“We should not allow people to sell products that cause climate change. Once we establish that principle, a lot of other things just follow. It means that fossil fuels will become more expensive.”
The one institution in the world that has the capital, cash flow and engineering capability of solving the climate change problem is the global fossil fuel industry, an industry expert has told the BBC.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Life Scientific programme this morning (18 February), Myles Allen, a geosystem science professor at Oxford University (@OxfordAOPP) , said the global fossil fuel industry made up 10% of the world’s economy and could help to solve the climate change problem, “but no single company could step up and do it”. He said “we have to change the way we think about this problem, and to require the industry to clean up its waste rather than hoping that somebody else will do it for them”.
Allen added that he found it “quite worrying” that the focus on tackling climate change had been much more “on individuals” and not on the institutions that could actually solve the problem.
When fossil fuels are burned, they release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which in turn trap heat in our atmosphere, making them the primary contributors to global warming and climate change.
Allen stressed that the fossil fuel industry could help clean up the waste they produce (CO2 into the atmosphere) and change the way the globe thinks about the climate crisis. “If you want to carry on selling fossil fuels then you have to work out what is done with that CO2,” Allen told Life Scientific journalist Jim Al-Khalili.
He maintained that many people associate fossil fuels with producing energy, but “they are used in different applications for fossil fuels, including making cement and chemicals” and “not all of these are readily replaceable with renewables”.
“All of the fossil fuels that we use need to be consistent with net zero,” Allen said.
As a lead author on the 3rd Assessment by the International Panel on Climate Change in 2001, Allen concluded that ‘most of the observed global warming was due to human influence’.
In his interview with the BBC, he said that there tended to be more of a focus and worry on individuals changing behaviour and global diet, but “even though these are important contributions”, stopping burning fossil fuels was the main priority.
Some governments around the world are now engaged in efforts to ramp down greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels to prevent the worst effects of climate change. At the inter-national level, countries have committed to emissions reduction targets as part of the 2015 Paris Agreement, while other entities—including cities, states, and businesses—have made their own commitments.
And, protests by campaign group Extinction Rebellion (@ExtinctionR) and schoolchildren across the world have helped to climate change conversation gain momentum.
Allen said: “Overwhelmingly, the public are seeing what is happening and saying that this cannot be brushed under the carpet anymore. They are also recognising the need to do something about it. The difficulty, of course, is doing something about climate change is just flapping your hands.
“We have to be much more specific about what we need to do. Overwhelmingly, that has got to include the fossil fuel industry taking care of its waste. We should not allow people to sell products that cause climate change. Once we establish that principle, a lot of other things just follow. It means that fossil fuels will become more expensive.”
He maintained that this idea could not “happen overnight” and the transition to a net-zero economy will be possible in the next 20-30 years. Although he acknowledged that it would be challenging to reach this target, he said that the “industry is up for it”, but they just needed a “clear steer from governments that this is the way we are going to go”.
Allen concluded: “We cannot entrust the future of the planet to the individual decisions of 8 billion people.”