Energy Transition Now - Episode 15 with Martin Siegert

Episode 15 and the return of the  Energy Transition Now podcast for Series Three!

During this series we speak to a range of experts every two weeks, to continue exploring the key questions around the Energy Transition.

In this episode David Linden speaks with Professor Martin Siegert, Co-Director of the Grantham Institute on “What Antarctica tells us about climate change.”

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About Martin

Prof. Martin Siegert FRSE has been the Co-Director of the Grantham Institute since May 2014. Previously, he was Head of the School of GeoSciences at Edinburgh University, where he now holds an Honorary Professorship. He has undertaken three Antarctic field seasons, using geophysics to measure the subglacial landscape and understand what it tells us about past changes in Antarctica and elsewhere. He has published over 250 scientific papers and has just published the second edition of an edited volume entitled ‘Antarctic Climate Evolution’, which details the history of Antarctica over the past 60 million years.

In 2013 he was awarded the Martha T. Muse Prize for excellence in Antarctic science and policy, and in 2007 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

David Linden: Hello, everyone. I’m your host, David Linden, the Head of Energy Transition for the Westwood Global Energy Group. And you’re listening to Energy Transition Now where we discuss what the transition really means for the oil and gas and the broader energy industry. After a little break, we’re now back with series three and boy, do we have a good line-up for you. In this series, we’ve also made a few tweaks. Essentially, we’re going to be releasing a new episode every two weeks rather than every week; if you can wait that long. And each time, address a specific topic, so we get under the skin of that key question of the energy transition a little bit more. Today, we’re going to focus on what I’ve titled, “What Antarctica tells us about climate change”, and I know our conversation will be a little bit broader than that, but it’s about a little bit, I guess, bringing a bit more of a geological perspective on things and on what that really means. And to talk to us about that, I have a real pleasure of having Professor Martin Siegert here with me today. Since 2014, Martin’s been the co-director of the Grantham Institute, which for those of you who don’t know, is Imperial College’s hub for climate change and environment. And prior to this, he was the Head of the School of Geosciences at Edinburgh University, where he now holds an honorary professorship. I think aside from publishing over 250 scientific papers, he is specifically recognised for his work related to Antarctica, having undertaken three Antarctic field seasons and is also the winner of the Tinker Muse Prize for Science and Policy in Antarctica, which I think he won in 2013. Welcome, Martin.

Martin Siegert: Hi, David. Nice to be here.

David Linden: Fabulous. Thank you so much for taking the time. I know it’s a busy time in, well in climate change, I guess overall and a busy time in the Grantham Institute. So I appreciate you taking the time with us today. I know you work on a very wide range of climate change and environmental topics. But let’s start maybe at the beginning or maybe from the obvious question as such. And you know, I’ve mentioned the word Antarctica a few times there, but can you maybe just give us a bit of context as you know, what were you doing in Antarctica?

Martin Siegert: Well, I’ve been to Antarctica a few times and have been doing different things. I should say thanks for that generous introduction. When I introduce myself, it’s quite difficult to know what to say. Am I a geoscientist, well I am, climate scientist, yep absolutely, I care about the climate. I’m a polar scientist, yes. Glaciologist, yes. So I would say of all of those – geophysicist, yes. So I’m all of those sort of things and the reason I can be kind of inclusive about it, I guess we’re just about to find out why it’s so. So what are people like me with skills in geology and geophysics and glaciology and climate doing in Antarctica? And the reason that people like me are in Antarctica is that the Antarctic ice sheets is so critical to our global environment and it always has been. So what we can do is we can look at the ice in Antarctica to tell us about what’s changed in the past and understand why it’s changed in the past and then use that information to advise us how it’s likely to change in the future, especially with burning of fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions, but also that Antarctica is at risk of change itself. And there are many parts of the ice sheet in Antarctica that are currently losing mass. It’s taken ice from the ice sheet and putting it into the ocean, and the sea levels are going up globally. At the moment, a modest amount. But the frightening thing is how much potential contribution there is to sea level in Antarctica. And the extrapolation of that toward the end of this century and beyond is very concerning. So people like me with skills in geophysics trained in oil and gas exploration, I should say, we can apply very similar techniques to peer underneath the ice in Antarctica to look for the past ancient landscapes that are now covered by very thick ice. To advise where to put ice cores, which allow us to to get an amazing history of Earth’s past climate, which we can talk about in a second. And to understand the environment underneath the ice as well. What is it underneath all that ice? So it’s a sort of combination of pure exploration because there are still parts of Antarctica that we’ve never seen and we don’t know about. I mean, until a couple of years ago, there was a piece of Antarctica about the size of Scotland that didn’t have any data at all. And you know, this is the modern world we’re talking about, our planet. And they were until very recently, the last bit of the crust of planet Earth had yet to be surveyed in any basic sense. And we did that and we did it using a technique called ice-penetrating radar. And now that little chunk the size of Scotland, it’s got an amazing detail that there was absent, so we can describe and explain why all that sort of stuff is important. But gradually we’re getting an appreciation that Antarctica contains an amazing backward of past change, and it is a place that’s in peril as a consequence of global warming.

