Geoscience solutions for net zero

Counting down to COP26

In November 2021, the UK will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow. The BGS will join UKRI and NERC colleagues to highlight the UK’s role in climate action, play a key role in net zero discussions, alongside clean growth, and demonstrate where UK geoscientific research and innovation can assist emerging climate action.  

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BGS is active across a number of geological research areas that are contributing towards achieving net zero. Source: Pexels.

In 2018, the UK Government set a target of achieving carbon neutrality, or ‘net zero’, by 2050 (2045 in Scotland). This will require a significant reduction of existing emissions and the removal of the remaining positive balance from the atmosphere.

The United Nations (UN) have held an annual climate change conference since 1995. At these ‘Conferences of the Parties’, or COP, thousands of delegates, including heads of state and climate experts, meet to agree coordinated and collective action to tackle climate change.

The Climate Change Conference of the Parties is meeting for the 26th time on 1–12 November 2021 at the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow. This event is known as COP26 and it is the first time that the UK has hosted the main event.

The UK’s presidency is in partnership with Italy, who will host preparatory events in the leadup including a youth event and the pre-COP summit.

What is the significance of the summit?

At COP21 in 2015, leaders committed to the ‘Paris Agreement’ — the first international climate agreement. They said they would work together to ensure that the average global temperature does not rise more than 2℃ above pre-industrial levels, with the aim of limiting the average increase to 1.5℃. Additionally, they agreed to increase their efforts to adapt to climate change impacts, invest in climate-resilient development and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Evaluations were planned at five-year intervals to assess the collective progress of the parties. COP26 is an opportunity for these world leaders to come together and demonstrate to each other how the Paris Agreement is being implemented. Countries will also be asked to submit new long-term climate goals.

As of December 2020, 189 countries have signed up to the Paris Agreement.

Geoscience has a fundamental role to play in helping to both mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Our understanding of climatic change over time is partly driven by studying the information held in rocks and fossils. Understanding change in the geological past helps us to place current climatic trends into context.

The urgent need to mitigate climate change is driving the demand to decarbonise energy, transport and industry across the globe. The subsurface has a major role in helping to deliver this transition.

  • Geological formations can be used for the storage of carbon dioxide (CO2) captured from industrial processes.
  • Geothermal energy from the Earth can be used to provide sustainable, zero-carbon heat for our homes.
  • The hydrogen needed to provide future low-carbon power for heavy industry and transport can be stored safely in the subsurface.
  • The critical raw materials needed to meet the rapidly growing demand for renewable energy technology and zero-emission electric vehicles come from mineral deposits around the world.
  • New projects to generate low-carbon electricity from wind energy or nuclear power rely on detailed knowledge of underlying geology to ensure these vital facilities operate safely and sustainably.

 

Climate change contributes to wider environmental changes affecting our groundwater, coasts, soils and landscape. It can also result in an increased risk of geohazards, such as landslides, sinkholes and flooding. Geological research increases our understanding of environmental change and associated geohazards and informs adaptation measures aimed at improving societal resilience.

 

How BGS research is helping to reach net zero

We are working on a number of geological solutions to help meet net zero:  

Alongside the energy transition required for net zero, infrastructure and biological systems are changing as a result of global temperature rises. Our research will model changes associated with our landscape, coasts, soils and groundwater and help us understand what society must do to protect valuable resources like land, soil and water.

Find out more through our Discovering Geology resources

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Climate change

Climate is the pattern of weather of an area averaged over many years. We can only show whether climate change has occurred after decades of careful measurements and analysis.

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Understanding carbon capture and storage

Carbon capture and storage involves capturing carbon dioxide at emission sources, such as power stations, then transporting and storing it underground.

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