Two broad solutions to climate change might involve mitigation and adaptation.
However, there might also be more specific solutions and strategies to consider for individual countries, States/provinces, cities, and sectors/industries.
There might be personal actions to consider too.
In this guide, we look at how each part (or level) of society might be able to help in addressing emissions and climate change.
Summary – Potential Solutions For Addressing Climate Change
A comprehensive strategy for addressing climate change might involve the following key considerations:
– Being aware of future global warming targets
– Being aware of the potential link between human related greenhouse gas emissions (in particular carbon dioxide) and the recent warming trend
– Being aware of general forecasts and projections for future warming
– Being aware of carbon budgets, and different emission pathways that could lead to different levels of future warming
– Being aware of potential uncertainties with certain aspects of the current climate science, and potential uncertainties and variables in projecting certain aspects of future climate change
– Being aware of the main solutions to address emissions and climate change
i.e. mainly mitigation and adaptation
– Being aware of how reducing total consumption, rate of consumption, and increasing efficiency, could be general solutions to consider alongside key solutions like less carbon intensive energy sources for electricity, and alternative fuel vehicles
– Being aware of the carbon intensity of different energy sources
Fossil fuels (mainly coal) tend to have the highest rates of emissions per kWh of electricity produced
– Being aware that each individual country may face different variables and factors in addressing emissions
Each country has different cumulative, total annual, and also per capita emission contributions.
Examples of the main factors that contribute to country specific carbon footprints might include population size and growth, economic output, and energy and carbon intensity of the economy.
– Being aware that each individual State or Province (within a country) may face different variables and factors in addressing emissions
– Being aware that each individual city may face different variables and factors to consider in addressing emissions
– Being aware that different sectors and industries emit different quantities of each greenhouse gas, and, different sectors and industries in different countries have different variables and factors to consider in addressing emissions
Some experts indicate that the most effective way to decrease emissions might be by investing in stationary power generation, as opposed to transportation
– Being aware that individuals may have different actions they can take to reduce their carbon footprint
– Generally being aware of what a carbon footprint is, and considering the carbon footprint of everyday things
More Information About Climate Change
You can read more generally about some of key aspects of climate change in this separate guide.
Global Warming Target
In terms of what the target for global warming might be, it may be worth being aware that ‘The Paris Agreement’ set a main goal of limiting global average temperature warming to:
Below 2 °C (above pre-industrial levels), and, a recent IPCC report has outlined that there will be more benefits in limiting warming to 1.5 °C and below
In addition to global agreements or pledges for global warming targets, solutions and strategies for addressing climate change at the national, city, sector based, and individual levels might be aligned with contributing to this global goal (whilst also taking into account regional climate conditions).
Potential Link Between Emissions & The Recent Warming Trend
Human related greenhouse gas emissions are claimed to be the primary cause for the recent warming trend on Earth since 1850, and these greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide being the main one, with methane, nitrous oxide, halocarbon gases and black carbon aerosols making up the rest) are claimed to be a primary driver of the climate.
These emissions from human sources mainly come from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas).
Some reports indicate that about 87% of human emissions come from fossil fuels as the primary cause, whilst deforestation is a secondary cause at about 7%.
Global Warming Forecast & Projection
It’s hard to accurately forecast future warming because it depends on a number of variables and uncertainties.
As a result, future projections are seen as a general estimate only.
But, based on current climate policies, emissions and the warming trajectory, future warming might be forecast to be between 2.6 to 5.4 °C at some point in the future.
Carbon Budgets, & Potential Emissions Pathways To Different Levels Of Future Warming
There’s tools that have been developed to better manage or project climate change, although, these tools might be seen as general in nature only, and not definitive.
A ‘carbon budget’ has been developed as a tool to understand how much more greenhouse gases can be emitted before a certain level of global warming is reached.
Additionally, emissions pathways plot what amounts of annual emissions might lead to limiting warming to 1.5 °C or 2 °C, or to exceeding these temperatures.