David Linden: OK, that’s fascinating. Can I maybe just ask? Why not do this in Africa or on the Arctic is the Antarctic is Antarctica, excuse me, special in that sense, because you have that history?

Martin Siegert: It’s totally special. And also the Greenland ice sheet as well. This is put things into perspective when you talk about the Greenland ice sheet and the Antarctic ice sheets and sort of other glaciers and ice caps. Let’s sort of think about the volume of those ice sheets and the ice on our planet. There were roughly 300,000 glaciers and ice caps around the world. And if you say we’re not going to include the Greenland ice sheet, or the two Antarctic ice sheets – West Antarctica and East Antarctica – in any calculations, just remove those from consideration. Of those 300,000 glaciers, if they all melted, all of them suddenly melted, the sea level of course, would go up because the ice goes from the land into the ocean. But only by 25 centimetres. And that’s all. There’s enough ice in Greenland and Antarctica to raise sea level by more than 60 metres, 60 metres.

David Linden: Six zero.

Martin Siegert: Six zero. So there’s a huge volume of ice that exists above the level of the ocean on our planet right now. And of course, it’s straightforward thing when the temperature gets to a certain condition, either the sea temperature starts to melt the ice or the atmospheric temperature does and the sunlight does. Then the ice starts to melt when it goes into the ocean and the sea levels go up. And so there is an enormous potential for future sea level change coming from the Antarctic ice sheets and the Greenland ice sheets. And that’s why I, as a glaciologist have a focus on Antarctica, because when the Antarctic ice sheet starts to change, the rest of the world better take notice because it’s going to be affected by it. As the other thing, that’s amazing – David, cut you off. Is the records, of course, is the records, the ice cores. And it just needs explanation there as well, because ice cores are just stunning in terms of what they can give us, the lessons that we can learn from the past that will help to guide our future. And again, it’s a there’s a stark lesson that we learn. We know from ice cores, they’re essentially time machines. They are phenomenal. So think about a snowball if you can remember dark, cold sort of winter days. When it did use to snow. Not so much these days, but just remember, I’m sure listeners as well. You’ve got a snowball, and it doesn’t weigh an awful lot as because most of that snowball is air. OK? And it’s the same in Antarctica. Most of the surface snow and the Antarctic ice sheet is just there. But as that snow gets buried by subsequent years snowfall, it gets deeper into the into the ground, of course. And after about 70 years of being buried, that air gets cut off from the atmosphere and now it’s a time capsule. Now that air is a time capsule from the from around the time of the ice around it was snow and ice turns to fern, sorry the snow turns to fern and then into ice. But the air still contained within it as little air bubbles, and we can see it when you extract deep ice cores from kilometres beneath the surface in East Antarctica. I mean, over three kilometres worth of ice in East Antarctica, and you can extract from the surface all the way down to the bed. You can put it up and the air is still contained within the ice. Now, the surface accumulation of snow at the top of the Antarctic ice sheet is around about one, one and a half centimetres per year. That’s all it is, its a real polar desert. And so you can imagine it takes an awful long time to build up three kilometres of ice. And in fact, the age at the bottom of the Antarctic ice sheet is somewhere between half a million to a million years old. So that means we have a time machine capable of giving us a sample of the atmosphere from about half a million or so years ago to the present day. And essentially every year in between that. It is stunning what we can get. And so take the ice, sample the air, put the air into a laboratory and you get the atmospheric composition