The Future of Carbon Management Highlighted in New Report by Social Technologies

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According to a new report by Social Technologies, carbon management will rely heavily on policy actions, and carbon credit exchanges are already up and running. Still, the capabilities of new technologies will play a critical role.

The DC-based research and consulting firm Social Technologies recently released a series of 12 briefs that shed light on the top areas for technology innovation through 2025. The brief on carbon management, by futurist Kyle Spector, is the ninth in the series.

"Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions grew by 70% from 1970 to 2004, largely as a result of human activities such as burning fossil fuel," says Spector, explaining that GHG includes gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O). These and other compounds are often measured in terms of their carbon-dioxide equivalent (represented as CO2e,) which indicates how much CO2 it would take to have the same warming potential.

Deforestation has also reduced natural carbon-abatement capacity, Spector adds, noting that while agreement grows on the relationship between GHG concentrations and global climate change, emissions are expected to continue to rise over the next few decades.

"Carbon management will rely heavily on policy actions," he insists. "Carbon credit exchanges are already up and running. Still, the capabilities of new technologies will play a critical role."

Drivers of innovation in carbon management:
In the US--the second-largest producer of GHGs in the world after China, and the largest in World 1--transportation and electricity generation account for more than 60% of emissions. Spector explains that in order to stabilize and reduce GHGs, emerging technologies must target these sectors with CO2 capture and storage (CCS) systems, renewable energy sources, GHG emissions-reduction technology for the transportation sector, and energy-efficiency technologies--especially building insulation, air conditioning, lighting, and water heating.

Driving advances in technologies for these sectors are a number of factors, including:

  •     Climate change. Growing concerns about the impacts of climate change have propelled the issue of GHG emissions to the fore of public, political, and scientific debate.
  •     Transparency. Consumers increasingly expect transparency from companies about their products and processes. Disclosure of GHG emissions would incentivize companies, and even governments, to employ new technologies to reduce emissions.
  •     Growing GDPs. As more World 2 countries industrialize and GDPs (and consumer incomes) climb, more consumers will live energy-intensive, GHG-generating lives--and the need for mitigation technologies will intensify.
  •     Regulatory pressure. Governments and governance bodies concerned about climate change are constantly creating new standards and regulations for GHG emissions.

Challenges ahead:
Although mitigating greenhouse gases is an objective supported by governments and individuals around the globe, many obstacles--social, environmental, economic, and political--are slowing the progress of new technologies for reducing GHG emissions. These include:

  •     Safety and environmental impacts. Because many of the technologies involved in CO2 sequestration are relatively new, there is a great deal of concern that systems for managing CO2 could have unintended environmental and safety consequences. Questions persist about the risks of geologically sequestered CO2, which could leak out over time.
  •     Proven efficacy. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects have a long way to go to prove their efficacy. The largest CO2 sequestration, Norway's Sleipner gas field, only injects about one million tons of CO2 per year into an undersea reservoir. However, necessary levels of carbon abatement will require global CCS systems to account for 3.1 gigatons of CO2 abatement by 2030. New CCS technologies capable of capturing and storing much larger amounts of CO2, or distributed CCS systems throughout the energy and industry sectors, are required for CCS to make an impact.
  •     Affordability. Managing GHGs will require solutions that both governments and industry can afford. Some carbon-management technologies (such as a green building solutions, transportation fuel efficiency, and efficient industrial systems) actually have negative costs because they save money by requiring fewer energy inputs. CCS systems, biofuels, fuel switching and other carbon-abatement measures have increased costs compared to business-as-usual scenarios for global industry.

Forecasts:
Global management of ever-increasing GHG emissions will require new technologies for CCS, reductions of energy use, and increases in efficiency. Centralized electricity generation--especially coal-fired--will continue to play a significant role, along with petroleum-based transportation, but eventually, technology adoption will stabilize and in some cases reduce demands for GHG-emitting activity.

  •     CO2 capture and storage (CCS). According to the US Department of Energy, "Even under the most optimistic scenarios for energy efficiency gains and the greater use of low- or no-carbon fuels, sequestration will likely be essential if the world is to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases at acceptable levels." This is because the world will continue to rely on fossil fuels, especially coal, through 2050 and beyond. CCS can be viewed as an enabling technology that allows the continued use of fossil fuel energy while reducing the overall negative environmental impact compared to business as usual without CCS.
  •     Measure, monitor, and verify (MMV). Long-term maintenance of CCS storage sites will require new MMV technologies and measurement protocols in order to effectively track the efficacy and safety of CO2 storage. Accurate data will enable scientists to focus and advance technology and provide evidence for sequestration policy.
  •     Reductions in transportation emissions. Mass adoption of plug-in hybrid vehicles and second-generation biofuels could significantly reduce the combustion of fossil fuels and cut GHG emissions.

Learn more:
To talk to Kyle Spector about the business implications and other ideas surrounding the concept of carbon management, contact Hope Gibbs, Social Technologies' leader of corporate communications: hope.gibbs @ socialtechnologies.com.

Kyle Spector: Futurist
Kyle Spector is a writer/analyst for the Global Lifestyles and Technology Foresight multiclient projects. He also contributes content to a wide variety of custom consulting projects. He also manages and edits S)T's blog, ChangeWaves. Kyle holds a BA degree in international affairs from The George Washington University, where he focused on global conflict and security issues in addition to Arabic and Hebrew language and culture.

About Social Technologies:
Social Technologies is a global research and consulting firm specializing in the integration of foresight, strategy, and innovation. With offices in Washington DC, London, Shanghai and Tel Aviv, Social Technologies serves the world's leading companies, government agencies, and nonprofits. A holistic, long-term perspective combined with actionable business solutions helps clients mitigate risk, make the most of opportunities, and enrich decision-making. For information, please visit http://www.socialtechnologies.com, their blog: http://changewaves.socialtechnologies.com, and their newsletter: http://www.socialtechnologies.com/changewaves.

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