For example, there are different low emissions, moderate emissions, and high emissions pathways.
And, there’s indications of by what year emissions would need to peak by, how much they need to decrease incrementally each year, until eventually reaching net zero by a certain year.
Read more about emissions pathways in this guide.
Main Solutions For Climate Change – Mitigation, & Adaptation
The main solutions for climate change (and limiting global warming) that get outlined by a range of reports might be:
Mitigation might involve two main solutions:
1. Reaching peak emissions, and then decreasing annual emissions until net zero emissions is reached
There’s a number of ways this might happen
But, reducing the use of carbon intensive energy sources like fossil fuels (particularly coal), and using less carbon intensive energy sources (such as renewables, or nuclear), might be a key solution
Using alternate fuel vehicles (as opposed to traditional internal combustion, petroleum fuel based vehicles) might be another key solution
It may also involve becoming more efficient with energy use, or reducing energy consumption altogether (total consumption, and rate of consumption)
2. Carbon sequestration, and also carbon storage
This involves removing/absorbing carbon from the atmosphere – forests, trees, vegetation, and soil for example can act as a carbon sink
The ocean is also a natural carbon sink
These are essentially geological, biological, or oceanic reservoirs for carbon
There’s also human technology like CCS that involves the capture of carbon, and storing it underground (CCS for example might be used at coal power plants as part of clean coal technology)
Adaptation involves adapting to the potential effects brought about by a changing climate
This might involve a proactive approach of attempting to reduce vulnerability to/reduce the risk of being impacted by the potential effects before they happen
It might also involve offsetting or overcoming any negative impact after they’ve happened (which is more of a reactive approach)
Some reports indicate that developing countries and lower income regions may be most impacted by climate change in some instances, and have the least capacity to adapt to it.
Even if emissions are stabilized relatively soon, global warming [i.e. atmospheric temperature increases] and its effects should last many years [i.e. centuries to millennia], and adaptation would be necessary to the resulting changes in climate.
What About Climate Engineering?
Climate engineering is another potential option to address climate change, that has been mentioned in some reports
But, it might not be considered a main solution alongside mitigation or adaptation at this stage
science.com.au defines solar geo-engineering as ‘… large-scale engineered modifications to limit the amount of sunlight reaching the earth, in an attempt to offset the effects of ongoing greenhouse gas emissions’
wikipedia.org also mentions: ‘Most experts and major reports advise against relying on climate engineering techniques as a main solution to global warming, in part due to the large uncertainties over effectiveness and side effects [… but the risk should be weight up against the potential risk of global warming]’
Considering Potential Tradeoffs In Pursuing Different Climate Change Solutions
It’s worth mentioning that different potential solutions to climate change come with different potential tradeoffs.
As one example, in electricity generation, clean energy taxes may lead to less affordable electricity prices in some instances, and clean coal technology may make coal energy more costly.
As another example, in transport, electric cars might not always have a lower carbon footprint than some other types of vehicles, and they may also have their own general drawbacks to consider.
Some reports indicate that the actual impact of certain tradeoffs may depend on how solutions are implemented, and how the overall climate change strategy is managed.
[Each solution may impacts the other, and carry …] ‘associated risks, costs and benefits’ (science.org.au)
[Although there are trade offs with mitigation and adaptation to climate change …] the total number of possible synergies exceeds trade off when considering energy demand, energy supply and land (although, their net effect will depend on the pace and magnitude of changes, the composition of the mitigation portfolio and the management of the transition) (report.ipcc.ch)
National/Country Level Solutions For Climate Change
Different Considerations & Solutions For Each Individual Country
Ultimately, the factors and variables that each country has to consider for emissions and climate change are different
For this reason, each country or region will need to assess their situation individually, and have their own individual strategy and solutions (at least in terms of how they implement them, and the timeline on which they implement them).