of gases that was in the air at the time that the ice around it was snow on the surface is it’s just amazing. And what it tells us is that there’s a climate oscillation. Over the last half a million years or so cold ice age cycles, we get an ice age, which corresponds to a carbon dioxide level of 180 parts per million. And we get an inter-glacial between ice ages when the carbon dioxide goes to about 280 parts per million. Now, carbon dioxide is really important here. Interestingly, the driver of all these changes is the way that the Earth orbit around the Sun and the slight differences in solar inputs that that that gives us. But on its own, it’s not enough to cause massive ice ages to come and go. We need another force. And the big force is carbon dioxide driven through a feedback process. You know, you start off nudging the climate by orbital variations, causing a slight, subtle cooldown in Earth’s climate, and that kicks in feedback processes like the albedo feedback where you replace bright reflective white snow surfaces with dark surfaces, or vice versa when you get colder. And that causes an alteration to the solar inputs received by the planet or, very importantly, the exchange between the atmosphere and the ocean. Now, the atmosphere and the ocean interaction is absolutely critical to our past climate, and it will be critical to our future climates as well. Essentially, when the oceans get colder, they get more productive and as they get more productive, they draw down more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the oceans and with a cooler climate, enhanced productivity, more carbon dioxide drawdown. And so the as you’re cooling the climate, the carbon dioxide gets taken out of the atmosphere essentially, and the reverse happens when things get warmer. That is so critical, to driving ice age cycles, magnifying the signal that we get from orbital variations. And it’s stark when we talk about an Ice Age, it’s it’s a phenomenal change to the climates, to the geography of our planet. You know, all of Canada, some of northern USA, the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, the Barents Sea, all across the eastern Russian. So the western Russian high Arctic all covered by ice and Patagonia. You see lots of ice caps everywhere expansion in Greenland and Antarctica. So much that at the height of the Ice Age, last Ice Age, which is only 20,000 years ago, you know, not geological time at all. The sea level would have been 120 metres lower then, than it is today one hundred and twenty metres. And so what that tells me as a climatologist and glaciologist is that when we warm the climate, when climate was warmed by carbon dioxide increased from 180 to 280 parts per million that drove temperatures on the planet to rise and the sea level to go up by 120 metres over 10,000 years. So about 1.2 metres every century over 10,000, sometimes more, sometimes less. That’s what carbon dioxide change from 180 to 280 parts per million can do. Not in geological past, you know, very recent past between the Ice Age and the start of this interglacial during the Holocene 10,000 years ago.

David Linden: That’s a lot of stuff to take in there Martin.

Martin Siegert: I know, I know. Sorry, I went on.

David Linden: I like it was. It’s kind of summarising very neatly what, well, why you do what you do and why you know why it’s really relevant. And one point that I thought was particularly interesting, well there was two points. I guess are particularly interesting if I was to take away from there was, one is to say this stuff happens anyway in some respects over thousands of years, that there are ice ages and warming periods, et cetera. And so you will get sea level rises of what you mention, 120 metres or so over that period of time. And then they reduce again as the Ice Age comes in and basically freezes that essentially. And the other bit is that, that seems to maybe, maybe for me to fully understand that, that it’s based on solar. I maybe didn’t quite understand that aspect of it, but it’s the solar sort of the how the Earth rotates around the Sun.

