Climate Engineering - Who Can We Trust? Panel Discussion

Nobel Prize winning economist, Amyrta Sen, distinguished philosopher, Onora O'Neill, cosmologist and astronomer, Martin Rees, discuss the difficult subject of Climate Engineering at the Cambridge Science Festival.

The discussion was chaired by Briefings and Essays editor for The Economist, Oliver Morton:

Click here to watch the discussion

Solar Radiation Management Science - Cambridge 2015 #SRMS15

LIVE STREAMING: Engineering the Climate - 12 - 14 March 2015 - Cambridge, UK

Envisionation are pleased to announce that we will be streaming the SRMS 2015 Conference from the University of Cambridge. The important 2 day event comprises a series of keynote presentations through out Friday and Saturday daytime. On the evening of Friday 13th there will be an all-star debate in the Lady Mitchell Hall as part of the Cambridge Science Festival (Chair: Oliver Morton. Panellists: Martin Rees, Amartya Sen, Onora O'Neill, David Keith).

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Limits To Growth, Beyond The Limits, Last Call… Is there anybody out there?

Last night I attended a screening of ‘Last call’ in the House of Commons. This documentary, produced over a period of 7 years by Italian film director Enrico Cerasuolo, tracks the legacy of the seminal work of the MIT scientists who authored ‘Limits To Growth’ in the 1970’s. Famously, the book challenged the iron clad belief of economists, politicians and the public alike, that human civilisation can enjoy unlimited growth on a finite planet.

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Survivable IPCC Projections Are Based On Science Fiction

IPCC ‘Representative Concentration Pathways’ are based on fantasy technology, concealing  a very bleak trajectory for humanity. Is this why policymakers are getting it so wrong?

Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP’s)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published in their latest report, AR5, a set of ‘Representative Concentration Pathways’ (RCP’s). These RCP’s consist of four scenarios that project global temperature rises based on different quantities of greenhouse gas concentrations.

IPCC Representative Concentration Pathways - RCP's

The scenarios are assumed to all be linked directly to emissions scenarios. The more carbon we emit then the hotter it gets. Currently humanity is on the worst case scenario of RCP 8.5 which takes us to 2°C warming by mid century and 4°C warming by the end of the century. As Professor Schellnhuber, from Potsdam Institute for Climate Research (PIK) said, “the difference between two and four degrees is human civilisation

In 2009 the International Union of Forest Research Organisations delivered a report to the UN that stated that the natural carbon sink of trees could be lost at a 2.5°C temperature increase. The ranges for RCP 4.5 and RCP 6 both take us over 2.5°C and any idea that we can survive when the tree sink flips from being a carbon sink to a carbon source is delusional.

Where does this leave us?

Of the four shown RCP’s only one keeps us within the range that climate scientists regard as survivable. This is RCP 2.6 that has a projected temperature range of 0.9°C and 2.3°C. Considering we are currently at 0.85°C above the preindustrial level of greenhouse gas concentrations, we are already entering the range and as Professor Martin Rees says, “I honestly would bet, sad though it is, that the annual CO2 emissions are going to rise year by year for at least the next 20 years and that will build up accumulative levels close to 500 parts per million”. The recent US/China ‘agreement supports the contentions of Rees.

rcp2 6 slides.002

Even if Rees is wrong and we do manage to curtail our carbon emissions, a closer look at RCP 2.6 shows something much more disturbing. In the attached image, IPCC SMP Expert Reviewer, David Tattershall has inserted vertical red lines to mark the decades between years 2000 and 2100. Within this 21st Century range he has also highlighted a steep decline in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (shown by the steep declining thick red line). 

It is interesting that concerted action for emissions reductions is timed to occur just beyond the date for the implementation of a supposed legally binding international agreement.

Stopping emissions does not reduce atmospheric carbon. The emissions to date are colossal and the warming effect is delayed by around 40 years. Therefore, even if we halt emissions, we know there is much more warming to come. That will also set off other positive feedbacks along the way that will amplify the warming further, stretching over centuries.

