Zero Emissions Day
Every year since 2008, Zero Emissions Day has served as a reminder that the goalposts of challenging climate issues has shifted from mitigation to total eradication of new carbon emissions. This new line of thought encourages us to place more emphasis on proactive measures such as carbon capture, adoption of renewable energy sources and reforestation to achieve net neutrality in carbon emissions.
According to this information from Our World In Data, greenhouse gas emissions are vented to the atmosphere due to human activity on Earth and the effect of about 50 billion tons of emissions is largely responsible for climate change. Because a significant percentage of human economic efforts depend on the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum, gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are dispersed into the atmosphere where they compromise our air and negatively impact the ozone layer. However, not all emissions are derived from industrial activities or the burning of fossil fuels. Seemingly harmless economic sectors, such as agriculture and sanitation, also significantly contribute to the total amount of greenhouse emissions as shown by Financial Times and Nature Portfolio; in fact, traditional rice farming is the second biggest source of agricultural methane after animal husbandry.
Cumulative anthropogenic (i.e., human-emitted) emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use have been cited as a major cause of global warming with developed countries accounting for 83.8% of industrial CO2 emissions between 1890-2007. Greenhouse gases have far-ranging effects on our environment and health. They cause planetary warming by trapping heat and contribute to respiratory disease, air pollution, extreme weather and natural disasters. In order to avoid the worst effects of climate change, every sector of the global economy, from manufacturing to agriculture to power production must evolve away from fossil fuels. Countries around the world have acknowledged this reality with the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and other similar policies.
Is it possible to achieve net zero emissions? The International Energy Agency (IEA) answered yes, stating in this 227-page report that it is possible to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Of course, this will require a large scale overhaul and transition from current energy systems and technologies to adoption of renewable energy resources. An example of the dramatic action required to achieve a net-zero goal by 2050 is that 60% of new automobile purchases by 2030 would need to be electric vehicles.
The potential adjustment needed to achieve the net-zero goal goes beyond just sustainable innovations in energy and transportation, because those developments will need to be complemented by massive investments in technologies such as carbon capture, hydrogen electrolyzers and bioenergy. The world has only 2.8 trillion metric tons— about one-fifth of its carbon budget–– remaining in order to delay warming the Earth more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Halting the trends in motion will require more than just phasing out fossil fuels. In fact, the paths to halting global temperature increases of 1.5 or 2 degrees C, the two goals outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), rely in some way on adopting methods of absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere. Leading scientific studies suggest that by mid-century, 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide will need to be removed from the air every year if we continue to operate with our current sources of energy.
It has been speculated that shifting to a low-carbon economy on a global scale could bring substantial benefits both for developed and developing countries. Low-carbon economies are being proposed as a precursor to the more advanced, zero-carbon economy and emphasis is placed on strategies that seek to achieve social, economic, and environmental development goals while reducing long-term greenhouse gas emissions.
The technologies capable of ramping down greenhouse gas emissions already exist. They include swapping fossil fuels for renewable energy, setting up carbon capture plants, and discouraging carbon emissions by putting a tax on them. “Renewable energy” refers to energy derived from sources that are naturally replenished such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat. Renewable energy can be utilized in four important areas: electricity generation, air and water heating/cooling, transportation, and rural (off-grid) energy services. Using 100% renewable energy was first suggested in a paper published by Science in 1975 by Danish physicist Bent Sørensen. Since then, the incentive to use 100% renewable energy has grown, partially motivated by global warming and other ecological concerns. Based on REN21's 2017 report, renewables contributed 19.3% to humans' global energy consumption and 24.5% to their generation of electricity in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
Carbon capture plants are becoming increasingly common and being adopted both by private and public organizations. An example of organizations investing in capturing carbon from the atmosphere is Climeworks. Climeworks develops, builds and operates direct air capture (DAC) machines which physically capture CO₂ from the air using direct air capture technology. These machines consist of modular CO₂ collectors that can be stacked to build machines of any size. Climeworks direct air capture machines are powered solely by renewable energy or energy-from-waste. Air-captured carbon dioxide is usually stored safely or recycled into carbon-neutral fuels, ensuring its long-term removal from the atmosphere.
Another measure that is suggested and in some cases implemented to discourage carbon emissions is carbon tax. This tax is levied on goods and services based on the amount of carbon emissions that are thought to have resulted from their production. This is usually intended to reduce the incentives of patronizing such goods and services. The revenue accumulated through this type of tax is dedicated to offsetting the damage done to the environment.
Unlike other alternatives, planting trees and conserving forests seems like a cheaper, more sustainable and efficient option for absorbing greenhouse gases and achieving carbon net neutrality. Forests are an important part of the global carbon cycle because trees and plants absorb carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. By removing carbon from the air, forests function as terrestrial carbon sinks, meaning they store large amounts of carbon. Forests are estimated to remove around three billion tons of carbon every year. Further evidence is seen in China as 24 million hectares of new forests are planted to offset 21% of the total Chinese fossil fuel emissions from the year 2000. According to a journal published on Sciencemag, proper implementation of reforestation campaigns involves the adoption of these four major strategies:
- Increase the amount of forested land
- Increase density of existing forests at a stand and landscape scale
- Expand the use of forest products that sustainably replace fossil-fuel emissions
- Reduce carbon emissions caused by deforestation and degradation
Planting trees in tropical climates has the advantage of fixing more carbon because they can grow year-round. A study of 70,000 trees across Africa has shown that tropical forests fix more carbon dioxide pollution than previously realized; this puts Greenstand in a position of relevance. Greenstand is a nonprofit organization dedicated to tracking and compensating farmers for cultivating and maintaining trees all around the world through the use of open-source technology. Our efforts in reforestation and poverty alleviation are inherently linked to achieving carbon net neutrality on the planet and reducing greenhouse emissions to the barest minimum. Through our Treetracker platform, trees planted can be monitored in real time and their positive effects on the environment properly assessed. Greenstand is also unique in this fight to achieve carbon neutrality because it facilitates compensation for tree growers and farmers through a digital chain of custody linked to each growers’ efforts. This financial incentive system increases the commitment of tree growers and other stakeholders to the goal of making the planet a more liveable place through reforestation.
Greenstand’s model economically enables people to plant and grow trees, allowing them to sell their efforts and other ecosystem services in the form of digital tokens on a global market. This model is made possible with advanced technology that allows the digitalization and ownership of each tree’s impact. Greenstand also enables tree growers, planting initiatives and organizations to gain direct access to investors and funders by providing transparency on every tree’s data through individual verifications. The battle to eradicate greenhouse emissions is a long and hard one that will require every supporting hand that is available. You can also support our efforts at Greenstand by volunteering or making a tax-deductible donation.