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Can technology save the world?

<img alt=“57109091 g wind water and sun.jpg” src=“” width=“480” height=“280” align=“right” hspace=“10px”//>Whatever happens at the Copenhagen climate summit this December the world still desperately needs an action plan for reducing carbon emissions. Two opinion articles in Nature this week look beyond the diplomatic bargaining over emissions targets to the new energy technologies needed to actually achieve emissions reductions.

Away from the all-consuming focus on targets much hope is pinned on increasing new energy supplies – especially low-carbon or carbon-free power sources. But if history is any guide, industry and governments will be hard pressed to develop and deploy new energy technologies quickly enough. What can policymakers do to accelerate the transition to a carbon-free world?

Economists Isabel Galiana and Christopher Green from McGill University argue in their Nature article that rather than horsetrading over emissions targets, governments should make long-term commitments to invest in energy R&D — financed by a slowly-rising ‘carbon tax’ to promote low-carbon technologies over the next century. We need an energy technology revolution, say Galiana and Green, and it has not yet started.

Scientists Gert-Jan Kramer and Martin Haigh from Royal Dutch Shell also believe that transforming the global energy supply is the key to lowering emissions. But they argue that proposals by Al Gore and others to ‘repower’ the world in a decade are unrealistic. They say the rate at which low-carbon energy technologies can be deployed is limited by the massive scale of the energy system. This means governments need to design specific policies that can accelerate technology deployment and to take more action on the demand side to increase efficiency and curtail energy consumption.

Elsewhere in Nature this week, Jeff Tollefson reports on efforts to include discussions of technology transfer from rich to poor nations at the climate talks in Copenhagen. “You have to come back to the basic question about how technology is flowing to the developing world, and it’s primarily flowing through transactions within the business community,” Björn Stigson, president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development in Geneva, Switzerland, tells Nature.

Two concrete proposals – for a centralized UN-run technology transfer body or decentralized regional technology centres – are up for discussion in Copenhagen. But neither deals head-on with the thorny issue of access to patented technologies. Developing nations are calling for compulsory licensing of some energy technologies, but industrialized nations are more likely to respond with protectionist measures during the current economic slump.

Sarah Tomlin is a Commissioning Editor on Opinion with Nature.

Image credit: Sarah Leen/National Geographic/Getty


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    Erich J. Knight said:

    All political persuasions agree, building soil carbon is GOOD.

    To Hard bitten Farmers, wary of carbon regulations that only increase their costs, Building soil carbon is a savory bone, to do well while doing good.

    Biochar provides the tool powerful enough to cover Farming’s carbon foot print while lowering cost simultaneously.

    Another significant aspect of bichar is removal of BC aerosols by low cost ($3) Biomass cook stoves that produce char but no respiratory disease emissions. At Scale, replacing “Three Stone” stoves the health benefits would equal eradication of Malaria. and village level systems

    The Congo Basin Forest Fund (CBFF).recently funded The Biochar Fund $300K for these systems citing these priorities;

    (1) Hunger amongst the world’s poorest people, the subsistence farmers of Sub-Saharan Africa,

    (2) Deforestation resulting from a reliance on slash-and-burn farming,

    (3) Energy poverty and a lack of access to clean, renewable energy, and

    (4) Climate change.

    The Biochar Fund :

    Exceptional results from biochar experiment in Cameroon

    The broad smiles of 1500 subsistence farmers say it all ( that , and the size of the Biochar corn root balls )

    Mark my words; Given the potential for Laurens Rademaker’s programs to grow exponentially, only a short time lies between This man’s nomination for a Noble Prize.

    This authoritative PNAS article should cause the recent Royal Society Report to rethink their criticism of Biochar systems of Soil carbon sequestration;

    Reducing abrupt climate change risk using

    the Montreal Protocol and other regulatory

    actions to complement cuts in CO2 emissions

    There are dozens soil researchers on the subject now at USDAARS.

    and many studies at The up coming ASACSSASSSA joint meeting;

    The Clean Energy Partnerships Act of 2009

    The bill is designed to ensure that any US domestic cap-and-trade bill provides maximum incentives and opportunities for the US agricultural and forestry sectors to provide high-quality offsets and GHG emissions reductions for credit or financial incentives. Carbon offsets play a critical role in keeping the costs of a cap-and-trade program low for society as well as for capped sectors and entities, while providing valuable emissions reductions and income generation opportunities for the agricultural sector. The bill specifically identifies biochar production and use as eligible for offset credits, and identifies biochar as a high priority for USDA R&D, with funding authorized by the bill.

    To read the full text of the bill, go to:

    Senator Baucus is co-sponsoring a bill along with Senator Tester (D-MT) called WE CHAR. Water Efficiency via Carbon Harvesting and Restoration Act! It focuses on promoting biochar technology to address invasive species and forest biomass. It includes grants and loans for biochar market research and development, biochar characterization and environmental analyses. It directs USDI and USDA to provide loan guarantees for biochar technologies and on-the-ground production with an emphasis on biomass from public lands. And the USGS is to do biomas availability assessments. – S. 1713, The Water Efficiency via Carbon Harvesting and Restoration (WECHAR) Act of 2009

    Individual and groups can show support for WECHAR by signing online at:

    Congressional Research Service report (by analyst Kelsi Bracmort) is the best short summary I have seen so far – both technical and policy oriented. .

    United Nations Environment Programme, Climate Change Science Compendium 2009

    Al Gore got the CO2 absorption thing wrong, ( at NABC Vilsack did same), but his focus on Soil Carbon is right on;


    The future of biochar – Project Rainbow Bee Eater

    Japan Biochar Association ;

    UK Biochar Research Centre

    Carbon to the Soil, the only ubiquitous and economic place to put it.



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