So how does the IPCC achieve these vast reductions in greenhouse gases?

If we look at the vertical red lines, at around 2025 the steep decline in atmospheric greenhouse gases begins. Accumulated emissions not only are reduced to zero in 2070 but actually go negative. This chart shows that carbon is removed from the atmosphere in quantities of hundreds of billions of tonnes, for as far ahead as 2300 to sustain a temperature beneath 2°C.

What makes this idea of projected large-scale Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) even more perverse is the talk by policymakers of a “carbon budget”. This refers to the amount of fossil fuel that can be burned before we are at risk of reaching a 2°C rise in global mean temperature. It is quite clear that we have no carbon budget whatsoever. The account, far from being in surplus, is horrendously overdrawn. To claim we have a few decades of safely burning coal, oil and gas is an utter nonsense.

Sequestering billions of tonnes of carbon for centuries

If all of the above has not raised any alarm bells then perhaps it is time to consider the proposed methods for sucking the billions of tonnes of carbon out of the atmosphere. 

In February 2015 the National Research Council in the United States launched their two reports on “climate interventions”. Dr Nutt concluded with this statement on CDR: “Carbon Dioxide Removal strategies offer the potential to decrease carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere but they are limited right now by their slow response, by their inability to scale up and their high cost.”

Dr Nutt’s conclusion points to very important factor that we can elaborate on with a rare case of certainty. There is no proposed CDR technology that can be scaled up to suck billions of tonnes out of the Earth’s atmosphere. It simply does not exist in the real world.

This is reiterated by Dr Hugh Hunt in the Department of Engineering, at the University of Cambridge, who points out,

“10 billion tonnes a year of carbon sequestration? We don’t do anything on this planet on that scale. We don’t manufacture food on that scale, we don’t mine iron ore on that scale. We don’t even produce coal, oil or gas on that scale. Iron ore is below a billion tonnes a year! How are we going to create a technology, from scratch, a highly complicated technology, to the tune of 10 billion tonnes a year in the next 10 years?”

Science Fiction

It is not just that there are currently no ideas being researched to such a degree where they are likely to be able to bring down atmospheric carbon to a safe level of around 300 parts per million. It is also that the level of funding available to the scientists doing the research is woefully inadequate. 

These RCP’s are used by policymakers to decide what actions are required to sustain a safe climate for our own and future generations. The information they are using, presented by the IPCC, is nothing more than science fiction. It makes for sober thinking when glossy images of President Obama and the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, are presented to the world shaking hands on global emissions reductions by 2030 that we know will commit us to catastrophe.


Interview with Professor Helga Kromp-Kolb

Conducted in January 2015 in Vienna, Austria

Interview Transcript:

Vienna Jan 2 2015 - Professor Helga Kromp-Kolb

What is the role of the public in proposing responses to climate change?

I think the public has the main role because, living in a democracy it’s really the public that should push the politicians, seeing that the politicians by themselves are not acting and we cannot really expect industry and commerce to be the drivers.

So it is left to the public.

One of the main problems is how the public gets the information. Of course there is science with a whole lot of information but it is not very well presented for the public and my main concern is that science always presents the main concerns, the catastrophes that could evolve and this is not what makes the public act. I think the public would act much more readily if they saw the chances that were involved in appropriate climate policy.

On immigration:

This issue is a very difficult one. Where we should really should start is in making sure people do not have to leave the places we live in now. Any type of infrastructure you put up will not be sufficient to achieve the goal that apparently is we want to have to keep people out of Europe. Thats not a solution. That’s just something that might just help Europe for a limited period time. but it is not a solution on a global scale. So what we really want to do is to make sure that there are places that people can leave, called home, and as far as possible where they live now.

Of course coastal areas will be affected so some moving will be inevitable but to make that as small as possible and as smooth as possible is, I think, what politics is all about.

