environmental science

Government, business and society are taking ‘baby steps’ towards tackling climate change and urgently need to do more, according to a leading scientist.

Andreas Busch, a Professor of Earth Sciences at Heriot-Watt University, says the world already has the engineering solutions to manage climate change and to limit global temperatures from rising above 1.5°C - a target set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But, he added, there is a desperate lack of conviction from politicians and society to address the climate emergency.

Global emissions are reaching record levels and show no sign of stopping, according to the UN, with the last four years being the hottest on record and winter temperatures in the Arctic rising by 3°C since 1990.

In order to see an improvement, there needs to be a major shift in the way we live our lives.

Professor Andreas Busch

Around the world, there are a number of ambitious geoenergy projects that aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as geothermal energy, carbon capture and storage (CCS), and energy storage.

In Australia, for example, oil and gas giants Chevron have begun a large-scale CCS project whereby 3.4-4 million tons of CO2 is stored beneath the seafloor, with emissions originating from a liquefied natural gas plant.

This is not a unique example. There are currently 18 international CCS projects that are removing between 30 and 40 million tons of CO2 each year from our atmosphere. While this number may appear impressive, it represents only around 10% of emissions produced by the UK alone every year.

The scale of the problem is vast and Professor Busch says existing projects need to be scaled-up between 100 and 1000 times to be truly effective, relying on the skills and knowledge from the hydrocarbon industry.

Geothermal Energy projects are one way to help curb the clean energy crisis. They are designed to capture the tremendous heat that lies beneath the earth’s surface and convert this into electricity. While investment in Geothermal Energy projects is increasing, it is not at the pace required, warned Dr Busch, who continued: “Geothermal energy can provide decentralised, affordable and continuous energy to heat homes or produce electricity. While this energy is right below our feet, progress in implementation is slow and installed capacity less than 1% of the global electricity consumption.

“We need a wholistic approach to this global problem and it is encouraging to see that it is an issue that is being recognised by governments worldwide. But more needs to be done and the world needs to take immediate action.”

Major investments in low carbon solutions remains a key issue. It would require hundreds of billions of pounds to move the UK away from a reliance on fossil fuels in favour of a low carbon economy that is mainly based on renewable energies, hydrogen or CCS.

But there remains a lack of appetite from power-makers as well as from the majority of the public to bear the brunt of the enormous financial costs of such projects, according to Professor Busch, who said: “People haven’t grasped the scale of the problem but organisations such as Fridays for Future pave the way and we should all listen to this movement, which is mainly echoing the requirements set by scientists.

“I regularly fly to and from Germany and other places for research purposes, so my carbon footprint is huge and way more than the average of each individual. But that’s the same for many of my colleagues and others. We still use planes, even more frequently in fact. We use and throw away vast amounts of plastics and rely heavily on oil and gas.

“In order to see an improvement, there needs to be a major shift in the way we live our lives. For example, further digitise the way we do research using web-based conferencing tools, build high-speed train tracks such as is seen in China and France, or simply be open for advancements in technologies that can help reduce our impact on the environment.”

Craig McManamon

Communication Officer

T: 0131 451 8099

E: c.mcmanamon@hw.ac.uk