Impact of Science and Technology on Climate Change
Earth, its nature, and climate are ever-changing and there is an increasing awareness that the earth is warming up. There is a scientific consensus now that the change in climate is induced by humans. Many have also agreed that climate change is one of the greatest threats that the planet has ever faced.
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Science and technology has brought humans into an era of technological civilisation where any issue is resolved to a greater extent through technology. This paper looks to explain the role of science and technology in solving the issue of climate change through diplomacy and international trade.
“Climate Change refers to a change in climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods” – United Nations Framework convention on climate change.
As defined by the US agency NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), seven indicators were proposed in assessing the extent to which the earth was warming and 3 to assess whether the earth had warmed. The seven indicators are overland temperature, ocean heat content, sea level, and sea surface temperature, temperature over oceans, tropospheric temperature, and humidity. The three factors that indicate that the earth has warmed significantly are sea ice, snow cover, and glaciers (NOAA, 2010).
Concerns about climate change bgean in the early 1980’s and by 1988 an Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). They were formed for assessing the scientific knowledge of global warming. One of the major reports issued in 1990 revealed that climate change was manmade. A world convention was then organised which came into effect in 1994. They formulated an international agreement and a world treaty by 1995 which led to the Kyoto Protocol. It provided data about the level of greenhouse gases being produced and suggested a flexible way in which they could be reduced. As of May 2011, UNFCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), has 194 parties in its membership and continue to update their achievements, benchmark others and set new targets to achieve.
Science and Climate Change
According to Holdren, science will be required for devising ways to use energy more effectively and efficiently, so that a shift can be made to energy sources like wind, solar and other kinds of energy. It plays an important role in understanding this shift and will help in making the necessary changes. Science is back in action and people are aware about it (Salazer, 2010).
To a certain extent it can be said that the achievement of set targets in reducing climate change will depend on the advancement of science and technology to reduce the impact caused by human irresponsibility. Group on Earth observations (GEO) believes that decisions taken for the benefit of mankind should be informed, coordinated, comprehensive and sustained, taken from observations and information. Science and technology is the key target for many of the sponsors and beneficiaries of GEOSS. The scientific and technical plan should be created by drawing on the expertise of the international scientific and technological communities and should involve consulting, coordinating and liaising with relevant UN specialised agencies and programmes. The implementation of the ten year plan should also involve integrating science and technological developments (GEO, 2008).
Technology and Climate Change
According to CCTP, becoming a success will require multiple technological path ways. This means that there is not a single technology that can mitigate the impact of the climate change alone. To achieve this, strategies are formulated in order of preference so that they can be realised on a timely basis. These are:
reducing emissions from energy end-use and infrastructure,
reducing emission from energy supply,
capture and sequester carbon dioxide,
improve capabilities to measure and monitor GHG emissions and
Bolster basic science contributions to technology development (CCTP, 2005).
Mitigation of Climate Change
The conventions have an ultimate objective of stabilising greenhouse gases. Under article 4.1(b), all parties are required to make steps towards mitigating climate change. Under the basis of the third assessment report of IPCC, SBSTA was given two new responsibilities. They are to work on scientific, technical and socio-economic aspects of the impacts of, and vulnerability and adaptation to climate change. In addition they are to find out the scientific and socio-economic aspects of the mitigation of climate change. Developments can advance as the parties share information and experiences with each other to formulate a special report on renewable energy sources and climate change mitigation. The report concentrated on six important renewable energy resources and their integration into the present and future energy systems. The report also took into consideration the social and environmental consequences of these technologies including the obstacles that may be encountered during their application and diffusion (UNFCC, 2012).
The six major renewable energy sources that are to be considered are:
Bio-energy, which refers to energy sourced from crops and livestock waste. These are also known as second generation bio-fuels.
Direct solar energy, which includes photovoltaics and is concentrated on solar power.
Geothermal energy that is created from the heat extracted from the earth’s interior.
Hydropower that uses the energy from water to create energy. Hydropower includes run-of –river, in-stream and other dam projects with reservoirs.
Ocean energy, which comes from barrages and ocean currents.
