There are plenty of technological solutions to climate change. Just like human activities, technology can be a solution or a cause for more problems. We define technical solutions as a wide variety of approaches, from satellite technology, supporting environmental monitoring and planning, renewable energy technology that helps to reduce environmental and carbon footprint, to industrial carbon capture.
Here’s some good news for the tech fans: this discipline has the power to help us reduce global emissions and even manage extreme weather events. But there is also bad news: technologies like industrial carbon capture, geoengineering, and climate engineering hold promise, yet they encounter significant barriers and are unfeasible at this time and the foreseable future. These proposals, while innovative, lack the scalability needed to address the pressing and extensive challenges of climate and biodiversity disruption we face in the present moment. Some are too idealistic to be practically implemented, while others introduce the potential for unforeseen predicaments due to the intricate nature of climate and biodiversity systems. The complexity of these systems means that the consequences and side effects of technological interventions remain unclear.
Human beings have a strong affinity for and dependence on technological fixes. The concept of industrial carbon capture solutions creates a misleading impression that our lifestyles require no alteration. But it is imperative that we take immediate action to confront the crises in climate, biodiversity, and the environment. Waiting for these technical fixes to become reliable in the uncertain future is not a viable approach. Industrial carbon capture, geoengineering, and climate engineering should not serve as distractions that delay our responsible action today. To evade a forthcoming environmental and climatic catastrophe, we must enact changes in our behaviors now, significantly reducing our carbon and environmental impact using nature-based, proven solutions. This proactive approach is essential to avert potential disasters and ensure a sustainable future. Lemu is here to help: we facilitate your support to further the positive impact on biodiversity and climate, and thus for a liveable future of humankind, of conservation projects on the ground.
Developing and embracing tech solutions is now a must when facing climate change. In this article, we’ll look at technology for climate change, check out the different areas that it covers, and discover technological solutions to climate change. It’s important to notice that these solutions themselves won’t solve climate change, we still need to act to help reduce it. You can explore our blog to find out how you can act urgently against climate change.
What do we mean by technology for climate change?
When we use technology to deal with climate change issues, we call it climate technology. These technologies can assist with different purposes:
- Reducing greenhouse gases by relying on renewable energies like wind energy, solar power, and hydropower.
- Adapting to the different effects of climate change. Here we can find climate technologies focused on drought-resistant crops, sea walls, and early warning systems.
- Embracing energy-efficient practices or training for using equipment. This kind of climate technology is known as “soft” climate technology.
Technology development and transfer, in terms of adaptation, are included in the Paris Agreement. The agreement highlights the importance of realizing that technology development and transfer are two actions that are key to boosting resilience to climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Paris Agreement even sets a technology framework to be used as guidance.
Technology and climate change: 9 crucial climate mitigation technologies
A report from McKinsey, a global management consulting firm, set the “Ten families of climate technologies”. These families are essential when discussing the need to mitigate carbon emissions. Let’s explore each of them.
If we talk about the role that technology plays in helping to reduce climate change, we must recognize how supportive it is in terms of renewable energy. Climate technology used for renewable energies is behind solar, hydro, and wind energy.
For example, thanks to the application of geospatial technologies, we can find the best places for the generation of renewable energy, facilities management, economic analysis, and even forecasting, which can be executed easier by relying on geospatial data and maps.
All of this is essential when we plan the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Keep in mind that net-zero transition is our north star, and the world’s energy system needs to be changed. We have to embrace new ways to power our transport and our houses.
Did you know that the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, blockchain, big data, and geospatial technologies are lending a hand in the circular economy? Optimizing resource use is a goal for companies and governments, and climate technologies are making sure they achieve it. Those technologies are being used, for example, to connect suppliers and partners, monitor product lifecycle, and even calculate the environmental impact that the product has.
A lot of new technological appliances are being created to suit new needs in terms of resource optimization. For instance, there’s an app that helps with real-time tracking of waste flows in the UK.
