The level of greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere means "we are already on an unsustainable pathway for our human civilisation", according to David King, founder and chairman of the Centre for Climate Repair at Cambridge University.
This means radical steps must to be pursued. And these include attempting to refreeze polar ice caps and seeking to stabilise atmospheric conditions with a view to returning to normal weather patterns – unlike the climate-driven extreme events in the northern hemisphere this summer, he told a sustainability conference on Wednesday.
Returning the planet’s biosystems and ecosystems to “something what they were like some 200 or 300 years ago” is necessary as critical tipping points have already been passed, Mr King told the Business Show’s Virtual Sustainability Summit.
The only way to reverse some of these catastrophic patterns and regain some stability in climate and weather systems is to deploy “a strategy we call reduce, remove, repair”, he said.
This required rapid progress to net-zero global emissions: massive, active removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. And, he added, “we refreeze the Earth’s poles and glaciers to correct the wild weather patterns, slow down ice melt, stabilise sea level and break feedback loops that relentlessly accelerate global warming”.
Part of this is about investigating whether clouds over the Arctic could be expanded or whitened to reflect back more sunlight. This would reduce the melting of sea ice in the region which is experiencing the fastest warming in the northern hemisphere.
Mr King said he had changed his view on the case for carbon removal in response to real evidence that massive removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and deployment of other storage solutions could help humanity find a survivable way out of this crisis.
He stressed approaches being investigated are based on imitating nature, in the hope of removing 30 billion tonnes of CO2 annually. He estimated it would be the end of the century before carbon levels could be brought down to a safe level.
The former president of Ireland and Professor for Climate Justice at Trinity College Dublin, Mary Robinson, said it is really important that the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change came out in August when the northern hemisphere was suffering terrible effects of climate disruption; the kind of continuing effects on developing countries "that we don't pay enough attention to". This also served to underline how urgent the problem are, she added.
Mrs Robinson reiterated the importance for all elements of society acting together including business and continuing the fight against the deepening crisis.
“Collective behaviour is going to have to change dramatically if we are going to have a safe world. Consumerism, the buying and throwing away – that has to change. We must have every country seriously ambitious about its nationally determined contribution [at COP26 in November],” she said.
Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan said Ireland "can and could go quicker" on halving its carbon emissions and achieving net-zero emissions, though a 50 per cent reduction over a decade had never been achieved before anywhere in the world.
It will be hugely challenging and much hinged on implementation, but will create a better and more secure economy, while addressing also the country’s biodiversity and water pollution crisis, he said. Meeting the 2030 target would then enable the country to push on to achieve net zero by 2050 at the latest, Mr Ryan predicted.