Hohlwegler, P. (2019). Moral Conflicts of several “Green” terrestrial Negative Emission Technologies regarding the Human Right to Adequate Food

Full Citation: Hohlwegler, P. (2019). Moral Conflicts of several “Green” terrestrial Negative Emission Technologies regarding the Human Right to Adequate Food–A Review. Advances in Geosciences, 49, 37-45.

Abstract: In 2015, 195 nations of the World signed upon the Paris Agreement, thereby agreeing to do their best to limit average global warming to a maximum of 2 °C until 2100. This would prevent great damage to many ecosystems and would further reduce storms and droughts. Current efforts, however, to mitigate climate change are not enough and are likely to result in  an average warming of about 3 °C until 2100. To still achieve the 2°C target set in the Paris Agreement, it seems necessary to alter the climate in a technical way. There are two kinds of technologies—Solar Radiation Management (SRM) and Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR)—each comprising several methods. SRM methods work against global warming but do not combat the source of climate change which are human-made greenhouse gas emissions, especially carbon dioxide (CO2). Not doing something against the source of global warming, however, is dangerous because warming is not the only consequence of climate change that might affect life on Earth in a negative way. Oceans are getting more acidic and become dead zones. Air quality decreases, thereby increasing the likeliness of diseases. Therefore, it would be better to combat climate change at its source. CDR methods do this by reducing the concentration of the most important greenhouse gas—CO2—in the air. Many CDR methods further rely on naturally occurring processes, like photosynthesis and the weathering of rocks. Due to these reasons, they may be labelled as “green” methods. Even though such “green” methods may appear morally good at first sight, they might also provide harmful side-effects. Reviewing recent publications, I researched whether three of these “green” methods—Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), Afforestation and Reforestation, Enhanced Weathering—would impact agricultural food production in a negative way and thereby aggravate the problem of hunger in the World. This would then be a case of moral conflict regarding the human right to adequate food. My results were that Enhanced Weathering would not trouble agricultural food production but would even be beneficial to soils and thus promote agricultural growth. But using this method as a single solution to climate change would require large amounts of energy which in turn would produce emissions and thus counteract the beneficial effects. BECCS, the most prominent CDR method, as well as Afforestation and Reforestation, however, would impact agricultural food production in a negative way because both would demand large areas to grow either plants or trees. Given that already more than 820 million people suffer from hunger, a reduction of global agricultural area and thus available food would be a serious issue which is morally not permissible. Therefore, BECCS, as well as Afforestation and Reforestation, are also not suitable to be single solutions against climate change. However, every method researched in this paper might contribute to a more comprehensive strategy to mitigate climate change.

Read Patrick Hohlwegler’s complete paper in Advances in Geosciences.

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