Wind energy that is created from wind powered by on-shore and offshore systems (SBSTA, 2011)
REDD Web Platform
This is a platform where in all the relevant organisation and members are supposed to submit details relating to the reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD). This is a platform that shares the information that is submitted by the stake holders and clients in order to encourage improvements and update the status of the fellow members. The information gathered here forms five categories including technical assistance, demonstration activities, country specific information, methodologies and tools and REDD partnership (UNFCC, 2012).
Change of Land Use and Forestry
The rate with which CO2 is increasing in the atmosphere can be taken advantage of because they accumulate in vegetation and soils in terrestrial ecosystems. This is done by the LULUF wing who focus on reducing emissions through deforestation in developing countries. This was a proposal that was put forward by LULUF and received wide support from other parties (UNFCC, 2012). The method that was suggested in the proposal recommended that the storage of carbon in forest products should be included in a national inventory only in cases where a country can document that existing stocks of long term forest products are increasing (UNFCCC, 2012). Reporting to this sector keeps CO2 emissions in control regardless of location. There are commitments the parties are supposed to fulfil on this basis, the conditions of which are defined in article 4. The parties are supposed to develop, periodically update, publish and make available to the conference details on emissions and reductions in CO2 gases. It is made mandatory for them to promote a management style that is sustainable and can enhance conservation of non-renewable energy sources.
Emissions of Bunker Fuels
There are also fuel emissions that are used for aviation and maritime transport. These issues are also addressed under UNFCCC. The COP (conference of parties) requested SBSTA for addressing the allocation of fuels where international bunker fuels are concerned. These fuels will be included under the national GHG inventories but not in the national total, although they are reported separately. The parties involved are separately required to reduce emissions.
Research and Development
Research and development has played an important role in determining the usage of science and technology for mitigating climate change. The need for addressing global climate change and having data that is accurate is addressed in the conventions. The UNFCC calls on parties and other members for promoting and cooperating with each other in the observation of the whole climatic system. The convention also influences them by giving them more support and by ensuring knowledge and information sharing.
Systematic Observation for Better Analysis
It is important that there is a worldwide observation of climate change in order to develop a thorough understanding of the scientific knowledge behind it. Under the system the parties involved are supposed to keep a thorough vigil of the systematic operations of the climate system and provide appropriate feedback. A development of scientific understanding will make it easier to bring up solutions for these problems (UNFCC, 2012).
Role of Science at EPA and US Climate Technology Change Program
Science forms a viable option for decision making. A high quality of life for people around the world and for future generations can only be ensured with the help of science. It helps EPA to make the right decisions in relation to human health and ecosystems and innovative solutions to prevent pollution (EPA, 2012). The EPA has been completing open, transparent, peer-reviewed research planning to enhance the use of science and technology in mitigating climate change. It is a known fact that new climate technologies are being developed, which means that existing technologies should be updated. CCTP periodically tries to identify existing gaps in knowledge and make necessary recommendations (Brown, 2006).
Academic and Independent Research Centres and Programs
There are academies and research centres other than the intentionally established systems that work to mitigate the effects of climate change. These institutions are responsible for bringing scientists and public policy analysts together to explain the various problems that are faced in relation to managing and reducing greenhouse gases.
The central tenet here is that climate change has only been detected with the help of science and technology and that the world would be facing a worse situation without advancements in both of these fields.
Some of the projects that are undertaken by Global Warming International Centre (GWIC) include the global timeline project, the greenhouse gas reduction benchmark, and the extreme event index. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology centre for global change science (CGCS) has a long term goal of understanding the basic processes and mechanisms involved in controlling the Global environment. The centre hopes to use their understanding of these processes for analysing and thus accurately predicting environmental changes. The Tata Energy Research Institute of India and U.S Department of Energy, which sponsors CCASIA, report the details of global warming in Asia. Information processing and exchange would have been extremely difficult without technology and scientific support (Vaughan, 2001).
Technology and Solutions
The time line that is to be conquered through the climate change research and development programme in the US is divided into three stages. They are near-term, mid-term and long-term. These goals are an ideal example of how climate change can be mitigated. The time line is shown below.