Martin Siegert: Absolutely there’s a great story. So, carbon dioxide is the amplifier of this problem. But the ice ages are paced, by the way the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. And this was, we knew about the Ice Age from the middle of the 19th century. We started looking at the evidence of glacial geology. I don’t have to go very far in the United Kingdom. Just go to Snowdonia, and you can see all these amazing glacial geology around you, but there’s no glaciers there anymore. So the evidence is there was once a load of glaciers and ice sheets in North Wales and it is obvious that it is. And when, and Charles Darwin actually visited this amazing place in North Wales called Cwm Idwal, and I would encourage anyone who’s got a moment to just go to North Wales and visit. It is one of the most stunningly beautiful parts of the country in there, and he visited it twice in the middle of the 19th century to try to find evidence of the Ice Age called Ice Age Glacial Theory, it was called. And he went there and he first time he went didn’t see anything. You know, this sort of pervading Orthodox view was that the world around us was given to us by God, essentially in the 19th century. And these people were challenging that orthodoxy it was an amazing time of scientific discovery. And he went back a few years later and then saw it saw the evidence all around him. And it’s a wonderful inscription in the cafe by Cwm Idwal, which says was the effect of “We can’t believe we didn’t see it first time. A house burned down to its foundations couldn’t tell its story better than this valley could about the last Ice Age”, and it’s a really lovely, I’m paraphrasing, it wasn’t quite how he said it, but its words to the effect of that much more eloquently put it there not just have done it. But he did it. And once people understood that Glacial Theory was the thing, people started to wonder what caused the ice ages and then. Two people were quite prominent in understanding this, the first was James Croll, who was a self-taught Glaswegian scholar and naturalist, and he worked out that the Earth doesn’t orbit the Sun in a circular way. It is an elliptical orbit and sometimes it’s close to it, and sometimes it’s further away from the Sun and it tilts at a different angle and the angle wobbles around the sun and in a very well predicted predictable way. And he did all the calculations in the late 19th century and worked out how much sunlight was coming onto the surface at certain times of the year. Way back into the past and did all these calculations and came up with this idea of explanation of Glacial Theory. And by then, we’d worked out that the Ice Age was about 20,000 years or so ago, and he and he does calculations and calculated the Ice Age was about ninety thousand years ago. So he kind of died without anyone believing that theory. There was a good reason for why he got that slightly wrong, but that’s for another time. These calculations were correct, but there was something amiss with his logic. Then Milutin Milankovitc, a Serbian mathematician, picked the same idea, up 30 or 40 years later and came up with the right, exactly the right theory that the Ice Age was twenty thousand years ago and did all the calculations and was fine. He died without anyone believing it because again, the changes that were being invoked were tiny, not enough to cause the massive known changes by then to the geography of the planet. And what they hadn’t appreciated was this amplification factor. Now it was until the late 1960s where we got ice cores and also seafloor sediments that were telling us using oxygen isotopes within the sediments about the volume of ice on our planet and we got the oxygen isotopes within water. You know, there were three isotopes 16, 17, 18, 18 is heavier than 16. So when you evacuate water from the ocean, it’s oxygen 16 that gets preferentially taken from the ocean. So the ice sheets are enriched in oxygen 16, and the ocean is becoming rich in oxygen 18. And so you can look at the oxygen isotope concentrations of the ice, but also the things with calcium carbonate shells that fall die and fall to the bottom of the ocean. And you can work out the volume of ice on the planet by calling it amazing. And it proved that orbital variations were the cause, the pacing cause, but not that you could amplify it in the way that we know happened. So it was carbon dioxide, of course. And when you look at our article records, it’s unequivocal that this association between the oxygen isotopes signal and the carbon dioxide is like, it’s a one-to-one relationship. It’s just astonishing and really from there we never really, we understood that the causes of Ice Ages really well, paced by orbital variations, but globalised and driven by greenhouse gases.

David Linden: OK, and that’s I guess the point I wanted to get to then was so there’s a clear link through changes in our climate, essentially through those orbital variations. But what’s happening now is something slightly different, right? Because it’s driven by carbon dioxide, and that’s the important factor here. But there is a change. It’s happening now, isn’t there was the same correlation as such is not quite there.

Martin Siegert: Yeah, yeah. So do I like to think about it, is that the without humans interfering with the climate, as it was twenty thousand years ago that the world’s climate got nudged a little bit and they got nudged by the orbital variation and the slight change in incoming solar radiation and that nudging caused a lot of feedback processes to take, to take off and the most important being carbon dioxide value in the atmosphere. Started to go up, started to a warm the planet and that warmed the planet and that started to invoke further changes, et cetera, that 100 parts per million of CO2 from 20,000 years ago to 10,000 years ago caused about five degrees of warming globally and 120 metres of sea level rise. And that’s astonishing thing, and I often talk to people about this as a glaciologist, you know, you think about it so your listeners can do this right now, put yourself on your favourite beach. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, your favourite beach. All right. And you got this warm beautiful sand and you’ve got a lovely sun on your back and you’re looking out over the ocean. And I think to I say to you, What is it you’re looking at what you’re looking at that and everyone was looking at the waves and oceans, love it. And it doesn’t matter where you are on the planet, doesn’t matter where you are actually what you looking at from the surface of the ocean to one hundred and twenty metres beneath the surface, all of that water is melted ice. And that and that water was melted as a consequence of carbon dioxide going up by 100 parts per million from 180 to 280 parts per million. Over 10,000 years. Now, of course, the CO2 level in the atmosphere hit about 280 parts per million somewhere around 10,000 years ago, it don’t matter too much. And it bumps along that valley until about 1850. Yes, then we started burning fossil fuels literally at an industrial scale. And the CO2 levels started to go up subtly at first, but with an acceleration in the 20th century, and so too did the temperature of the planet subtly at first. But with an acceleration in the 20th century and so too did sea level rise again subtly at first, but acceleration in the 20th century and so on. The CO2 level in the atmosphere now stands at today, over 415 parts per million.

