Emission impossible?

One subject guaranteed to polarise The Engineer’s articulate and informed audience is that of climate change.

To date, Andrew Wade’s October 30, 2015 blog around the subject has sparked a debate with both camps vociferously slugging it out and each as convinced as the other that they are right about climate change.

Taking the debate to governmental level, COP21 kicks off today with around 147 political heavyweights including Barack Obama, Angela Merkel gathering in Paris for talks aimed at establishing legally binding agreements to keep global warming below 2°C.

According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) need to be reduced by 40-70% by 2050 in order to limit global warming to below 2°C.

Of the 100 readers who responded to Andrew’s blog, one reminded us that that our numerous computers are linked to servers that increase human-induced GHG emissions, a fact not lost on the information and communications technology (ICT) industry, which is stepping forward to suggest ways in which other sectors can use their solutions to mitigate anthropogenic climate change.

According to Ericsson, ICT could help to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by up to 15% by 2030, which amounts to around 10 gigatonnes of CO2e; which it claims is more than the current carbon footprint of the EU and US combined.

Ericsson maintains that sectors including electricity distribution, healthcare, education, government and transport could take advantage of ICT with smart buildings that provide automated heating, lighting and ventilation; analytical tools that regulate traffic flows and enhance driver safety, thereby reducing energy consumption from vehicles; and enable smart soil monitoring and smart watering systems to reduce waste in the agriculture sector.

It’s also quick to point out the disparity between the energy and carbon footprints of fixed and mobile ICT, with over 85% of ICT energy consumption experienced in fixed networks and user equipment, with – as our readers alluded to – fixed data centres contributing significantly to this statistic.

The energy sector will itself be tasked with making an enormous contribution to reducing GHG emissions, not least in electricity generation where the IPCC says emissions should fall by 80% in order to prevent a greater than 2•C rise in average global temperatures.

The World Nuclear Association has chipped into the debate, pointing out that the route to a low carbon society is achievable with the better use of nuclear energy alongside other mitigation options including renewables, a scenario currently being played out in Switzerland, Brazil, Sweden and France.

Agneta Rising, WNA director general said: “To implement the goals of an ambitious COP 21 agreement governments need to develop policies that encourage investment in low carbon generation, especially nuclear energy.

“We need 1000GWe of new nuclear capacity by 2050 to combat climate change. This will require effective regulation and markets that value low carbon emissions and reliable supplies.”

Scores of environmental protestors turned out over the weekend to voice their concerns ahead of COP21 but recent research from GlobeScan indicates that 48% of people living in industrialised countries (OECD members) rate climate as a “very serious” problem, which is down from 63% in 2009. Residents of non-OECD countries, however, rate climate change as “very serious” (54%)

In a statement, Doug Miller, GlobeScan chairman, said: “Our polling suggests a less supportive public opinion context for a Paris deal this year compared to stronger support that existed prior to the failed Copenhagen Climate Summit in December 2009. Real leadership and effective diplomacy will be needed for success in Paris.”

The research, which sought the views of 20,043 people across 20 countries, found 8% of respondents wanting their government to oppose a climate deal being reached in France and an average of 43% wanting their government to play a leadership role in setting ambitious targets. Another 40 per cent want their government to take a more moderate approach and support only gradual action.

What do you think? Let us know below.