Intrinsic versus Extrinsic

I think one of the chief issues that need to be discussed is what we call prosperity. Or rather, what we want to achieve because I don’t think it is prosperity in the normal sense of the word, its not having things, it is more like being somebody. and having a fulfilled life and that does not depend on material things and the whole issue of economic growth is about material things. So we are discussing the wrong thing. Really we should be looking at the values that are important to people and help people to find their own values. I don’t think they are so obvious to everyone because we are so covered with all sorts of potential wishes, things we should have and that our neighbour has and so on.

It is only after exceptional situations where people start to think about what do they really want. It’s like after having a serious illness, or somewhere being in danger of life and then people start to think: “What is it I really want?”

And those are the values that I think we need to address. I think we can address those and i think we can fulfill those values and we can come much closer to fulfilling those values under a policy that comes closer to “saving the planet”.

On emissions:

It might be easier to reduce greenhouse gas emissions considerably that it is to reduce them slightly. Sometimes big changes are easier to make than small changes. I am not sure about this but I think it might be worth considering. It is really a mental process. It’s really a question of wanting to change something or being willing to change something.

And then I think we could really achieve big progress in a really short space of time. I still tink the last tonnes of CO2 will be more difficult to get rid of but the first half at least should be no serious effort at all.

Warming in the system

We have a certain amount of warming in the system and we only have a certain limit of greenhouse gases that we can still add if we want to stay within the 2 degrees that are internationally agreed upon more or less. So even if we do not add anything now we still have a temperature rise of about half a degree or so to expect which is considerable on a global scale. The remaining amount if we want to stay just below the 2 degrees means that we can only make use of conventional oil and gas resources, not with reserves of unconventional oil and gas and not with coal. From an energy point of view it means we have to switch very fast to renewable energies and I think we can do that. Combined with efficiency increases and sufficiency, meaning that we don’t need to have everything that we possibly could have.


Essentially we have seen that economic growth is coupled based only to energy and material use and though there has been some progress in a relative decoupling, meaning that material and energy growth are not just as fast as GDP growth, they still grow and what we really need is for them to stabilise and even to be reduced. This means we can not do it with economic growth. So we need to stabilise economic growth, we need to stabilise GDP which does not mean that it has to be static. In some areas, especially the industrialised nations it will probably mean degrowth which means reducing GDP and therefore reducing energy and material resource use because we need some room for developing countries and countries in transition to reach a level of development that makes it possible for people there to live a decent life without fear of hunger or fear of cold or heat.

Degrowth sounds terribly terrifying but it is not, it doesn’t have to be. If degrowth occurs just because growth didn’t happen, then we really have a problem because we have people out of work and so on. But if its a planned matter, it’s something that follows a structure and a plan then we can really achieve more quality of life. A quality of life that is closer to the values we have deep inside us. So I do not think  degrowth is something we have to fear, degrowth is something we have to work towards. Of course, it will not work starting tomorrow but we will have to make sure it starts soon.

I think it is quite clear that an economy in a sustainable world, a world with more equity and a resilient world would look different to the economy we have now. I don’t think anybody would really disagree with that. The question is just: what would it look like? There is not the masterplan… we don’t really have the full picture of where we want to go, and the question is just “how do we get there?”

We sort of know some of the cornerstones. What it should be.. for instance, it shouldn’t grow! But we do not really have a master plan. We have a lot of different attempts and a lot of different ideas out there, and they are great ideas. I don’t think anybody can say which idea will carry the day, will turn out as the best or whether it will be a combination. i think we need this diversity because we do not have this one solution and I think what is necessary is to help these ideas forward, to keep testing. Like the economy for the common good, Nicopias thinking. So there is a lot of things where we could say “just go on try new things… try them on local level, try them on a company level. And then see what works and what doesn’t work and produce a transition in this manner. Of course transition towns are already on their way.

Well, I think there is a difference in the interests of nations but there is not a difference in the interests of people. I think individuals have the same interests everywhere; a decent fulfilled life and I think  we can achieve this together.

