Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Warning against hubris in CO2 removal

20.09.2018

To be able to meet the temperature targets agreed upon in Paris, society needs to remove large quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere in future. However, the technologies required for this, frequently referred to as “negative emissions technologies” (NETs), come with certain risks. Their corresponding ethical implications should therefore be taken into consideration both in ethics and in climate science, recommend researchers led by Dominic Lenzi of the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC).

They also warn of hubris in regard to the expansion of NETs, since the technologies’ large-scale applicability may be overestimated in the climate models. The group’s commentary has been published in the prestigious scientific journal "Nature".


Hubris in CO2 removal

MCC

The article is particularly relevant in light of the upcoming publication of the Special Report on 1.5 Degrees of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), planned for early October. The application of NETs to meet this particular target will play a central role in the report.

“Despite the fact that their application raises many ethical questions, there has been a complete lack of ethical evaluation of carbon removal technologies so far,” says lead author Lenzi. Large-scale afforestation, for example, an important NET, requires so much fertile land that it might jeopardize food security in some parts of the world. Another technique, ocean seeding, leads to an increase in the oceans’ ability to absorb carbon. However, it would interfere massively with marine ecosystems.

“Ethics does not deal with negative emissions technologies because ethicists neglect the underlying science,” says Lenzi. “As a consequence, this leads to ethical questions, such as those raised by carbon removal, playing virtually no role in the models of climate scientists,” Lenzi continues. “As ethicists, we should rather have discussions on concrete climate pathways. Meaning what mix of emission reductions, carbon removal and adaptation is desirable from an ethical viewpoint.”

Climate debates in philosophical ethics are too abstract, according to the researchers. They mostly revolve around the “responsibilities of states to fund mitigation and adaptation, whether the polluter pays and who has the ability to pay”. “We need a cultural change – both in the work of philosophers and in climate research,” says co-author Martin Kowarsch of MCC. “For this, we need an interdisciplinary collaboration between climate science and ethics.” The IPCC’s various model-based climate paths – the so-called “scenarios”, which frequently rely on the use of CO2 removal technologies – should be discussed in three respects.

Firstly, NETs raise a “moral hazard” problem. “Policy makers may get the impression that they can take their time with climate protection measures,” says co-author Jan Christoph Minx of MCC. “After all, the thinking might be, we can simply just extract excess emissions from the air in the future.” In scenarios without CO2 removal, emissions would need to be reduced relatively rapidly to almost half of the current level, around 23 gigatonnes per year, by 2030. With CO2 removal, on the other hand, the emissions would only need to be reduced slowly to around 32 gigatonnes by the same year – a little less than the current level.

Secondly, the authors warn that NETs are a “risky bet”. The current state of research and development is lagging far behind compared to the model assumptions. The scenarios often assume rapid technological progress and a massive expansion of the technologies in the coming decades. “The actual, large-scale applicability of negative emissions technologies, in contrast, is limited thus far,” says Minx, who is also a professor at the Priestly International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds. To date, there have only been a few pilot projects.

Finally, the researchers urge that the “hubris” underlying the models must be discussed. Our actual ability – even in the future – to extract enormous quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere may be overestimated in the climate models. The models assume that we will be able to manage “an artificial carbon sink that is larger than the entire land sink today,” they write. There are “potential feedback mechanisms and tipping points that are poorly understood, such as whether temperature overshoot might trigger permafrost melting.”

Originalpublikation:

Lenzi, D.; Lamb, William F.; Hilaire, J.; Kowarsch, M.; Minx, J.C. Don’t deploy negative emissions technologies without ethical analysis. Nature 561, 303–305; 2018. doi:10.1038/d41586-018-06695-5

Weitere Informationen:

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-06695-5
https://www.mcc-berlin.net/en.html

Fabian Löhe | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

Further reports about: CO2 EMISSIONS MCC climate models ethical questions fertile land tipping points

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Tiny satellites reveal water dynamics in thousands of northern lakes
15.02.2019 | Brown University

nachricht Artificial Intelligence to boost Earth system science
14.02.2019 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biogeochemie

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Light from a roll – hybrid OLED creates innovative and functional luminous surfaces

Up to now, OLEDs have been used exclusively as a novel lighting technology for use in luminaires and lamps. However, flexible organic technology can offer much more: as an active lighting surface, it can be combined with a wide variety of materials, not just to modify but to revolutionize the functionality and design of countless existing products. To exemplify this, the Fraunhofer FEP together with the company EMDE development of light GmbH will be presenting hybrid flexible OLEDs integrated into textile designs within the EU-funded project PI-SCALE for the first time at LOPEC (March 19-21, 2019 in Munich, Germany) as examples of some of the many possible applications.

The Fraunhofer FEP, a provider of research and development services in the field of organic electronics, has long been involved in the development of...

Im Focus: Regensburg physicists watch electron transfer in a single molecule

For the first time, an international team of scientists based in Regensburg, Germany, has recorded the orbitals of single molecules in different charge states in a novel type of microscopy. The research findings are published under the title “Mapping orbital changes upon electron transfer with tunneling microscopy on insulators” in the prestigious journal “Nature”.

The building blocks of matter surrounding us are atoms and molecules. The properties of that matter, however, are often not set by these building blocks...

Im Focus: University of Konstanz gains new insights into the recent development of the human immune system

Scientists at the University of Konstanz identify fierce competition between the human immune system and bacterial pathogens

Cell biologists from the University of Konstanz shed light on a recent evolutionary process in the human immune system and publish their findings in the...

Im Focus: Transformation through Light

Laser physicists have taken snapshots of carbon molecules C₆₀ showing how they transform in intense infrared light

When carbon molecules C₆₀ are exposed to an intense infrared light, they change their ball-like structure to a more elongated version. This has now been...

Im Focus: Famous “sandpile model” shown to move like a traveling sand dune

Researchers at IST Austria find new property of important physical model. Results published in PNAS

The so-called Abelian sandpile model has been studied by scientists for more than 30 years to better understand a physical phenomenon called self-organized...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Global Legal Hackathon at HAW Hamburg

11.02.2019 | Event News

The world of quantum chemistry meets in Heidelberg

30.01.2019 | Event News

Our digital society in 2040

16.01.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Terahertz wireless makes big strides in paving the way to technological singularity

19.02.2019 | Information Technology

Researchers find trigger that turns strep infections into flesh-eating disease

19.02.2019 | Health and Medicine

Light from a roll – hybrid OLED creates innovative and functional luminous surfaces

19.02.2019 | Trade Fair News

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>