Climate protection: Renewable energies are trumps

Researchers are developing economically and ecologically sound strategies against climate change

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One of the main causes of climate change is the high CO2 content of the atmosphere. If you want to do effective climate protection, you have to reduce this carbon footprint. But how can this be achieved without putting the economy under pressure? Do you even have to decide for one of the two goals: climate protection or economic growth? By no means, my scientist from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). They have developed a model that demonstrates an economically justifiable solution to the climate problem.

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Their optimal economic mix of possibilities, however, only works - so the crucial result of the study - if from now until 2040 invested significantly more in renewable energy than previously planned: ten to thirty times it should already be.

In addition to renewable energy sources such as sun, wind or water, the scientists around Ottmar Edenhofer and Hermann Held investigated a number of other options that could help reduce the impact on the atmosphere. This also includes the possibility of increasing the use of nuclear energy and the options of increasing the efficiency of existing energy use or of sinking carbon dioxide into the deep ocean or other geological formations. In addition to the risk factors regarding efficacy and side effects, the economic costs also played a role in their assessment.

Important for the model was that the scientists included in their scenarios for the first time the cost savings resulting from the technical progress. Edenhofer and Held define the goal of their model as the avoidance of dangerous climate change: in this term, they followed the recommendations of the European Commission: it becomes dangerous when global warming deviates more than two degrees Celsius from the pre-industrial level. display

Capture CO2

It is clear to the scientists: in the long term, there is no way around renewable energy. However, it would have to be invested several times in these new techniques, so that the bill also merges from an economic point of view. Unless renewable energies unleashed the potential for cost reduction resulting from technological advances, the model sees a transitional solution as a temporary capture of CO2 in geological formations, such as in boisterous oilfields.

The sinking in the deep ocean, which has also been discussed, is no longer taken into consideration even as a stopgap solution, since above all the risk to the environment seems too great. Edenhofer and Held also make it clear that, from a scientific point of view, the use of atomic energy is by no means necessary in order to get a grip on the problem of global warming: an exit from nuclear energy is entirely justified in economic terms.

No stalemate in climate policy

All in all, the results of the project surprised even the researchers themselves. As late as May 2003, at the beginning of the project, there was a stalemate in climate policy. Climate protectors and economists faced seemingly incompatible goals. With their climate and energy scenarios, which for the first time also include technical progress, including the respective cost situation, the scientists were able to show that the costs of some options for action were far too high. The stalemate, according to Edenhofer and Held, has thus dissolved, and hitherto seemingly unchangeable positions are far less unforgiving, even on the basis of scientific findings. The climate debate is increasingly gaining in creative power.

(idw - Volkswagen Foundation, 17.09.2007 - DLO)