Can you explain in simple English what’s being done to combat climate change?

Everyone seems to be talking about Climate Change, but the average Joe on the Road is left confused because nobody is telling him what’s being done in simple English.

I will…try.

You see, a good percent of the scientific world believes climate change and the global warming are mainly caused owing to our emitting vast amounts of CO2, a greenhouse gas.

Now, CO2 is emitted from a variety of sources, but the main ones are:

  • Power generation – Coal and natural gas based power plants
  • Transport – Vehicles running on gasoline or diesel
  • Industrial activities – Fossil fuels burnt by industries to generate power or heat for their activities
  • Heating – Heating activities done by other sectors, including residential sector

Together, the above list contributes possibly 95% of all the anthropogenic (man-made) CO2 emissions.

Now, at the rate we are releasing CO2, its levels in the atmosphere will soon be so high as to warm the earth way too much more than what the planet can sustain.

And well, we are told that under such conditions a lot many disasters could occur.

So the question obviously is: How do we reduce the amount of CO2 emitted?

Sounds like an easy enough question to solve, given that we know the sources. In reality however, it is a very difficult challenge to overcome because of two reasons:

  • The low-CO2 alternatives to fossil fuels mentioned are either technically or economically not viable for the activities mentioned above
  • The fossil fuels are burnt by billions of users – residential and industrial – worldwide. This makes it difficult to control emissions as it implies that one needs to control the activities of several billion people!

So, it is a combination of technical challenges as well as operational challenges.

Now, should there be a silver bullet that makes all of us immediately switch to non-polluting sources for our energy requirements, maybe, just maybe the CO2 emissions can be brought under control fairly quickly.

But as you have guessed by now, no such magical solution is available.

This may make you wonder: how indeed can CO2 emissions be reduced?

It is fairly obvious that for CO2 emissions to be brought under control, it cannot be left to individuals and private enterprise – simply put, the individual’s or firm’s profit making motives are not aligned with processes needed to save the world!

It is hence fairly obvious that governments need to do something.

For governments too, the actionables are not so easy. I mean, they cannot simply try to bulldoze everyone to go solar, or to use electric cars. Rather, the governments worldwide are creating systems that can over a period of time result in a desired behaviour. In this context, they are trying to reduce CO2 emissions with the following frameworks:

  • Direct Incentives for Reduction of CO2 Emissions from Industries – there are incentives that are provided to the industrial and commercial sector that reduce the overall CO2 emissions from their units. The carbon credit system is one such incentive.
  • Enabling Adoption of Renewable Energy Sources – many governments worldwide are themselves investing significantly in renewable energy sources that emit much less CO2 overall (or in some cases, emit close to zero CO2). In addition, the power utilities that governments own in many countries are purchasing renewable power at attractive prices to encourage private investment in renewable energy.
  • Accelerating Invention & Use of Clean Technologies – governments realize that a host of new clean technology solutions are needed if we need to replace a wide variety of fossil fuel based energy/power generation. To this end, they are encouraging private and public investments into R&D for these cleantech solutions.

Some of the above are happening at the national/regional level while some are happening with international mandates and collaboration.

Many of the terms you hear – COP 21, UNFCC etc – have to do with laying down of these frameworks and some targets, with the top countries committing themselves to achieving some of the targets thus laid down.

Like most sane people, I don’t trust governments to do a good job when it comes to saving anything, leave alone the world (I think the only thing they are interested in saving are their vote banks). But, I do not see how individual motivations alone can get us out of the CO2 fix we find ourselves in. For once, we may have to rely on our governments and hope that they can plan and execute well.

Can you explain in simple English what’s being done to combat climate change? - Cleantech Guide

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