We have all the solutions we need to avoid catastrophic warming, right now, claims a new report by Project Drawdown. And, not only are they easy to implement, they're far cheaper than doing nothing.
The Drawdown Review is a comprehensive analysis of the currently available solutions to the climate crisis, based on the work of scientists and researchers around the world, across many sectors, from finance to climate science.
The aim of the nonprofit Project Drawdown is to guide us all towards a future where the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to decline - the moment they refer to as 'drawdown'. That means we must start extracting fossil fuel emissions, such as CO2 and methane, from the atmosphere as well as stop spewing them into it.
"Drawdown is a critical turning point for life on Earth, and we must strive to reach it quickly, safely, and equitably," says the report.
Having already lost an entire decade to inaction, and recently receiving a glimpse of some very frightening consequences - the devastating loss of wildlife from Australia's unprecedented summer of fires - the urgency of such solutions are surely clear.
"The current path we are on is beyond dangerous," the report warns, "and it's easy to be paralyzed by that perilousness. Yet possibility remains to change it."
Project Drawdown estimates that by implementing the 76 solutions they've outlined, it would result in savings of up to around US$144 trillion of avoided climate damage and pollution-related healthcare costs. While the upfront cost could be up to US$26.2 trillion, this plan would allow us to achieve peak carbon dioxide by as early as the mid-2040s.
When the scientists grouped their solutions by sector, they were ranked like this:
- Food waste, agriculture, land rehabilitation
- Building efficiency
"We found that when we add together the 80-plus solutions to climate change, and these already exist, we have enough to get drawdown by between the 2040s and the 2060s depending on how decisively we act," co-author and climate scientist Jonathan Foley told the ABC.
The review outlines three key areas: reducing emission sources, protecting and increasing the natural systems that cycle these chemicals, and how to achieve these things while simultaneously improving society.
It of course calls for a rapid shift in how we generate electricity, with 30 percent of the solutions involving increasing efficiency in our energy use and another 30 percent on how to replace fossil fuels.
In what has come to be a heavily debated topic, the report maintains a role for nuclear in a rapid progress towards a carbon-free future.
A recent analysis from Stanford researchers also suggests such a shift is entirely possible with current technology, but unlike Project Drawdown, they believe this can be achieved entirely with renewable energy and do not agree nuclear power is necessary.
Some of Project Drawdown's suggested solutions, like switching to LED lighting and battery storage power, create nearly immediate savings.
The report highlights the importance of not only preserving but increasing our natural carbon sinks, including protecting ecosystems and changing agricultural practices. Unfortunately though, world leaders from Australia to Brazil are allowing destruction of these vital carbon sinks to continue.
The report acknowledges this aspect, pointing out current commitments for mitigating climate change fall far short of what we need and some aspects are "politically unrealistic" at present. But it offers little analysis on how to counter this beyond a brief mention of "building people" power.
It also notes that other powerful solutions, often overlooked, include reducing food waste and providing women with better education and access to healthcare - which empowers them to have smaller families.
"What these results show is the utmost importance of all solutions implemented in parallel," explained Chad Frischmann, Vice President of Project Drawdown.
"The impacts of these technologies and practices occur only as part of an interconnected, integrated system. It is the implementation of this system of solutions that is the real solution to climate change."
Rather than argue in favour of changing our rampant consumerist culture or curtailing economic growth, they point out money is fuel for change. As such, the researchers favour shifts towards a circular economy and moving capital from the sources of problems to the solutions.
Nevertheless, it is a useful guide for individuals, communities and businesses ready to forge ahead with much needed changes, regardless of the challenges.
The review acknowledges that facing the climate crisis is an overwhelming task, but reminds us it is "also an invitation into deeply meaningful work."
"Business leaders can really step up and lead, not just be followers, not just be pushed by governments, but maybe help shape what regulations could be in the future to take advantage of this new emerging economy," Foley told Fast Company. "The smart businesses are not going to be just dragged kicking and screaming to a climate-safe future. They're going to be leading it."
If enough of us take on this challenge, then perhaps we can still make significant positive progress, despite the powerful institutions still trying to get in our way.
You can read the analysis of all 76 solutions in The Drawdown Review.