How to Address Climate Change 40 Times Better

I’m constantly amazed by teams all over the world tackling climate change. This week’s climate story brings us all the way to Hawaii. Are you thinking about lush forests with waterfalls and beautiful sand beaches? Today we are looking at a different scenery:

North Kohala had suffered two centuries of logging that destroyed the native tropical sandalwood forest, and subsequent cattle grazing had denuded the land and degraded the soil.

This is the area the startup Terraformation chose for their pilot project. The goal? Reforesting native forests all over the world to reverse climate change.

Their approach includes planning, training, equipment, and finding revenue opportunities with partner sites all over the world. Terraformation researched bottlenecks for forest restoration and developed a set of solutions:

On the left you see the off-grid seed laboratory. It can be used to dry, process and store seeds. In the center is a complete greenhouse with pots, trays and irrigation to grow seedlings. On the right side is a solar powered reverse osmosis system. It provides fresh water for young forest plants. And the best thing? They all fit in a shipping container and can be used off-grid, anywhere in the world. With these solutions Terraformation wants to assure long-term success:

Restoration means a lot more than putting trees in the ground. It’s about bringing back complex native ecosystems, starting with the right species and scaling up with the right tools.

What does all this have to do with climate change? We have to cut emissions in half by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius. A new report from America All In outlines a roadmap: Drastically cut emissions for electricity and transportation. Lower emissions for buildings and industries such as steel and concrete. We have to limit the amount of new greenhouse gases going in the atmosphere.

At the same time we have to capture existing greenhouse gases. Nature based solutions such as re-growing native forests are on the forefront of these capturing efforts. Why native forests? They store carbon in leaves, tree trunks, roots, and in the soil. A study published in Nature found natural forests are 40 times better than plantations at storing carbon.

Terraformation’s goal to reforest native forests is a great approach. We need to re-create these thriving ecosystems at a large scale to draw in significant amounts of carbon.

Terraformation’s founder has a proven expertise in running and scaling successful companies. Combined with access to a huge amount of funding, their company sounds extremely promising. I hope they will be able to help locals all over the world grow and maintain native forests. This is yet another startup I can’t wait to hear more success stories from!

Ambitious Corporate Climate Action

Imagine sitting in a minibus while the radio plays the latest Bollywood songs. Through the open window you see palm trees rustling in the wind, and a beautifully decorated, sand- colored temple. This week’s climate story brings us to Rajasthan in India, where India’s largest zinc-lead mining company Hindustan Zinc Limited has its operations.

But let me back up… We all know that we have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions drastically. But how do we do that? This is where the Science Based Targets initiative comes into play. They are helping companies to assess and then lower their emissions.

Greenhouse gas emissions must drop to net-zero by 2050. We have limited time for action and the private sector has a crucial role to play – every sector in every market must transform

This inspiring partnership between CDP, the United Nations Global Compact, the World Resources Institute, and the World Wide Fund for Nature tackles ambitious corporate climate action. This is how it works:

First, a company commits to the process and develops an emission reduction target. This can look something like this: “We commit to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 from a 2019 base year.” The target then gets submitted, validated, and publicly announced. In the third step, company wide emissions are reported and yearly progress is tracked.

Now back to our story in India. Over 1300 companies from all over the world are taking climate action and Hindustan Zinc is one of the case studies from the science-based targets initiative. They developed an emission reduction target and specific solutions how to get there. Here are some of the steps Hindustan Zinc is taking:

  • Reduce power consumption
  • Improve energy efficiency
  • Establish more efficient cooling methods
  • Increase responsible waste management
  • Become a water-positive company
  • Shift towards green power generation such as a waste heat recovery boiler, wind power plants and solar power

Hindustan Zinc will cut their 2016 greenhouse gas emissions by 14% by 2026. They also commit to cut indirect emissions such as purchased goods, travel and distribution by 20% in the same timeframe. Like other smart companies, Hindustan Zinc realized that climate action helps the company:

“The reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will help to reduce the company’s overall energy consumption, safeguard its future, and improve its brand value”

What I love most about this case study is the realization that climate solutions and running a successful business go hand in hand. Let’s hope they inspire more companies to commit to drastic emission reductions.

How Do We Keep Track of Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

You guessed it: This week’s climate story leads us all the way to outer space. But let me back up…

Under the Paris Agreement most countries announced to cut down greenhouse gas emissions. Norway, for example, wants to reduce emissions by 55% below 1990 levels by 2030. Each country set their own specific target. But is each country on track? How do we know how much greenhouse gas emissions a country is emitting?

To calculate yearly emissions each country completes a complex inventory. It follows a bottom up approach of counting emissions for different sectors such as transportation, farming, industrial sites etc. for each region. The regions and sectors are then added up to understand national emissions. Unfortunately, there are many uncertainties and unknowns with this bottom up approach.

In recent years satellites have been developed to measure emissions from space. This top down approach has also many uncertainties. For example, one big challenge is to separate human made emissions from natural occurring emissions. So how do we best calculate a county’s yearly emissions? Both bottom up and top down approaches have pros and cons, and it looks like a combination is the way to get to the most accurate numbers.

