Those who fry the planet and geoengineering

The richest 10% of the population of the planet is responsible for half of all global emissions.

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The previous week, the press disclosed content from a report on climate change, being prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report deals with the impacts of global warming to 1.5º C above pre-industrial levels. According to data obtained by Reuters, if the present rhythm of emissions continues, this limit will be surpassed in 2040 (, with serious impacts in many countries, principally island States and those with low coastlines, as well as probable irreversible damage to coral reefs (which are the first link of the marine food chain) and the thawing of ice in Greenland and the western Antarctic. Although this report is a draft version and the IPCC declared that it could change after revisions pending, the scientific data will not change. What could –and should– change are the proposals that the IPCC makes in the face of this reality.


The Paris agreement on climate change, signed by 197 governments in 2015, established the goal that the increase in global warming should be “well below 2ºC” by 2100. With the data revealed, there is a high risk that this goal will be surpassed long before that date. The only way to avoid this would be to immediately put into effect drastic reductions of greenhouse gasses (GHG) at the global level. The IPCC had already stressed the need for these reductions, but this report proposes, in addition, that it would be necessary to remove the excess CO2 from the atmosphere by other means, such as geoengineering technologies.


The planet climate has already heated 1º C on average over pre-industrial levels, but in fact, more than three-quarters of this happened in the last fifty years, due to the rapid increase of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The greater part of these emissions is generated by industrial economies based on fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal).  The principal emitting activities are from the industry of extraction and production of energy, the agro-industrial food system and uncontrolled urban growth, including the transport that all this involves.


The IPCC is not at present looking at which activities cause these emissions. Supposedly they had already done that in the global evaluation reports that are prepared periodically. The most recent is their Fifth Report that was published in 2014. The next one will be published in 2021.


One aspect of huge relevance that the IPCC does not consider is the enormous inequality that exists among who causes the GHG emissions.  The richest ten per cent of the population of the planet is responsible for half of all global emissions. In the other extreme, 50 per cent of the world population, beginning from the poorest, cause less than 10 per cent of the total emissions. The medium level of emissions generated by a person who is part of the poorest 10% of the world population is sixty times inferior to someone who pertains to the richest 10% (Oxfam, 2015,  According to Kevin Anderson, of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, if the richest people of the planet were to reduce their standard of living to the European average, the emission of greenhouse gasses would be reduced by 30%.


Nonetheless, these data are not considered by the IPCC. Generally, in negotiations on climate change–and also in the IPCC that in the final instance is not only a technical body but also a political one–there is a pact among the governments of the regions that cause the most emissions not to interfere in the gains of the richest segment, including the transnational oil companies, and others that profit from the activities that generate climate chaos.


Instead of this, which would be necessary, the IPCC proposes geo-engineering techniques, such as large bioenergy plantations with systems to capture and store carbon in geological sinks (BECCS). Already in the Fifth Global Report of the IPCC, they incorporated this technique as one of the possible “solutions” for reducing global warming, which motivated much criticism, both from civil society organizations, as well as from scientists, because the demand for land, water and nutrients of the “bioenergy” megaplantations, if they were to truly affect climate change, would be greater than all the land currently used in agriculture. It would then devastatingly compete with food production, displacing farmers and indigenous peoples, with a strong impact on biodiversity.


BECCS, as with all geo-engineering proposals, does nothing to address the causes of climate change–it proposes to remove carbon already emitted–so carbon emissions would continue, generating a captive business for those who sell the technologies to absorb and store carbon. It so happens that these are often the self-same oil companies (Exxon, Shell and others). Companies that, as we explained in an earlier article, even managed to get two of their employees accepted by the IPCC as authors of this report (




(Translated for ALAI by Jordan Bishop)


- Silvia Ribeiro is a researcher with the ETC Group.

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Crisis Ambiental

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