As you may know by now, there aren’t plenty of natural resources to support humanity at the current rate of resource use, and the rising pollution is contributing more and more to climate change. When we discussed energy, there’s one stop we missed: electric cars.
Electric car innovation is helping protect the climate. Coal gasification use and storage mixed with carbon capture could be to be the foundation for affordable clean fuels and feedstock substitution. This could, once sufficiently developed, pave the way for generating clean steel, hydrogen, ammonia, methanol, and other lower-carbon chemicals.
However, a note of caution is warranted due to two significant challenges. Firstly, coal gasification actually results in higher CO2 emissions compared to traditional coal power plants. The second concern relates to water usage. Among various energy production methods, coal gasification stands out as particularly water-intensive. Although technologies like underground coal gasification have been in existence since the 19th century, they have yet to achieve widespread commercial viability. This is primarily due to the fact that the success of coal gasification hinges entirely on broader advancements in carbon capture and storage, which, thus far, have encountered considerable difficulties and experienced a lack of progress.
In order to make the architecture, engineering, and construction industries more sustainable and conscious about the environment, geospatial data is being combined with digital technology. Plus, there’s a concept that has been taking more and more leadership in this arena: building information modeling (BIM).
Building information modeling is basically a 3D model-based process of generating and managing building data. BIM helps the architecture, engineering, and construction sector be more efficient and productive, and even achieve cost-reduction, return on investment, and faster project timelines.
This all supports, for example, monitoring technical installation and tracking energy consumption thanks to spatial data, and, therefore, creates a more sustainable and energy-efficient infrastructure.
Plus, we can also consider the appliances that help make houses more energy-efficient without needing to build them from scratch. An example is heat pumps which are an alternative to air conditioners, and make use of electricity to transfer heat from a cool space to a warm one. Geothermal heat pumps use Earth’s natural heat to warm or cool the space, and can even be used to warm water. This kind of heat pump uses 61% less energy than the traditional ones.
Industry 4.0 is what’s on the table when we discuss a new industrial technology concept. We talk about factory automation, for example, which are climate technologies that will help companies achieve net-zero emission targets.
Factories are looking for new processes of innovation to be able to meet the needs of their markets. The good news is that many of them are doing so with an eye on sustainable solutions, mixed with geospatial technology and a green future.
Companies are getting more involved in the entire process of investing in and embracing mature climate technologies, and inventing the next-generation ones too. Examples being the electrification of heat sources, green steelmaking, and green cement making.
Hydrogen and sustainable fuels
Hydrogen fuel is thought of as the replacement for many electric generation processes that nowadays require fossil fuels. Even for some that use solar or wind energy.
Hydrogen is a clean, non-toxic, and renewable source of energy that can be used even for vehicular applications, including planes. Nanotechnology is also sitting on the table of vehicular applications, promising to make cars travel cleaner and quieter.
In terms of sustainable fuels we can discuss electro-fuels or e-fuels. These are fuels in gas or liquid form that come from renewable sources or decarbonised electricity. This means that the carbon intensity of the electricity, and therefore its emissions, has been reduced. Among these types of fuels, you’ll find e-fuels such as e-methane, e-kerosene, and e-methane, a nascent technology that combines hydrogen and CO2 to produce alternative sources to power road vehicles.
Notwithstanding their promise, the utilization of renewable fuels is not without its challenges and potential detriments to biodiversity and sustainability. Extracting fuels from renewable sources necessitates the extensive cultivation of specific crops, leading to (1) an exacerbated issue of habitat degradation due to agricultural expansion, (2) the establishment of monocultures that can adversely affect biodiversity, and (3) competition with food production, a critical concern given the continuously growing global population. While the concept of electro-fuels is promising, its current stage of development is in its infancy and is far from offering a viable solution, mainly due to its notably low energy efficiency.
Technology supporting nature-based solutions
Among this group, you’ll find: protecting, restoring, and sustainably managing natural ecosystems, diversity, and human well-being. Geospatial technology plays a great role in all of this. For example, it can help with food security, disaster risk, water security, and natural habitat conservation.