David Linden: And we’ve never seen that before?

Martin Siegert: We have seen it before. We have. And but you have to go back a long way. OK, so the last time we had over 400 parts per million was in geological time in the Pliocene, so somewhere between 5.4 and 2.4 million years ago. Now then it’s interesting. So CO2 levels were similar then to what they are now. But the planet then was about three or four degrees warmer then than it is now. And the sea level globally was about 20 metres higher then than it is now. So if you think about some sort of, the calibration between the climate and the CO2 in the way that the Pliocene found it. Then we got further warming, that’s coming. If CO2 levels are held at that, that high value. OK. They wanted to come down. But the worrying thing is the way that we’re going. So if you simply just look at the Mauna Loa Observatory, which is this amazing record of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere, beautiful, pristine air not influenced by anything. And this is astonishing. You just check it out online. It’s probably higher than 415 at the moment I probably slightly underestimated because it does go up and down every year by a few points. That will tell us if you simply extrapolate the record from, say, 2015 and onwards by the end of this century, 2100 bit of an arbitrary date. But let’s just use it. Then unless things change, then the CO2 level on the planet will be somewhere around 800 to 1000 parts per million. That’s where we’re headed as the worst case scenario, which incidentally, is the kind of scenario that we’re on right now. And you might then ask, well, when’s the last time you had a thousand parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere? And you’ve gotta go back a long way for that. You’ve got to go back to 55 million years ago. The paleocene-eocene thermal maximum, which was this amazing spike in temperatures caused then by a lot of volcanic activity, which spewed greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and caused the sudden warming. And I say rapid, Actually, what we’re talking about is going from the low 100s to up to a thousand ppm in something like twenty thousand to 50,000 years. That was the sort of level of rapidity that we’re talking about. We’re going to do the same thing unless we change our ways, we’ll do the same thing in 80 years. Quicker than the planet did in the paleocene-eocene thermal maximum the last time we had a thousand parts per million. And you can make the same case for the 100 ppm that we’ve put in in my lifetime. So, you know, I’m fifty four years old, and when I was born, CO2 levels of about 100 ppm lower than they are today, 100 ppm is what got us out of the Ice Age took us 10,000 years. We’ve essentially put the same level of CO2 into the atmosphere in 50. 200 times quicker than the Earth they did it naturally. Our impacts on the planet is significant in terms of where we’re headed on these end states. But it’s also significant in terms of the rate of change that we’re applying to the planet. And people ask me, “What am I most scared about?” I am scared about those end members. I really am, but I’m petrified about the rate of change that’s going on, which is far more quick than Earth is naturally been able to change itself. We are changing it and we’re doing at a phenomenal rate, and far in excess of the Earth’s natural world’s ability to cope with it in terms of natural migration of plants and animals. You know, it’s not possible to shock the world in this way. In fact, people are saying, what is the analogy? If you’re saying paleocene-eocene thermal maximum is not a good analogy because took too long to do that or the Ice Age interglacial took too long took ten thousand years, you wonder, what is the analogy? Unfortunately, the best analogy that we have for what we’re doing to the planet right now is an asteroid strike. And in fact, if in a million years time. If people aren’t around and someone goes to Antarctica and digs up an ice core and looks at this time, right now they will be thinking, well, why has the climate been bumping around 180 to 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide and flip-flopping plus or minus five degrees in and out of an ice age? And then suddenly it shoots up to a thousand parts per million within our ability to sort of resolve it, that it must have been some enormous asteroid that hit the planet. But that’s essentially what we’re doing right now. And the danger is the problem is we’re doing it knowingly and it almost feels like we’re doing it willingly. And it has to change, of course.

