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Document Abstract
Published: 2008

Innovation in responding to climate change: nanotechnology, ocean energy and forestry

Nanotechnology, ocean energy and forestry impacts on climate change
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While positive step are being made towards achieving an international agreement on climate change, policy makers and practitioners alike are increasingly looking for practical solutions. This report assesses the opportunities and challenges offered by three innovative solutions in responding to climate change - nanotechnology, ocean energy and forestry. It also addresses the question of why these innovations, despite their large potential to reduce emissions, have not yet reached the stage of mass commercialisation.

Nanotechnology offers opportunities for hydrogen fuel cars that produce no CO2 emissions and increased performance of solar power panels.Ocean Energy (OE) has the advantage that it is predictable and reliable compared to other types of renewables and is likely to have only minimal environmental impact. It is estimated that OE could provide a significant proportion of electricity (marine currents could provide 5-10% of the UKs electricity, wave possibly up to 25%). Forest conservation offers the opportunity to alleviate rural poverty and empower local indigenous groups with a low amount of technology.

The authors note some of the main issues associated with the technologies.

Nanotechnology
  • There is uncertainty as to whether nanotechnology relevant to climate change poses risks to the environment and human health. This especially applies to toxicity of manufactured nanoparticles and their ability to enter the human body and reach vital organs via the blood.Further research is needed to determine the scale of these risks (if any) and the regulatory implications if such risks exist.
  • Some concerns exist around secure supplies of high grade silicon for use in manufacture of photovoltaic cells.
  • Mass production has also been impeded by the lack of widely available infrastructure for the hydrogen economy and high costs of manufacture of photovoltaic cells (although costs are decreasing).
Ocean Energy
  • Not all countries are endowed with oceans while areas of great potential are often far from the population. This is worsened by the poor connection to national grids.
  • Because the industry is still at the beginning of commercialisation of first generation devices, costs are relatively high.
Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD)
  • Policing the schemes is difficult.
  • There is a lack of the political will or resources to ensure forest conservation and the involvement of indigenous and forest communities.
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Authors

M. Esteban; D. Leary; C. Webersik

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