How does it work here? Well, mainly using satellite imagery to identify the areas, indigenous people, and ocean health that need to be monitored to be able to forecast or report habitat incidents and act fast.
Sensors are used to create maps and get spatial data about biodiversity and ecosystem services. This input helps produce reports for policymakers and governments so they make their decisions based on more accurate information.
Here at Lemu, we have some images and data too. Explore our app that’s available for iOS and Android and discover the most valuable environments on our planet while you help take care of them.
Carbon removal, capture, and storage
We’ll tackle carbon storage later in this article but we wanted to highlight some stuff that the McKinsey report states. If we want to achieve the world’s climate goals, the report says that the power sector needs to be fully decarbonized by 2040. Nowadays technology is helping track greenhouse gas emissions by letting us harness satellite data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.
Beyond that, technology might lend a hand with carbon removal, capture, and storage. But we’ll explore this in a few paragraphs and emphasize that this is by no means a panacea; it cannot serve as a substitute for the imperative need to promptly reduce CO2 emissions.
Agriculture and food
Smart agriculture is being boosted by technologies like artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, machine learning, and blockchain. They’re helping calculate soil moisture, crop health, the quantity of fertilizer that farmers need to use, pest control, and even predict drought areas and the reason why they’re suffering from drought. For example, using satellite technology combined with GIS (Geographic Information Systems) allows farmers to apply the exact amounts of fertilizers needed precisely on a square meter scale, thus avoiding blanket overuse of too many fertilizers.
This doesn’t only support addressing issues connected to farming but also the climate-related troubles linked to food security, like the need for sources of alternative proteins.
Technological solutions to climate change
After checking out the different climate tech families proposed by McKinsey, it’s time to look at some technological solutions to climate change.
1. Industrial carbon capture
Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have increased by almost 50% since the industrial revolution. As you may know by now, the increase of this and other greenhouse gases is accountable for the rise in Earth’s temperature. And, as you also may know by now, these emissions are mainly produced by humans.
The good news is that we can also help reduce it with other human activities such as tech development. Specifically, innovations that make carbon capture, utilization, and storage possible. There are now several interesting projects that have such technologies involved including the Net Zero Teesside (NZT) project. This project was created to capture CO2 produced in industrial processes and power plants. Once they’re captured, they’re sent to offshore storage places several kilometers beneath the North Sea. After the carbon is sequestered, it’s accurate to say that it will no longer be a climate-change problem, because it won’t contribute to the greenhouse effect.
There is a note of caution, however. The technology insinuates that we can persist with our current use of fossil fuels without any repercussions. However, the reality is quite different. Industrial carbon capture may have a future role, but relying solely on carbon capture technology is not a panacea. It's imperative that we prioritize the immediate implementation of natural methods for carbon emission reduction and storage. This is crucial if we are to achieve the global targets set out in the Paris Agreement for curtailing temperature rise.
Despite the proliferation of carbon capture projects, there continues to be a heated debate. Detractors argue that this technology is both costly and ineffective, with scalability posing a significant challenge. What's more, directing funds toward the development of such tools diverts resources from well-established solutions like renewable energy. It also inadvertently grants high carbon-emitting entities the freedom to persist with their current practices unchecked. Regardless, the maturity of this technology isn't advanced enough to play a substantial role in carbon capture endeavors now and in the foreseeable future.
2. Cattle feeding
Cattle farming contributes to the high levels of methane, a significant greenhouse gas. Did you know that agriculture is responsible for half of methane emissions, two-thirds of nitrous oxide emissions and 3% of carbon dioxide emissions from human activities worldwide?
Since methane comes from burping cattle, scientists have been working on research to solve this. And they did. They found that red seaweed that grows in the tropics can reduce methane emissions by 80% in cows when used as a supplement to cattle feed.
Yes, we know that there are nearly 1,5 billion heads of cattle globally and that there’s not that much seaweed nowadays but scientists will probably solve that too by, for example, reproducing the primary ingredient that helps with methane. However, the best solution is to combine this technology with reduced meat consumption.
