SPA webinar panelists discuss sectoral approaches to decarbonization
Second event of webinar series hosts five guests who share expertise on decarbonization in agriculture, transportation, energy and more
On March 25, the Center of Environmental Policy in the School of Public Affairs hosted the second of five webinars in a series called “Pathways to a Decarbonized Economy and a More Livable Planet.”
Five guest speakers contributed to the event, “Decarbonization: The View from Some Economic Sectors,” moderated by SPA professor Todd Eisenstadt.
Climate researcher Henri Waisman, one of the event’s speakers, said carbon neutrality is a central goal of the United Nations’ Paris agreement established in 2016.
“If we want to achieve the Paris Agreement climate goals, there is at least one condition we need to be very clear about: we need to reach global carbon neutrality,” Waisman said. “Deep decarbonization [involves] the pathways that lead us towards global carbon neutrality.”
Each speaker described different approaches to decarbonization across sectors, such as transportation, agriculture, technology and more. Waisman said that decarbonization can be achieved through a combination of all these approaches.
“When we look at all these [decarbonization] pathways, what appears clearly is that there is no silver bullet,” Waisman said. “It’s not as if we could imagine one single solution that would get us on the way; rather, deep decarbonization is about a combination of action and policies that should be well served in order to achieve our goals.”
Andrew Losos, a senior transport specialist at the World Bank, said 95 percent of the world’s transport energy comes from petroleum, and that since 1970, emissions from transport have more than doubled. When focusing specifically on shipping, things don’t look any more hopeful.
“Currently, maritime transport is almost entirely fueled by heavy fuel oil, which is a fossil fuel that is very high carbon,” Losos said. “So far, we don’t have a significant proportion of zero-carbon [shipping] fuels. ... If shipping were a country, it would be the sixth largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, [causing] about 2-3 percent of global emissions.”
Emissions caused by the shipping industry are expected to increase drastically over the next few decades, according to Losos. Groups like the International Maritime Organization, a UN agency, have established goals for preventing this increase. However, Losos warns that these goals are more easily said than done and urgent action must be taken to decarbonize maritime transport.
“We need to think big, we need to be bold,” Losos said. “Science is telling us that there’s little time to make any corrections. How are we going to do this? We’re going to do it by taking decisive action in each country, and in each sector, as we are discussing here today.”
Keira Havens, a sustainability and public affairs manager at Pivot Bio, shared her company’s main project: creating an alternative to unsustainable, carbon-producing synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Pivot Bio found a way to “reawaken microbes’ natural ability to convert nitrogen from the air to meet crops’ daily nitrogen needs,” essentially eliminating the need for polluting fertilizers, according to their website.
“Nitrogen management is an essential tool when it comes to decarbonization,” Havens said. “Because we're talking about one product having a substantial amount of greenhouse gas emissions. If we can tackle this problem, we can have a huge impact.”
Mark Thurber, manager of Walsh Group, an Ecuador-based environmental consulting firm, shared findings from a case study on an oil-reliant community transitioning to become more dependent on renewable energy sources.
“So, what’s the path forward for petroleum-producing countries?” Thurber said. “The main thing we need to do is get off our dependence on petroleum and diversify the economy, so that we’re not relying on this income [from oil].”
Thurber also suggested that countries get rid of subsidies for carbon-based fuels and target subsidies toward those using electric, hydro and other renewable sources.
SIS professor Simon Nicholson explained the concept of carbon removal, which AU’s Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy defines as “the process of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locking it away for decades, centuries, or millennia.”
“Taking greenhouse gases from a particular corporation or industry all the way to zero, is not, now, alone going to be enough to prevent blowing through critical climate thresholds,” Nicholson said. “It’s going to be necessary to draw large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, and put that carbon dioxide into storage.”
Nicholson also pointed out that countries and corporations that have pledged to reach net-zero carbon emissions are largely ignoring the strong need for carbon removal.
While each panelist raised very unique issues and solutions, they shared an overall unified message of urgent action being needed to adapt decarbonization strategies across all sectors.
In his presentation, Losos shared a meaningful quotation by Swedish economist Dag Hammarskjöld that summarizes the extreme need for action in regards to the climate crisis: “It is when we play safe that we create a world of utmost insecurity. It is when we all play safe that fatality will lead us to our doom. It is under the dark shade of courage alone, that the spell can be broken.”