Earth’s well-documented changes throughout history are nothing new, but global warming today is taking a major human, economic and environmental toll across the world. In the next five years, the World Meteorological Organisation predicts that global temperatures are likely to surge to record levels.
It’s a critical time to take stock and critically review where we are as an industry in the global context of our battle against climate change.
Most climatic changes are due to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives. However, the current warming trend is different because it is clearly the result of human activities – and is proceeding at a rate not seen for at least millions of years.
Through scientific evidence, it is undeniable that the activities we have inflicted on the planet have produced the atmospheric gases (greenhouse gases), such as carbon dioxide, that have trapped more of the sun’s energy in our Earth’s system – warming the atmosphere, ocean and land, resulting in widespread, rapid changes to the climate such as flash flooding and wildfires.
Evidence found in our natural surroundings, like tree rings, ocean sediment, coral reefs and layers of sedimentary rock, reveals that the current levels of global warming are occurring roughly ten times faster than after the Ice Age, and carbon dioxide from human activities is increasing at around 250 times faster than it did from natural sources during that period.
The planet is way off track from meeting its climate goals, so quick and effective action is needed before irreversible damage is done.
More than a century of burning fossil fuels as well as unsustainable energy and land use, has led to global warming of 1.1 ֯C above pre-industrial levels. As it stands, between 2023 and 2027, there is a 66% likelihood that the annual near-surface global temperature will be more than 1.5 ֯C above pre-industrial levels for at least one year. And this could rise as high as 3֯C – with very little heat escaping to space, this could lead to catastrophic conditions such as extreme storms.
As of today, sea levels are 10cm higher than in 1993, and this may continue to rise to 1m before we truly have a handle on the problem. Even after emissions decrease, the world will continue to warm, maybe for decades.
However, there are multiple, feasible and effective options to reduce greenhouse emissions. And they are available now.
Taking the heat off global warming requires investment at an institutional level from the global marketplace. This will enable us to develop the infrastructure needed to accelerate the pace of deployment of renewable energy and sustainable environmental practices that will help us reach net zero.
The UK government has committed to decarbonise the electricity system by 2035, and reform is essential to deliver the pace and scale of change needed to meet this target. There also needs to be a greater incentive to decarbonise, ensuring oil and gas majors responsibly decommission aged, creaking assets so as to avoid leaks and environmental disasters; all while keeping consumer prices affordable, and maintaining a secure and reliable system.
But, at an industry level, we do have the power to make a difference and must keep innovating, finding new ways, and accelerating the deployment of ambitious technology.
Investment in fusion energy development is really starting to take off as scientists come closer to reaching commercial levels of energy production. Similarly, the deployment of waste decarbonisation technology which has the potential to eradicate landfills offers a game-changing solution to reduce greenhouse gases.
The continued deployment of grid optimisation solutions are critical to ensure we maximise energy production and utilisation – balancing the grid by collecting the power from variable sources, like solar and wind, and storing it to then be released when customers need power most.
The solutions are here in plain sight, we just need the right support to bring technology to successful commercialisation.