Energy end use and infrastructureHybrid and plug in hybrid electric vehicles
Engineered urban designs
High-performance integrated homes
High efficiency appliances
High efficiency boilers and combustion systems
High temperature super-conductivity demonstrations
Fuel cells vehicles and H2 fuels
Low emission aircraft
Soil state lighting
Ultra efficient HVACR
Transformational technologies for energy intensive industries
Energy storage for load levelling
Widespread use of engineered urban designs and regional planning
Energy managed communities
Integration of industrial heat, power, process and techniques
Superconducting transmission and equipment
Energy supplyIGCC commercialisation
Stationary H2 fuel cells
Cost competitive solar PV
Demonstration of cellulosic ethanol
Distributed electric generation
Advanced fission reactor and fuel cycle technology
H2 co production from coal/biomass
Low wind speed turbines
Advanced bio refineries
Community scale solar
Gen 1V nuclear plants
Fusion pilot plan demonstration
Zero emission fossil energy
H2 and electric economy
Widespread renewable energy
Bio-inspired energy and fuels
Widespread nuclear power
Fusion power plants
Capture, storage and sequestrationCSLF & CSRP
Post combustion capture
Enhanced hydrocarbon recovery
Ecologic reservoir characterisation
Dilution of direct injected CO2
Geologic storage prove sale
Co2 transport infrastructure
Soils uptake and land use
Ocean CO2 biological impacts addressed
Track record if successful CO2 storage experience
Large scale sequestration
Carbon and CO2 based products and materials
Safe long term ocean storage
Other gasesMethane to markets
Advanced refrigeration technologies
PM control technologies for vehicles
Advanced landfill gas utilisation
Soil Microbial processes
Substitutes of SF6
Catalysts that reduced nitrogen dioxide to elemental nitrogen in diesel engines
Integrated waste management system with automated sorting, processing and recycle
Zero emission agriculture
Solid-state refrigeration/AC systems
Measure and monitorLow cost sensors and communications
Large scale, secure data storage system
Direct measurement to replace proxies and estimators
Fully operational integrated MM systems architecture (Sensors, Indicators, visualisation and storage, models
Source: (Brown, et.al, 2006)
In the above table near-term is used for reductions that can be achieved in 10 to 20 years, mid-term for 20 to 40 years and long-term for 40 to 60 years.
It is evident from the above table that the necessary changes and advancements will only be possible if there is an increase in the scientific and technological improvement. Knowledge and information sharing regarding important new inventions are also essential to control climate change. Furthermore, if technological developments are to be effective then they should be created in a way that they can be implemented around the world.
Technology alone isn’t enough
It is odd that irrespective of the coalition of efforts involved, the issue of climate change hasn’t yet received enough attention. It would be negligent to presume that technology alone will solve the issue. Technologies will help in mitigating the effects of climate change, but cooperation is needed to implement the necessary changes and spread awareness about the importance of adapting these new technologies. Efforts are needed from the entire population if climate change is to be halted and the earth is to be saved from a rise in temperature of 2 degrees Celsius.
Since the dawn of industrialisation, Science and technology has played an important role in effecting climatic changes. Although our quality of life has been improved, technology, whether agricultural, industrial, global, urban, or communication technology, has had a negative impact on the environment.
Society has become so reliant on technology that it requires science and technology to solve the issues that have been created by them. Climate change requires a global resolve to overcome its effects. International conventions and policies are formulated for the purpose of climate change mitigation and to gain control over GHG emissions. A policy as relevant as Kyoto is required if countries are to take responsibility for the environment.
Brown, M. A. (2006). U.S Climate Change Technology Program. Tennessee: Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
EPA. (2012). Role of Science at EA. Available from http://www.epa.gov/epahome/science.htm.
SBSTA. (2012). Special report on renewable energy sources and climate change mitigation. Available from http://srren.ipcc-wg3.de/.
UNFCC. (2012). Scientific, Technical and Socio-Economic Aspects of Mitigation of Climate Change. Available from http://unfccc.int/methods_and_science/mitigation/items/3681.php
UNFCC. (2012). REDD Web Platform. Available from http://unfccc.int/methods_science/redd/items/4531.php
UNFCC. (2012). Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF). Available from http://unfccc.int/methods_and_science/lulucf/items/1084.php
UNFCC. (2012). Emissions from fuel used for international aviation and maritime transport (international bunker fuels). Available from
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Vaughan, K. R. L. (2001). Global Warming and Science change Scheme. Available from http://www.istl.org/01-fall/internet.html.