Of course, the people representing the nations at the COPS come from a different thinking. Our democracies and other state forms as well, have for the last 2 decades at least have been serving economic interests, that’s not the people. We cannot expect these to find solutions, how can they? Because the economic interests are obviously very divergent. If we go back to the interests of the people, then I think we can find solutions. I am not sure how to do that. I don’t know, it makes no sense to set up a counter COP. I think we really need to get the transition working in the countries themselves.

There’s this idea by Ros Jackson of the small countries who are closer to their people starting out with a new type of thinking and forming a union and inviting others to join them.

This link between politics and economics is a very interesting one. It is very promising that the students of economics are starting to protest against their curricula and the things they are taught because they are only taught one type of thinking and one methodology. So i think there is a movement out there and hopefully things will change!

Can we change in time?

You know in climate we talk a lot about tipping points, that there are points beyond which we can no longer stop developments. Well I think there is tipping points in other fields as well and I think there is also tipping points in public perception and public awareness and public action. I think we are getting closer to that tipping point and if we reach that tipping point where change becomes inevitable then I think it can be very fast.

Science and economics

I find for instance when I talk to people who come up with new ideas about economic growth… about the monetary system, as another example of the driver of climate change that needs to be addressed, very few of them also consider the biogeophysical limits to our planet. So the ecological limits they are not so much aware of them.

So, for instance, the doughnut idea of the Kate Allworth is something which is extremely helpful in thinking about this. he has defined outside boundaries given by ecology, very similar to Rockstrom and coauthors about the safe operating space of humanity. So there is the outer limit. Climate is one of the aspects but she says there is also an inner limit. The inner limit is well being and is education and work and so on. The space between is where economics should be operating. If economists became aware of the fact that they have an inner limit and an outer limit; the outer limit being defined by nature and the inner limit being defined ourselves - what do we consider to be acceptable in terms of societal or social sustainability - then their operating space is quite well defined and they just have to find a model that will keep us in this space. That automatically retracts the economy when it tends to push the limits.

Why start the journey to resilience right now?

I am climatologist so climate is always in the centre of my views and climate does not just wait, climate change is happening and if we do not act now, we will have to employ much more serious measures and much faster in order to avoid tipping points beyond which we can no longer be sure we can stabilise climate. But of course it is not just nature… we have an economic crisis, we have a financial crisis, we have a social crisis… I mean, if everything goes wrong… obviously it does... it is time to act. The way to act in my point of view, and this is an ethical question, is of course to act towards sustainability.

Dennis Meadows says it is too late for sustainability, we’ve gone beyond that point, what we have to address now is resilience. I think he is right to a certain extent, nevertheless, I would strive towards sustainability but make sure we are resilient on the way.

The very encouraging thing is that you take the same measures to achieve sustainability as you take to achieve resilience. So if we are fast and we are dedicated, maybe we can achieve both at the same time.

2015 is a key year

There’s a lot of decisions that are being taken in 2015 and my feeling is that we cannot expect too much of the COP in Paris but we must all try our best to do our own home work at home.. I am trying all I can to get Austria to do its homework, which is a tough job.

IPCC RCP’s viability of CDR

I think it is viable. The question is how and the question is when? I do not think it should be at the beginning. I think the beginning should be to reduce emissions and if we start out by discussing the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere then people will say ‘well then we can continue to emit’. So I think the beginning should be to reduce emissions. then when we have done that and we are the clear path, and we see how it is going and how fast it is going and how far we can get, then it is time to start thinking about removing it from the atmosphere.

Science needs a lot of time before it can really produce results so it makes sense to do the research on that. The question is with what idea in your head do you do the research? It should not be in order to take the burden of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from humanity. It should be to achieve the last tenth of degrees necessary to stay below the 2 degrees limit.

What about SRM?

We have been trained over the last decade to look for technological solutions. I do not think we need these technological solutions if we can rethink our attitude towards the environment, towards the Earth, also towards other humans and towards our own life. I would strongly prefer that we start rethinking process, to look what we can do in terms of changing our lifestyles, new values and then start worrying about technological fixes that are needed for the last few tenths of degrees centigrade.