OK, so let’s get back to outer space. Imagine a group of satellites circling the earth and measuring accurate real time emissions. This is what the European Space Agency is planning to do with its new Sentinel satellites. They are planning to launch the satellites in 2025 to map global carbon dioxide emissions. This is how it works:

Different spectrometers measure atmospheric carbon dioxide. The data is then processed to better understand emissions caused by human activities. The goal is to understand small scale regional emissions as well as overall emissions of big cities. This is how ESA puts it:

  • Detect emitting hot spots, such as megacities & power plants
  • Monitor hot spot emissions to assess emission changes
  • Assess emission changes against local reduction targets
  • Assess the national emissions and changes in 5-year time steps

Decarbonizing our economies is an enormous undertaking. To get there in time we need to get all the help we can get. Let’s hope the Sentinel sensors can help us reach and exceed our emission targets and motivate us to substantially reduce emissions.

More Than Just a Snack – How Seaweed Tackles Climate Change

Imagine you are swimming in the ocean and something soft touches your leg. Startled you take a look and realize it was just some seaweed… You guessed it, this week’s climate story is about seaweed.

Did you know last Thursday was Seaweed Day? Lloyd’s Register Foundation and the United Nations Global Compact launched a seaweed manifesto. During the launch, short, inspiring talks from companies, non-profits, research institutions and UN agencies highlighted how important seaweed is.

Besides being a sustainable option for food and feed, packaging and even biofuels, seaweed could also play an important role in capturing greenhouse gases. One of the speakers at Seaweed Day was Jorunn Skjermo, a scientist at SINTEF Ocean in Norway. During her talk she covered three ways in which seaweed is beneficial to the climate.

The first way is replacing fossil-based products like fuel or plastics with seaweed-based fuels and plastic. By replacing fossil-based products with sustainable alternatives, a lot of greenhouse gas emissions can be avoided.

Her second point is about food. We need protein in our diet and meat production has a big carbon footprint. Vegetarian options such a soy protein have a much lower carbon footprint. Seaweed has by far the lowest carbon footprint. It grows in the ocean without the need of deforestation, watering, or fertilizing. Besides being an extremely sustainable food option, this superfood is packed with protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

The third way seaweed is beneficial to the climate is by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. This is how it works:

On the left side you see how carbon dioxide gets absorbed by the ocean surface. In the water, seaweed transforms carbon dioxide into oxygen, just like land plants. On top of that, seaweed stores carbon dioxide in its biomass. Pictured on the right side is what happens when seaweed dies off. It sinks to the bottom of the ocean, where it stays for hundreds of years, storing the carbon dioxide.

During her talk Jorunn showed a map of Norway with a small rectangle off the coast. The size of that rectangle was a 20.000 square kilometer area. A seaweed farm that size could offset Norway’s yearly greenhouse gas emissions.

A restored ocean and seaweed farming forests should be considered carbon sinks to mitigate climate change

How would that work in practice? I envision offshore seaweed farms that produce seaweed for food, feed, packaging or other uses. Seaweed forests clean the ocean and make the water less acidic. If a percentage of the seaweed is cut so it can sink, big amounts of carbon dioxide could be stored.

Seaweed day was packed with insightful talks, from selling seaweed snacks in Japan to blue bonds in Portugal. What I liked most about the seaweed manifesto is how teams from all over the world worked together. It lists milestones and success criteria for a successful seaweed industry. Let’s hope we can accelerate pilot projects and build more seaweed farms soon so we can restore ocean health and mitigate climate change.

How Drones Help Tackle Climate Change

A while ago I wrote about an amazing project that uses drones to re-grow mangrove trees in Myanmar. The world urgently needs a range of solutions to offset carbon emissions, and trees play a major role. How do trees tackle climate change? Trees capture carbon dioxide from the air and store it in biomass, roots and soil. According to the Trillion Tree Campaign, global reforestation binds at least a quarter of the annual man-made carbon dioxide emissions.

I love the mangrove project in Myanmar! At the same time I have been reading about our yearly tree losses in North America and Europe. That made me wonder: What are we doing to replant trees closer to home? That’s where the Canadian startup Flash Forest comes into play.

Imagine you are walking through a big, green, majestic forest, breathing in the cool, fresh air. Can you hear the sounds of birds and other forest animals? This week’s climate story brings us to a forest in Canada. Actually, for now, it’s land that recently burnt down in a wildfire. With Flash Forest’s help, hopefully, it will be a forest soon. Flash Forest is a reforestation company that uses drones to reforest areas. This is how it works:

First, the land is mapped to identify where and how to grow a mix of native trees. Then drones drop seed pods in the soil. After planting, the drones monitor the progress and replant spots if necessary.

The seed pods are also designed to store moisture, so the seedlings can survive even with months of drought

What I like most about Flash Forest is their focus on offsetting carbon emissions. Their motto is if we automate deforestation, we should automate re-forestation as well.

All over the world, small startups such as Flash Forest are addressing different solutions to tackle climate change. I hope that adding up all these small projects will make a big difference!