3. Climate repair
At the Centre for Climate Repair at the University of Cambridge, scientists are studying the possible tech solutions that will help repair the damage that’s being done by human pollution.
Want to discover some ideas that have been floated and are the focus of some research? Here you go:
- Refreezing the poles. This could be achieved by brightening the clouds above the poles. They plan to do so by spraying tiny drops of salt into the sky to help clouds in reflecting radiation back into space. It’s important to note that it’s still a controversial idea and it doesn’t supplant the need for decarbonization. Plus, we need to consider the greenhouse gases that might be released from the planes that spray tiny drops from the atmosphere.
- “Greening” the oceans. This is basically fertilizing them in order to boost algae and plant growth. This means that there’ll be more algae and plants ready to capture CO2 emissions. This is currently being studied because some research showed that this can cause disruptions to the oceans’ ecosystems and marine life. In addition, this kind of method has been previously developed but experimentation found that it didn’t improve carbon absorption at a worthwhile rate.
The realm of climate engineering has captured significant attention within the global scientific community, as humanity tends to gravitate toward technological solutions. Nevertheless, these approaches come with a host of challenges. Climate engineering remains deeply contentious due to substantial uncertainties surrounding its efficacy, unintended effects, and unforeseeable outcomes.
The capacity to accurately forecast the repercussions of climate engineering interventions is lacking; there exists a real possibility that these efforts might exacerbate existing issues stemming from heightened climatic volatility. Our current comprehension of our intricate global system hinders the ability to quantify or even discern the comparative environmental, societal, political, legal, and economic risks associated with these strategies. The uncertainties inherent in modeling climate change, combined with the potentially profound ramifications of climate engineering, presently preclude the provision of dependable, quantitative assessments regarding the relative hazards, repercussions, and advantages of albedo modification. This extends to the potential benefits and risks tied to specific geographical regions on our planet.
Satellites are useful to monitor, for example, Earth’s climate and identify from tropical cyclones to ocean eddies, and get data to make decisions that help reduce climate change. Let’s explore one NASA satellite to illustrate this idea: the satellite Terra. Terra is used to observe our planet’s atmosphere, oceans, land, snow, and ice to get insights into Earth's systems like water, carbon, and energy cycles. Plus, this satellite has instruments that bring information for assessing and managing emergencies such as natural disasters including wildfires and hurricanes.
5. Data centers
Data centers are more energy-efficient than personal computers. The deal is to help people understand that they should move from energy-intensive applications on local machines to the cloud. Plus, companies that are behind cloud technologies, like Google and Amazon, have great policies and actions regarding renewable energies. They’re even consumers of this kind of energy.
Gamers have a lot to do here too. Google and Microsoft have cloud gaming platforms so they don’t have to buy consoles to play them. Note that the production of those consoles generates greenhouse gas emissions too, so it’s a win-win if they shift to the cloud.
6. Energy efficiency at home
In Europe, buildings consume 40% of overall energy and are accountable for 35% of CO2 emissions. Reducing energy consumption should be at the core of the best tech solution to climate change. And we don’t have to wait because the technology to achieve this is here. Think about the products and the appliances that are available nowadays, some of them, if not all, are focused on being energy efficient.
Design innovations in this area led to refrigerators, washing machines, light bulbs, and TVs consuming less energy. Thanks to these innovations, in Europe, energy consumption per household has decreased in the past 50 years.
7. Boosting existing renewable energy technologies
There are more tech solutions to help reduce climate change that are connected to energy efficiency. When developing and embracing them, we’ll avoid job losses due to industry shutdowns and improve the world’s economies. Some of these solutions include:
- Smart electricity meters
- Municipal waste energy recovery
- Reversible hydro dams
- Agricoltaic solutions
- Floating solar plants and farms
- Smart devices and appliances
- Molten metal solar and wind energy storage
- Vertical-axis wind turbines
Technology is ready to keep helping reduce climate change, are you? If so, download our app available for iOS and Android, and discover how data can take you to the greatest places on Earth while supporting their protection 🌱