What to do?

There is good potential for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases to levels that nature and people can tolerate. Most important is to reduce the use of fossil fuels.

       Photo: Dmitri Popov CC-BY-SA

Energy efficiency - Getting more from less

It is often cheaper, and above all more environmentally friendly, to use energy more efficiently than it is to build new power stations.

Using energy more efficiently is purely to the good, since it means getting more useful work out of the same amount of energy. By taking measures to reduce the current wastage we can considerably reduce energy use, and hence air pollution.

According to the EU Commission there is great potential for improving the efficiency of energy use within the EU - it has been estimated that around one-fifth could be saved at no additional cost, if the right incentives are used.


       Photo: Oregon Department of Transportation CC-BY

Increase the use of renewable energy

Major environmental gains can be made by switching from fossil to renewable energy sources. We need to make use of just one ten-thousandth of the incident solar radiation to meet the world's entire energy requirements.

For example, the total current global energy use could be provided by solar panels covering 10 per cent of the area of the Sahara. The amount of solar energy stored by green plants through photosynthesis is ten times greater than the total domestic energy use worldwide, and we currently only use 1 per cent of the solar energy that is captured by photosynthesis.


       Photo: Pati Gaitan CC-BY

Stop deforestation

Changes in land use (mainly deforestation) over the last 20 years are estimated to have contributed roughly one quarter of the total emissions of carbon dioxide. The planting of trees is sometimes proposed as an alternative to reducing consumption of fossil fuels in order to curb the rise in levels of greenhouse gases. The potential is quite limited however. More important is to stop the ongoing deforestation.



       Photo: Vit Hladik CC-BY-SA

Carbon capture and storage (CCS)

Technology is being developed to trap and store carbon dioxide underground, for example in empty gas and oil deposits. However, it must be considered doubtful whether such methods can ever compete with measures that are able to replace fossil fuels - especially as these measures often lead to major secondary benefits such as health improvements, since they also reduce emissions of many other air pollutants. (For a critical assessment, see our report Last Gasp of the Coal Industry; PDF, 1.3MB)


       Photo: Frank Schwichtenberg CC-0

Can we afford to stop global warming?

The answer is yes. The 2007 assessment report from IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) demonstrates that we can easily afford to stop climate change. The economic impact is spread over many years. The strictest goal, limiting concentrations of greenhouse gases to 445 parts per million in the atmosphere, would brake annual GDP growth rates by less than 0.12 per cent a year.



       Photo: Kintaiyo CC-BY

How can it be done?

How the changes should be achieved is a political question. Apart from drawing up legislation that sets maximum permissible emissions from various sources, the politicians could agree to financial incentives, such as taxing air pollution, which would make it profitable for companies and individuals to act more environmentally friendly.



>> Further reading

Reducing emissions. Chapter 8 in the secretariat's book Air and the Environment (2004).

Renewable energy in the European Union. Fact sheet from the secretariat, September 2005.

Energy [R]evolution: A sustainable World Energy Outlook. Study by Greenpeace International and EREC (European Renewable Energy Council).

Vision 2050. A NGO vision for a transition of the energy supply and demand for the 25 EU countries with phase-out of fossil and nuclear energy over a 50-year period.