Summary: When the analysts at Project Drawdown, a world-class research organisation that reviews, analyses, and identifies the most viable global climate solutions, quantified the impact of 100 solutions to climate change, they uncovered some surprising findings.
Project Drawdown claims to be the first attempt to measure and project the impact of existing climate solutions using consistent metrics - carbon emissions avoided or reduced, money spent and money saved. By analysing these climate solutions against these metrics, the project aims to stop global warming by working together to achieve “Climate Drawdown” - ‘the point when greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere start to decline.’
Climate strategies are vital in the fight for our future. In October 2018, the IPCC released a report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways. It predicts that unless we can reduce warming to below this level within the next twelve years, even half a degree of temperature rise will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.
During a recent appearance to present the findings of how each climate solution ranked in terms of impact and effectiveness, at Carnegie-Mellon University, executive director of Project Drawdown Jonathan Foley said; "Some of the most effective solutions came as a total surprise." These surprising solutions included;
Educating girls and empowering women was found to provide multiple positive impacts on climate.
According to Foley and Nobel-Prize winning physicist and former energy secretary Steven Chu), educating women is the key to solving the world’s rapid population growth that is putting backbreaking strain on our ecosystems. For example, Project Drawdown calculated that a global focus on educating girls could reduce carbon emissions by 51.48 gigatons. The analysis also found that if women are given access to family-planning resources, another 59.6 GT of carbon could be saved.
"Women have a disproportionate share of decision making around what happens in the home in terms of water, cooking, food, food waste, fuel choices, how homes are heated, how they’re built, how they’re used” says Foley. Therefore, educating women around the world to make sustainable decisions, could make a tangible difference to climate change. “This Girl Effect, as we call it, is enormous, and combined with family planning access, is one of the most powerful climate solutions of all," he explains.
There are native forests all over the world, from the Amazon to the native-American reservation in northern Wisconsin and the Chilean vineyards yet they are all disappreaing at an alarming rate, to make room for farming or logging. For example, the Haitian portion of the island of Hispaniola had 4.4 per cent forest cover in 1988, but this shrunk to 0.32 per cent by 2016. New research reveals that 42 of Haiti’s 50 largest mountains no longer have any primary forest left, with only slight tree cover remaining. The disappearance of these native trees and plants have also wiped out native reptiles, amphibians and other species in the process.
In addition, in the Amazon, deforestation has increased by almost 30% in just 12 months according to a report by Inpe. It shows that the tropical rainforest lost 9,762 sq km (3,769 sq miles) of vegetation between August 2018 and July 2019. This shrinkage is disastrous as the Amazon works as the world’s “carbon store”, slowing the pace of global heating.
Project Drawdown estimates that protecting native forests could lead to 894.4 GT of CO2 reductions and could reduce emissions by 6.91 GT. "Analysis after analysis shows that communities that are protecting their forests, their native lands, tend to have forests that are healthier, have more biological diversity, and inevitably store more carbon," Foley said. "They are just richer in biomass, and the soils are richer, nine times out of ten. So, helping communities preserve their forests will help slow global warming.”
The energy used to power air conditioners, fridges and freezers has been identified as one of the world’s largest residential drains on our oil-based energy system. Project Drawdown believe that such is the impact of the chemicals in these cooling systems that we should not be using them at all. Yet even if their use is reduced, it is not the power drain that most greatly impacts the environment. As Foley explains; "It turns out it’s not just the energy used in refrigeration, though that is large. And the manufacturing of those things, yep, that’s there too. But by far the biggest part of the refrigeration footprint is the chemicals used as refrigerants themselves." Indeed, ninety percent of refrigerant emissions occur at the end of an appliance's life, according to Project Drawdown.
In 2016, 170 countries agreed the Kigali Amendment - a plan to phase hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) out. The deal includes specific targets and timetables to replace HFCs with more environmentally friendly alternatives and an agreement by developed countries to help finance the transition of less developed countries to alternative safer products. Whilst this is a positive step forward, it may be too late as millions of air conditioners, refrigerators and freezers already deployed across the world and their chemicals are yet to make their mark. The challenge is therefore two-fold. We need to make sure that HFCs are not used for future cooling systems, that instead, a more environmentally sensitive approach is taken and we also need to consider how to manage the HFCs that are already in the market.
"If we could find alternative refrigeration and cooling materials, that would be great. There are other gases we can use that work pretty well," Foley said. "But also, can we recover these from landfills? Can we make sure we dispose of an air conditioning unit or a cooling device, refrigerator, freezer, so that the gases in those coils are recovered or at least destroyed if not recycled?"
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