficiency provides us with the time needed to replace fossil fuels and other non-sustainable energy sources with renewables in an ecological, economic and socially responsible manner.”

b. Reduction of emissions in other areas

Transportation

As shown by the graph at the top of this page, transportation is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. It is therefore absolutely necessary to think about how to reduce these emissions.

Everybody can make a difference by limiting the use of cars. Alternative options include public transportation, car sharing, cycling and walking. Public authorities can help by improving the safety and comfort of pedestrians and bikers (e.g. bike lanes, bike parking, pavements), and by improving public transportation (e.g. buses lanes, free parking next to bus/metro stations,..).

Also try to avoid flying. Per passenger (i.e. per seats in the plane), one flight leads to the same emissions of greenhouse gases as when this distance is driven by a car. On top of this, the emissions of aeroplanes have a stronger effect, as they take place at high altitudes. Ask yourself if the flight is really necessary. Can’t we do the same things closer to home? Or what about setting up a teleconference or a webinar? Often there are alternatives, such as the train. A flight from Paris to Toulouse produces 90kg of CO2, whereas the same journey in train only produces 5kg (18 times less).

Buying local products can limit the costs of transportation emissions. Buying seasonal products can reduce the need of cooling systems.

Agriculture and livestock farming

A lot of studies have shown that an important way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be to change the way we eat. Limiting our consumption of meat (especially red meat) and dairy products is one of the main factors that could influence greenhouse gas emissions (see for example this excellent study published in 2008 in the US). One major cause is that cattle, cows in particular, emit methane through exhalations and digestion (especially if the food they are given is poor quality). They also produce manure that is often stocked and releases methane – more dominantly in large-scale livestock confinement systems.

Other sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural sector are:
– the use of nitrogen fertilizer;
– the use of fossil fuel in agricultural production.
– deforestation for the extension of the farming lands.

c. Negative emissions

The idea of negative emissions is to use nature or technology to remove greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere. At the moment, research mostly focuses on Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR), also called carbon geo-engineering. Among the proposals, you can find for instance tree planting, carbon capture or ocean fertilization (read more here). The IPCC presents in its fourth assessment negative emissions as a necessary step in several of its long-term climate scenario models (read about it here).

Carbon geo-engineering is the object of diverse criticisms: too high economical investment required, technologies have many side effects, lack of efficiency, risk of diverting attention from more important cutting emissions policies. You can find here a very well documented report written in 2011 by Duncan Mac Larren of Friends of the Earth UK.

d. Carbon emission trading

Carbon emission trading is often considered in the negative emissions policy.

The system works with an allowance of a fixed amount of carbon emission per person/company. If a company is emitting less than what is allowed, it can sell the unused capacity to another company which needs it. By putting a price on the emission of carbon, this policy can be an effective incentive to reduce emissions.

A drawback of such a system is that it gives the wealthy a licence to emit, as long as they find people who need their money. It also focuses people on their individual emissions, creating the risk of missing the overall picture and limiting global responses to climate change issues.

e. Improvement of storage capacity of electricity

“Energy storage became a dominant factor in economic development with the widespread introduction of electricity. Unlike other common energy storage in prior use such as wood or coal, electricity must be used as it is being generated, or converted immediately into another form of energy such as potential, kinetic or chemical. Until recently electrical energy has not been converted and stored on a major scale, however new efforts to that effect began in the 21st century.

An early solution to the problem of storing energy for electrical purposes was the development of the battery as an electrochemical storage device. Batteries have previously been of limited use in electric power systems due to their relatively small capacity and high cost. However, since about the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, newer battery technologies have been developed that can now provide significant utility scale load-leveling capabilities; some of which, as of 2013, showed promise of being competitive with alternative methods. A similar possible solution to deal with the intermittency issue of solar and wind energy is found in the capacitor.” (last two chapters copied from Wikipedia, Energy storage)

Currently electricity storage is not highly efficient. Improvements however could make it a game-changer in the field of renewable energies. It would allow us to use electricity not when it is produced, but when it is needed, limiting our dependence on the weather.