This week’s poll: limiting global warming to 1.5° C

What should be the priority for action to meet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recommended maximum temperature rise to minimise the effects of global warming?

global warming
Artificial methods of removing carbon from the atmosphere are highlighted in the IPCC report

Yesterday’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made alarming reading, and recommended the international community should implement measures to try to limit the maximum temperature rise caused by global warming – which, as ever, it attributes to increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – to 1.5° C, rather than the previously recommended maximum of 2° C above preindustrial temperatures (defined as those of the 1850s).

The report warned that we have already reached 1° C above 1850 temperatures, and that even the effects of a 1.5° C rise could be severe – damage to coral reefs would be very high, risks to fisheries and the Arctic environment would be high, and even the tourism industry would see moderate effects. In all cases, a rise of 0.87° C would be preferable to minimise effects (and even this would see a high risk to coral).

Climate change deniers, of course, continue to insist that the risks are overstated and that the link to CO2 levels is not clear. However, a very large majority of climate scientists are in agreement on the IPCC’s conclusions. The report makes it clear that action is urgent, cannot be delayed, and will involve some large changes affecting everybody. However, many of the measures it recommends are already part of programmes that are in place. We would like to know what engineer readers believe should be the priority for reducing CO2 levels and limiting warming.

The most “heroic” efforts and those which most involve the engineering community are those connected with technology to generate electricity and to heat our everyday environments (these are, of course, also connected with the decarbonisation of transport, as charging electric vehicles requires low-carbon electricity). Increasing the implementation of renewable generation, in the form of solar and wind, is one method of achieving this, as is the expansion of nuclear generation and development and implementation of nuclear fusion. Another technology-related option is the engineered removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by “artificial trees” or scrubbing systems, and sequestering the captured carbon underground.

The IPCC report also recommends the natural method of carbon sequestration: planting trees, which it suggests should number in the billions (it does not specify where these trees should be planted). It also points out that the contributions of individual people should not be discounted, and the people should not feel that their actions have no role to play, as these are accumulative and could have a large effect. We have therefore included an option to reflect this: some of the measures that have been suggested are encouragement for people to eat much less meat; and simply to be mindful of the amount of energy they are using and do their best to identify and reduce unnecessary consumption.

As ever, we welcome discussion, but would prefer to keep this focused on the merits of different carbon-and energy-reduction techniques and policies rather than on the political debate over climate change, its reality and its connection with CO2 levels. This is rarely a productive debate, because of the heavily entrenched views on both sides. The comment section will be moderated to ensure that discussion is not sidetracked. Please read our guidelines on the contents of comments before submitting your opinion. We will publish the results of this poll on 16 October.