Because we are so trained to look for technological solutions, I am very hesitant about pushing these now because people again will not find the limit. They will not use them to solve the remaining problems but they will try to evade the problem by these technological solutions.

IPCC projections

I think that we should be aware that the IPCC, the three volumes of IPCC are quite different in their character. The 1st volume is science and is more or less undisputed. The last volume on measures has a lot to do with ideology and has a lot to do with what kind of economic thinking people go into the work. Mainstream economics are not geared to make big changes.

If we talk about economical science and the people writing volume 3, we are not talking about the revolutionary thinkers. So I would not take IPCC volume 3 as a roadmap. I think IPCC vol 3 is a piece of work that shows us, within the present type of thinking, where we can get. And it is obvious that we can’t get there. We can’t get where we should get!

Should it be challenged with new thinking?

There is a divergence of views in the IPCC volume 3, of course there is. But you will not find anything there on degrowth. You will not find anything on new economic thinking because it is not mainstream.

The assessments are really important. I think the IPCC is very important process but you must be aware that the combination of science with policy, especially in volume 3, is something where you have to find consensus. Consensus is never revolutionary. You cannot expect IPCC volume 3 to have the really forward looking and transformational ideas.

Own thoughts on where we are?

I myself keep thinking about what can I do in my own life but that is sort of trivial… if everybody did it then we would get very far but…. the other thing is what can I do in terms of my networks, my job; how can I make a difference? It was very helpful for me to understand that the burden of saving the world is not on my shoulders alone. So I am not responsible for saving the world but I am responsible to do whatever I can and finding out what I can do is something that occupies me. I try a lot of things, some things work, some things don’t work. I have a lot of ideas, I talk with people about these ideas and if everybody did that within his or her domain, within his or her scope, I think we would get really far, because afterall, the sum of all our scopes is what the world is about.

Al Gore In Davos - Excellent Climate Crisis Summary

“What’s Next? A Climate for Action” This is an excellent overview by Al Gore on the current climate situation. 

In this presentation at Davos 2015, former US vice-president Al Gore was joined on stage by popstar Pharrell Williams, to announce Live Earth 2015. Aimed at promoting awareness of the climate change crisis, the series of concerts will take place across all seven continents that include Antarctica – on June 18. 

Geoengineering at the Royal Society


The findings of 3 projects – SPICE, led by the University of Bristol; IAGP, led by the University of Leeds; and CGG, led by the University of Oxford – were announced at an event at The Royal Society, London, on 26/11/2014.


i. SPICE - Stratospheric Particle Injection Climate Engineering

SPICE has looked at Solar Radiation Management, involving offsetting the effects of greenhouse gas by increasing the reflectivity of the Earth's atmosphere. It focused on aerosol injection using volcanoes as a model.

ii. IAGP - Integrated Assessment of Geoengineering Proposals

IAGP is the UK’s 1st interdisciplinary research study into the controversial subject of climate engineering. Bringing together a range of expertise, from climate modelling to philosophy, engineering and public perceptions, assessing geoengineering within wider societal values. IAGP researchers have carried out public and stakeholder workshops in five cities in the UK. In addition, IAGP has vreated models to simulate seven different proposed technologies.

iii. CGG - Climate Geoengineering Governance

CGG has conducted research into the ethical, legal, social and geopolitical implications of a range of geoengineering approaches, building on the foundations of the Oxford Principles on Geoengineering Governance.

Opening speakers:

Dr Matthew Watson, Reader in Natural Hazards at the University of Bristol and Principal Investigator, SPICE
Prof Piers Forster, Professor of Climate Change at the University of Leeds and Principal Investigator, IAGP
Prof Steve Rayner, Director of the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society at the University of Oxford and Principal Investigator, CGG

Dr Hugh Hunt, University of Cambridge, SPICE
Prof. Jim Hayward, University of Exeter, SPICE
Dr Lawrence Jackson, University of Leeds, IAGP
Dr Naomi Vaughan, University of East Anglia, IAGP
Prof. Nicholas Pidgeon, Cardiff University, IAGP
Dr Rose Cairns, University of Sussex, CGG
Prof. Catherine Redgwell, University of Oxford



Tyndall Centre Deputy Director, Professor Kevin Anderson: “No” to Fracking

Distinguished UK climate scientist, Professor Kevin Anderson, states very clearly that if we are serious about tackling climate change and reducing the risk of a global catastrophe, then there is no room whatsoever for any unconventional sources of energy such as shale gas or shale oil. 