Different Factors & Variables For Each Country To Consider
Examples of different factors and variables between countries might include:
– Emissions profiles
Such as each country’s cumulative emissions over time, total annual emissions, per capita emissions, and so on
Also, what % of all emissions come from each sector or industry
– Being a developed vs developing country
Some countries are more developed and/or have higher income levels to implement climate solutions
Other countries are less developed and/or have lower income levels to implement emissions and climate solutions
Developing countries may take longer to peak their emissions than developed countries.
Developing countries may also be able to take note of emissions strategies that have worked for developed countries.
– General interests & priorities
Countries also have different interests and priorities when it comes to their economy, the environment, society, and so on.
For example, countries with an economy that isn’t as strong/stable or advanced as other countries may have a priority placed on economic development than anything else.
Main Solutions For Countries
General solutions suggested by various reports might include:
– Peaking emissions by a specific year, and eventually getting to ‘net zero’
This might involve setting emissions targets, amongst other things
[Setting emissions targets for each country in the future …] involves knowing what your baseline year is, and knowing what current rate of emissions are, amongst other factors
– Focussing on the sectors and industries that make up the highest % of emissions, as well as the ones where the most effective reduction of emissions can be achieved
– Considering meta factors for countries
The main influences on carbon footprints include population, economic output, and energy and carbon intensity of the economy (wikipedia.org)
So, these factors might be considered in an overall carbon strategy
– Considering how climate policy and other ‘government tools’ might help with addressing emissions (whilst also considering potential tradeoffs of using these tools)
Example Of A Country, & Their Potential Future Emissions Target
From environment.gov.au, using Australia as an example of future emissions targets:
Australia will reduce emissions to 26-28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030.
This target represents a 50-52 per cent reduction in emissions per capita and a 64-65 per cent reduction in the emissions intensity of the economy between 2005 and 2030.
More information on Australia’s potential 2030 emissions target is available at environment.gov.au
You can also see how a country like Australia might measure and compare their emission target at climatecouncil.org.au
Countries That Emit The Most Greenhouse Gases
We summarise the countries that emit the most greenhouse gases across several indicators in a separate guide
As a summary:
– Cumulative emissions
The US is the current leader for cumulative emissions throughout history
There could be a case made though that cumulative emission leaders need to do their part to help absorb or sequester carbon already in the atmosphere, as carbon dioxide might stay in the atmosphere for a long time after it’s emitted
But obviously, cumulative emissions reflect past behavior more than current behavior, where annual emissions are a more accurate indicator of current contribution to climate change
– Annual total emissions
China is the current annual total emissions leader, with essentially double the emissions of the US in second place
– Per capita emissions
Different countries may rank higher for per capita emissions depending on population size and emissions in a given year
More Information On Emissions In The US, & China
Summary Of Greenhouse Gas Emissions In The US
Summary Of Greenhouse Gas Emissions In China
In those guide, we list the industries/sectors that are responsible for most of the US’ and China’s emissions.
We also mention how coal as an energy source is responsible for a lot of China’s emissions right now.
More Information On Global Emissions
Summary Of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Globally
Countries That Are Home To Top Emitting Cities Globally
Another measure that may be looked at is to see how many of the top emitting cities in the world are located in a particular country
Read more about the top emitting cities in the world in this guide
Countries Doing Their ‘Fair Share’ To Address Their Emissions Compared To Other Countries
Some reports have country by country ratings, which attempt to measure/assess which countries are doing their ‘fair share’ to address their emissions.
This might be a way to make higher emitting countries more accountable i.e. the more a country emits, the more they be required to do to do their ‘fair share’ to address that
These ratings may also help identify which countries’ efforts are ‘compatible’ or ‘insufficient’ to varying extents to keep warming below a certain temperature.
