Wildfire in Oregon (Photo courtesy Oregon Department of Transportation)
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The year 2023 has borne witness to unprecedented weather extremes, foretelling a grim future if urgent climate action is not taken. With Hurricane Idalia, Super Typhoon Saola, and record-breaking temperatures, leading climate scientists warn that such events could become the new norm within the next decade. The world’s vulnerability to these events is more alarming than anticipated, indicating an acceleration of climate change. To address this crisis, a drastic reduction in fossil fuel burning is deemed vital. The UN’s climate ambition summit and Cop28 are convening to address these pressing issues. However, the battle against climate change extends beyond the environment, encompassing political, economic, and social challenges.

  • 2023 has seen extreme weather events like Hurricane Idalia and record temperatures, underscoring the acceleration of climate change.
  • Tackling climate change involves overcoming political, economic, social, and technological hurdles.
  • Controversial solutions like carbon capture and geoengineering are being explored but renewable energy is gaining strength economically.

The earth’s fever

The world has experienced its hottest June on record in 2023, making it a stark reminder of the escalating global temperatures. The unprecedented rise in temperature is attributed to the synergy of greenhouse gases and the return of the El Niño phenomenon. The consequences are not mere statistical records but clear manifestations of the planet’s climate disruption, witnessed through climate-related disasters like forest fires and extreme rainfall.

These alarming trends serve as a wake-up call, emphasizing again the urgent need for climate action. Many nations have set ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, meeting these objectives is proving to be a considerable challenge.

Climate action: A multifaceted endeavour

Addressing climate change involves not only scientific and technological challenges but also social barriers. Consumer skepticism, lack of reliable information, and climate change despair hinder effective action. Reinforcing the link between science, citizens, businesses, and public institutions is crucial for driving necessary changes. Countries also face barriers in transitioning to a sustainable future due to socio-economic concerns such as potential exacerbation of inequalities.

Another critical aspect is the political landscape. The European Union advocates for a global pledge at Cop28 to phase out unabated use of fossil fuels “well ahead of 2050”. However, navigating complex political terrains where conflicting interests exist poses a significant challenge.

Innovative solutions and their controversies

Technological innovations such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology and climate engineering offer potential solutions to limit global temperature rise. However, both solutions are fraught with controversies and uncertainties. Critics question the effectiveness of CCS technology, citing concerns about carbon emissions and potential leakage of stored CO2. The long-term viability of CCS projects remains uncertain, as stored CO2 may leak over time, undermining their credibility as sustainable solutions to climate change.

Despite these controversies, companies like Shell continue to invest in CCS and fossil hydrogen projects. Yet, these initiatives have been accused of greenwashing, reinforcing the status quo of fossil fuel consumption rather than supporting a transition to a truly sustainable energy future.

Renewable energy: investment for future

Renewable energy is often perceived as a hindrance to economic development. However, recent research debunks this myth. Transitioning to renewable energy sources is economically viable and necessary for a sustainable future. Decarbonizing the energy system by 2050 could save at least 12 trillion dollars compared to current fossil fuel use. The economic case for renewable energy is becoming increasingly compelling, with costs falling sharply over the last decade.

However, institutional inertia within organizations like the International Energy Agency and IPCC poses a significant challenge to the adoption of renewable energy solutions. To overcome this, decision-makers need to redirect investments from fossil fuels towards renewable energy-based smart systems. Collaboration between universities, companies, NGOs, and governments is crucial to foster public engagement and implement distributed sustainable energy systems.