Professor Anderson emphasises that if we are to avoid a disastrous climate change then we will have to leave as much as 3/4 of the known fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Processes such as hydraulic fracturing (fracking), being promoted by the US and UK governments among others as cleaner alternatives to coal should be abandoned as part of a much bigger directional shift in our energy generation. The trouble is that we are now burning coal in tandem with natural gas, so rather than an alternative, we simply have both. Rogue emissions from the fracking process have also raised significant alarm as they appear to be much higher than previously thought. Methane gas that escapes into the atmosphere is around 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat trapping gas over a 20 year period. This means short term warming is intensified creating further ice melt at the poles and disruption to global weather patterns.


With the recent collapse in the price of oil, institutional investors may be wise to start thinking about moving their traditional carbon based investments into the renewable energy sector. This would signal a change in direction that would benefit global climate and the future of life on the planet. It would also see a spike in employment and stimulate genuine economic growth.


We live in hope!


Special thanks to colleague Mike Coe for conducting this interview and making the footage available to us.


Post by Nick Breeze (Interview with Prof. Kevin Anderson produced by Mike Coe)


More posts by Nick Breeze

The jet stream is responsible for what kind of weather we experience and it’s behaviour is changing. Dr Jennifer Francis, a research professor at Rutgers University's Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, explains how a combination of factors are going to drastically impact agricultural systems in Europe and Eurasia.

It is easy to look at the fires in southern Europe and think that “global warming” is a regional problem often on someone else doorstep. This misconception could not be further from the truth because the “global” bit refers only to global mean temperature. As scientists start to look at what is happening around the world, it becomes very clear that the interconnected global system is changing for all.


Dr. Saleemul Huq Director International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) at the Independent University, Bangladesh. In this short interview Dr Huq talks about his work and explains how those most vulnerable to the effects of manmade climate change are seeking recompense from the worlds greatest polluters.   


In 2014 Marks & Spencer became the only retailer in the world with carbon neutral operations. This huge undertaking across over 1400 stores has been rewarded with international recognition by the UNFCC winning Momentumn For Change award for carbon neutrality. 


UK based Carbon Tracker Initiative has played a key role showing big businesses, including fossil fuel companies, a route out of the business as usual high CO2 emitting path that is driving humanity towards catastrophe. Anthony Hobley has been at COP23 telling delegates “we are in a technology driven low carbon energy transition” and changing course “just makes financial sense”. NICK BREEZE catches up with him.

Nick Breeze: We are 2yrs on from Paris. Are we making any progress at the COP?


Earlier this week Environment Minister Michael Gove stated that he was convinced “climate change is a danger”, stating that it “is one of the biggest threats and challenges to biodiversity in the UK”.

By localising the issue to the UK, Gove seeks to belittle the global risk posed by climate change. This week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief science adviser and founding director of the Potsdam Institute, Professor Schellnhuber was in London speaking at the Royal Society. When I asked him to respond to the Environment Minister’s comments he replied:  

In part 1 of this wide ranging interview, Anton Golub discusses why the world needs Lykke, the truth about financial regulators and why only 1% Initial Coin Offerings (ICO’s) they assess make it onto the exchange.

Anton Golub: The core vision of Lykke is the vision of Richard Olsen, the founder of Lykke. I am a cofounder. I met him seven years ago when I joined him for an internship.

I sat down to eat my croissant and he sat down next to me and said: “Anton, we have to completely  change the financial system. It totally doesn’t work. Everything is broken inside.”