Blog post by Sarah Kimpton who was at the COP26.
Glasgow Central station was buzzing with people when I arrived on my first evening at COP26. As a sign of the times, tables were laid out on the station concourse full of COVID-19 test kits and most travellers were wearing face masks. On the surface, all was nearly normal, but we knew that we had adapted to life with a new virus. There are parallels with what is happening to our planet today, everything appears to be okay to many of us, but some people are already suffering (often those who are the most vulnerable) and there will be changes apparent to all of us soon. As for COVID-19, the solutions are to be found in applying and understanding science and changing our behaviour on an individual level.
My biggest takeaways from attending COP26 relate to a shortage of time, the impact of rising temperatures and the role of a few simple molecules.
First there is carbon dioxide which is being released into the atmosphere and warming the planet through the greenhouse effect. This is fossil carbon that has been laid down and taken out of the carbon cycle over hundreds of millions of years – we are releasing this back into the atmosphere several million times quicker than it was laid down. No wonder the planet cannot cope.
Second, there is water which is what makes planet Earth so special. We all know how tough and resilient ice can be – just try clearing a car windscreen with only an ice scraper or clearing a path with only a shovel. However, there is one thing that can defeat ice and that is the application of heat to increase the temperature to just above 0°C – the ice just melts to water and drains away. On a global scale, the increase in temperature caused by carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is causing ice to melt and rising sea levels are catastrophic for low-lying communities and marine life.
Third, there is hydrogen which can be found in abundance in two places, either locked away in fossil fuel hydrocarbons or in the form of water. Hydrogen is our simplest molecule, and it is a great fuel, producing just water and heat when it is burned. Indeed, Earth is already powered by hydrogen reactions that occur in the sun. Blue hydrogen produced from fossil fuels with carbon capture is the way to start decarbonisation at scale – this is known technology and we can do it now. Green hydrogen produced using renewable wind or solar power will take a little longer as we build the infrastructure, but it has got to be the long-term solution.
There has been much talk about net zero emissions by 2050 or earlier and this is important. However, what is more important is limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5°C. At DNV, we are predicting that the global temperature rise will be 2.3°C by the end of the century and this will be disastrous for humanity and the Earth’s ecosystem. The carbon dioxide that we emit now stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. Every day that passes, we add more fossil carbon dioxide to the atmosphere – time is running out. Let’s get cracking and refocus from net zero to limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5°C. There is still time, but we need to start today. Thank you, Glasgow, for making me think but I am now even more impatient.