The fundamental solution

Eliminating greenhouse gas emissions

Around 50 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas are being added to the Earth’s atmosphere every year. To stabilise global average temperatures – and prevent climate change from getting any worse – we need to reduce this net amount to zero.

How to get there

Decarbonising the entire economy

Carbon dioxide is the most abundant greenhouse gas (GHG) in the atmosphere, at around 412 parts per million. According to the IPCC’s Special Report: Global Warming 1.5°C, published in 2018, humans are currently adding CO2 to the atmosphere at a rate of 42 billion tonnes every year. Reducing this amount is the biggest problem we face when finding pathways to net zero, because the current global economic system is hugely reliant on the burning of fossil fuels.

Considering current GHG emissions sector-by-sector is a useful way to illustrate the scale of the challenge – and see what climate solutions will be required to get global GHG emissions to net zero.

A 45% reduction in emission by 2030 is needed to have a reasonable chance of limiting global average temperature rises to 1.5°C


Special Report Global Warming 1.5°C from 2018

Every day that goes by in which we don’t do something about [the climate crisis] is a day wasted.

Sir David Attenborough

Speaking to the BBC ahead of the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow

The transition to a zero-carbon future must be fair

Decarbonising the global economy will require compromise, and may necessitate some difficult choices. It’s essential that these choices are made equitably, and that the poorer countries and peoples of the global south – many of whom have contributed little to cumulative, historic carbon emissions – are treated fairly.

The climate crisis already has a disproportionately damaging effect on the less-well off. This is why the principle of “climate justice” is essential. The move to a zero-carbon future must be a “just transition” – one that the whole world can get behind.

The Guardian

What about sucking carbon from the atmosphere?

Direct Air Capture (DAC) can be done, but hasn’t been proven to work at scale yet. It’s also really expensive. It would cost an estimated US$5 trillion to get rid of the carbon dioxide currently being pumped into the atmosphere each year – far more than it would cost to cut emissions. So while some DAC may be required, it’s not a silver bullet.

Carbon capture


What about geo-engineering?

Some even wilder schemes have been proposed – like the oft-cited idea of pumping large quantities of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere, in order to block solar radiation. The problems with this plan are manifold, and the ethics are questionable.

Geo-engineering plane trails