Triaging our efforts to achieve global CO2 reduction targets

By Sanjiv Save, PhD | April 1, 2021

While we’ve set ambitious global COreduction targets, there’s very little demonstration of a well-orchestrated and unified approach. So, the question remains: how do we overcome this multi-dimensional challenge? In my opinion it’s simple, we reduce its dimensionality. I call this “triaging.” While you may be familiar with the term in a hospital setting, it essentially involves looking at the various scenarios (and potential roadblocks) and prioritizing them in terms of what’s most needed, what will achieve the greatest impact, and what’s most likely to achieve success. This, of course, must be actioned at the global level to be successful.

Triaging is the process of determining priorities and creating an action plan that allocates resources. This is the approach we must take to achieve global CO2 reduction goals. The process begins with revisiting the two-fold fundamental issues and challenges we have in front of us: science and technology, as well as policies and economics—both of which can impede implementation efforts.

When it comes to science and technology for the reduction of CO2, there’s a broad focus on capture (from point source or direct air), utilization and/or conversion, and storage/sequestration. While there continue to be advances made on all fronts, the link to policy, geography, and economics needs better triaging. We’ll be much more effective at implementing carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) if we take a much more scaled and rapid approach. To give you some perspective, a commercial project of any significant size can currently take three to six years to implement, when started from scratch. In this scenario, time presents the most significant challenge—a barrier that will prevent us from achieving 2030 targets.

Beyond overcoming implementation time cycles, countries and organizations will also have to overcome challenges related to policy and economics, and by that, I mean the lack of alignment that can exist between government and industry. It’s my belief that the best way to move this needle will be to attack the high-density point source of emission, where it’s slightly easier to deal with economics, purely because of scale. To think globally, we must act locally. Consider this approach as a great example: bringing Canada’s and Australia’s technological resources and advancement to China and India, helping to move energy production from coal to natural gas.

Completely eliminating fossil fuels will take time. A managed transition and approach (triage) will be the key to reducing—and eventually eliminating—our carbon footprint. As global citizens, we must look at how we can effectively triage government and organizational policies and goals, as well as technology development to implement better, cleaner solutions. We can do so by determining the rate limiting step, the key to getting as close to, if not achieving, our carbon emission target.