For example, climateactiontracker.org has ratings that identify something similar to what we’ve explained above
As a paraphrased summary of their report and data from 2019:
They list countries as being ‘Critically Insufficient’, ‘Highly Insufficient’, ‘Insufficient’, and ‘Showing Compatible Effort’ with showing fair share effort or actions consistent to hold warming below 1.5 or 2 degrees (pre industrial levels)
Countries in the ‘Critically Insufficient’ range might allow warming to exceed 4 degrees celsius, and include Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, USA, Ukraine.
Countries rated as ‘Highly Insufficient’ might allow warming to fall between 3 degrees to 4 degrees celsius, and include Argentina, Canada, Chile, China, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, United Arab Emirates.
Countries showing effort compatible with warming to 1.5 degrees celsius or lower include Morocco, and The Gambia.
Read more in the climateactiontracker.org report
Tracking Countries’ Emission Levels, & ‘Effort’ To Address Emissions
Some organisations also track each countries’ annual emissions, what level of warming their annual emissions may lead to, and also what efforts they’ve made to reduce or ‘peak’ emissions.
City Level Solutions For Climate Change
Cities are where a large proportion of the human population live, and, as a result, are responsible for a significant amount of emissions.
It makes sense then that major cities within a country are where significant focus can be applied when it comes to assessing and addressing a country’s emissions.
But, there’s also different types of cities to consider – producer cities vs consumer cities are one example.
We discuss emissions from cities, and how cities might reduce emissions in a separate guide.
Should Climate Change & Emissions Be Addressed On The Country Level, Or City Level?
It might be useful to do both.
When comparing emission data and trends between cities and countries, there’s some overlap in results, but there’s also some differences
It might be useful to address climate change and emissions on the country level because:
– National governments can implement national policies and strategies
– Outside of CBD, inner city, and urban areas, countries also include rural areas and other areas (that aren’t located in or near cities)
It might be useful to address climate change and emissions on the city level because:
– It can help identify and target specific geographic locations where emissions might be significant, and strategies might be most effective
– Local governments can implement policies and strategies specifically for the city. State and provincial governments may also play a role here
– When we look at the global top emitting cities list, some top emitting cities are located in countries that aren’t top emitting countries.
South Korea, the Country Of Singapore and Japan are just a few potential examples of countries.
So, focussing on cities in these instances ensures that emissions in these locations are given their necessary attention.
– Some major cities around the world have already had some success with peaking and decreasing emissions
Sector & Industry Based Solutions For Climate Change
We’ve written about sector and industry based emissions in these guides:
Sectors & Industries That Emit The Most Greenhouse Gases
How Different Sectors & Industries Can Address Emissions
As a brief summary:
Different sectors and industries emit different %’s of a country or city’s total emissions
Different sectors and industries emit different amounts of each major greenhouse gas (agriculture for example might emit more methane and nitrous oxide from fertilizers, and livestock)
Some sectors/industries provide a carbon sink (in the case of forests and vegetation for land use and forestry for example).
Apart from reducing total consumption and consumption rate, and increasing efficiency of production or consumption, two examples of major solutions in key sectors/industries might be substituting fossil fuels and coal as energy sources with cleaner energy sources, and, considering sustainable transport solutions, such as substituting petroleum based transport fuels.
We may also consider the role and impact Artificial Intelligence technology and systems can play in reducing emissions and decreasing energy use across various sectors
How Individuals Can Help With Climate Change
We’ve written guides about individuals, carbon footprints, and personal actions people might consider:
What Is A Sustainable Personal Carbon Footprint To Aim For?
High, Moderate & Low Impact Actions For Individuals To Reduce Their Carbon Footprint.
As a summary, emissions for individuals may be related to these key areas:
Size of family, and how families live
Lifestyle choices – total consumption, and resource intensity of consumption
The energy sources and electricity we use
The buildings we live and work in
The transport we use
The foods we eat
The products and services we use
1. Various ‘Better Meets Reality’ guides
3. IPCC Fifth Assessment Report – http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/SYR_AR5_FINAL_full_wcover.pdf
4. http://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_spm_final.pdf (‘Summary For Policy Makers’ IPCC Special Report)