Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have focused the world’s attention on the global warming phenomenon. It seems clear that worldwide temperatures, especially those in the oceans, have risen over the last decade. Whether this is due to a natural cyclical process, or is in part at least caused by human activity – in the form of greenhouse gas emissions – remains a hotly debated subject.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which conducts research under the mandate of United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) is convinced that industrial pollution is a significant factor in global warming. In its latest study, released on Monday, the IPCC concludes that “capturing and storing the carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by power plants and factories before it enters the atmosphere could play a major role in minimizing climate change.”
UNEP Executive Director Klaus Töpfer observed: “While the most important solutions to climate change will remain energy efficiency and cleaner energy sources, this new report demonstrates that capturing and storing carbon dioxide can supplement these other efforts.”
“Since emissions of carbon dioxide – the most important cause of climate change – continue to rise in many parts of the world, it is vital that we exploit every available option for reducing their impact on the global climate. CO2 capture and storage can clearly play a supporting role,” stated Secretary-General Michel Jarraud of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
The report notes that capturing CO2 emissions won’t require extensive new technology, as “many components of carbon dioxide capture and storage technology are already mature, including several applications of CO2 capture, pipelines and gas injection into geological formations.” The IPCC estimates that using such technology could “lower the costs of mitigating climate change over the next 100 years by 30 percent or more. In addition, capture and storage of CO2 in geological formations could account for 15 – 55 percent of all emission reductions (equal to 220 to 2,200 billion tonnes (Gt) of CO2) needed between now and 2100 for stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.”
The report notes that three CCS projects are already in operation, in Algeria, Canada and the North Sea off the Norwegian coast. However, it also observed that the “potential of capture and storage could be limited by several important non-technology constraints. In particular, unless governments adopt climate change policies that put a cost on emitting CO2, there will be no incentive to use these technologies.”
As the U.S. is the world’s biggest energy consumer, and consequently the biggest emitter of greenhouse gasses, its adherence to any such program to capture and store CO2 is essential. The federal government, however, remains indifferent, if not actively opposed, to any programs aimed at curbing the harmful effects of these emissions in fueling global warming.
While most climatologists have indicated that no direct cause and effect relationship can be established between greenhouse gas emissions and monster storms like Katrina and Rita, they do agree that warmer ocean temperatures increase their intensity. That intensity has a direct effect on the economy, especially in regions, such as Florida and the Gulf Coast, where hurricanes are a fact of life. It also has a particular effect on the insurance industry, which has to pay for a good portion of the losses caused by the storms.
If it is even remotely possible that human activity is helping to fuel the increase in frequency and intensity of hurricanes, typhoons and other natural weather phenomena, then it would seem logical to take whatever steps are available to try and reduce that activity. Or, at least, as the IPCC suggests try to contain its more harmful components.
A number of experts don’t think of the relation between greenhouse gasses and global warming/climate change as remote, but as fact. The “IPCC Special Report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage” was written by 100 experts from over 30 countries and reviewed by many experts and governments. It “assesses the most up-to-date literature available in scientific and technical journals around the world and was requested by the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC),” said the bulletin.
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