Friday, October 14, 2016

Scientists Warn Negative Emissions Are a ‘Moral Hazard’

 The San Juan Generating Station coal-fired power plant and a nearby coal mine in New Mexico. Credit: WildEarth Guardians/flickr Click to Enlarge.
Removing carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere to prevent global warming from becoming catastrophic may be a fool’s game amounting to a “moral hazard par excellence,” according to a paper published Thursday in the journal Science.

Nobody knows if atmospheric carbon removal — known as negative emissions — will work, and it could delay critical cuts to emissions while tacitly giving people license to pollute, the paper says.

“Negative-emission technologies are not an insurance policy, but rather an unjust and high-stakes gamble,” write the paper’s authors, Kevin Anderson and and Glen Peters.  Anderson is deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, and Peters is a researcher at CICERO, a climate research organization in Norway.

Leading negative emissions researchers fear the paper’s strong opposition to their work will serve to undermine research into a process they believe could prove critical to the future of the earth.

“The moral hazard is in blocking this approach, which I see this paper as doing,” said Klaus Lackner, director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at Arizona State University.

Both negative emissions and drastic greenhouse gas pollution cuts are necessary in order to keep climate change in check, Lackner said.

“We have to do everything we can do minimize the damage,” he said.  “One important ingredient is to have negative emissions, and get them online as fast as we can.”

Negative emissions are central to the Paris Climate Agreement, which aims to prevent global warming from exceeding 2°C (3.6°F) mainly by requiring countries to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change.

Scientists think that atmospheric carbon concentrations must not exceed 450 ppm in order to prevent warming past 2°C.  The earth, which likely just permanently passed the 400 ppm mark in September, is on a trajectory to pass 450 ppm within 22 years.

Most of the computer models that form the basis for the Paris agreement’s emissions cuts assume that negative emissions technologies will be removing carbon from the atmosphere on a large scale later this century.  The technology is in its infancy, however, and has never been proven to work or be scaleable.  Its costs and hazards are also unknown.

Read more at Scientists Warn Negative Emissions Are a ‘Moral Hazard’

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