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  • Writer's pictureIan Ritchie

Note to COP26: We will need trillions to fund the grand challenges

Ian Ritchie Scottish Business Insider Oct/Nov/Dec 2021

COP26, arriving in Glasgow over the coming days, will undoubtedly be declared a major triumph. Pledges will be made from the world’s nations to cut greenhouse emissions and preserve the warming of the planet to no more than 1.5c. Unfortunately, most of these pledges will be worthless.

Climate Action Tracker (CAT), an independent body that analyses countries’ targets report that current goals set by major economies like Brazil, China, India and Australia are ‘highly insufficient’ and those for the US, Japan and Germany are ‘insufficient’.

In particular, China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has declared that their emissions will peak by 2030 and then reduce to carbon neutrality by 2060 – effectively postponing any real cuts until the end of this decade.

85 per cent of Chinese energy currently comes from fossil fuels, over half from coal, and last year China commissioned three times more coal-powered power stations than the year before.

President Xi is hardening his attitude to international pressure, effectively telling critics that China will determine and deliver its own agenda independent of pressure from the rest of the world.

However, if you think that the 4.5 million people so far that have died in the Covid19 pandemic is scary, if we don’t reduce emissions and curb climate change, the planet is set to become uninhabitable.

Billions will die.

Boris Johnson and Alok Sharma have been flying around the world rattling the collection box, raising a $100m fund to help poorer counties to control their emissions.

But what they really should have been doing is raising a badly needed fund in the trillions of dollars.

Because what we now desperately need to do is to set up an international independent body to fund and manage major projects designed to curb greenhouse gases and climate change at a global level. It would have to command a huge budget funded by all countries in proportion to their GDP.

Multi-national projects are almost impossible to cancel whereas individual governments will always have economic and short-term political pressures allowing them to delay taking tough actions.

Such a global organisation would urgently investigate ways of reducing carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, developing effective carbon capture technology, a field that has been starved of funding for many years. Similarly, nuclear fusion needs a big push to get it to a deliverable state.

A few years ago, scientists discovered nano-bugs that can ‘eat’ CO2 and generate plastics and fuels as a by-product. These should be developed at an industrial scale on land or at sea to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide and create clean fuels.

Scientists have speculated for years about launching giant mirrors or seeding atmospheric clouds to deflect some of the heat from the sun away from the earth, creating a cooling effect. Pilot schemes should be launched.

Wind turbines have been spectacularly successful, generating a large proportion of the power requirements in many countries at a relatively low cost. We must now seriously develop wave and tidal technologies to the same level. Movements in the ocean never stop and create much more energy than wind.

The cost of solar panels has reduced dramatically, and giant solar farms should be installed in deserts and all sunny areas to replace traditional energy generation. Especially in oil-rich regions such as the middle east, where they could aim to switch to creating clean hydrogen by electrolysis for export, just as today they export oil and gas.

We now desperately need to implement ‘grand challenges’ like these ones.

Otherwise the planet will be cooked.

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