David Linden: That’s fascinating to walk through that I’ve never. It’s funny. I think I think a lot of people talk about melting ice and they talk about, you know, the impact on the climate et cetra, and don’t really, really be able to put it together was the first time I’ve heard someone actually put it all together nicely in that sense. Thank you for that. And obviously, you know that the analogy around, as you say, an asteroid striking the Earth. It’s a pretty stark image, right of kind of what’s going on right now. I mean, considering that reality, then it sounds like if we’re saying we’re going to do this in 80 years, let’s say as an example, you know, and then therefore, you know, we’re we’ve got COPs, we’ve got company pledges and all this kind of stuff. Have we run out of time and what is it we can kind of do now to help that because it almost if you don’t mind me saying listening to you, it’s like we’re doing something that was in 20,000 years and 80 years. Wow, it doesn’t sound like we’ve got a lot of stuff we can do.

Martin Siegert: Yeah, no, no. I understand. And of course, you know, you can be flippant about it and we can say that, you know, if the world’s intended to create a climate like the Pliocene and wanted to do that in the Victorian times, we couldn’t have done a better job. We probably couldn’t have done it any quicker than we have done it. So this is like a maximum ability to dig fossil fuels out of the ground and punch up. By the way, fossil fuels is kind of an interesting thing to think about because a fossil fuel is simply an accumulation of carbon taken from the atmosphere drawn down somehow and stored underground. And it was formed, the atmosphere, in the last 50 or so million years gradually carbon dioxide has been coming down from the atmosphere and the world has generally getting cooler grossly over that period. And what we’ve been doing is sort of digging it up and burning it and putting that carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere at an alarming, alarming rate. So we’ve geo-engineered the planet. There’s no doubt about that. We are 1.2 degrees warmer than we should be. And the evidence is all around us in terms of rising sea levels and enhanced storms, enhanced heatwaves. And you just don’t need a scientist to tell you that you can just flick on the news. And it’s so obvious, you know.

David Linden: It’s still good to hear the scientific explanation. Because it does get boiled down a bit too simply sometimes so.

Martin Siegert: Well, for sure. But the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which I’m not part of, is an amazing organisation that distils scientific evidence on climate change and presents it in a very understandable way. And the conclusions are totally watertight. There are multiple lines of completely independent evidence, all showing the same thing. It’s irrefutable. And in fact, these days, we hardly hear anyone question the science of climate change anymore. You really dont hear it.

David Linden: This is true. And I guess that’s partly why I asked the question because of all the things I’ve seen in response is, “Oh, it’s too late. We can’t do anything about this.” You know, let’s be a doomsayer, or naysayer, whatever you want to call it to do with this because you know this this this is quite doom and gloom subject at the end of the day, you know, to get to it. So, you know, there are people trying to do something. But what is it that you can in reality do?

Martin Siegert: Well, OK. So of course there are things that we can do. More warming is coming, and there’s nothing we can do about that, right, because when you put your oven on 200 degrees centigrade, it will warm up and it would take some time to warm up. The thing about carbon dioxide, it’s not the most potent greenhouse gas by a long way, but it has a characteristic that is deeply concerning. And that is, it doesn’t naturally fall out of the atmosphere very quickly. You can draw it out the atmosphere. You can still mechanically remove it and grow trees, and that will help. But on its own, you won’t. It will bump around in the atmosphere, unlike a lot of other greenhouse gases that fall out. But CO2 doesn’t. And so when you accumulate a little bit one year, it adds to the accumulation from the previous year and so on and so on. And so even with modest annual accumulations of carbon dioxide, it doesn’t take long to build it up into the atmosphere. And that’s what we’re doing. The problem is, once you get to something like a thousand parts per million, if we ever did that, I really hope we don’t get to that situation. But if we did, then it would take another thousand years for that CO2 to drop out. So that’s what we’re talking about when we’re heating the planet as we are now through carbon dioxide emissions and greenhouse gas being and the warming being consequential to that, we are causing problems not just for our children and those that come after, but for many generations after that. And as I said, we know that this isn’t something that’s new. We’ve known about this for some time. It was John Tyndall in the Royal Institution in the late 19th century that discovered the carbon that greenhouse gas properties of carbon dioxide. This is not new stuff, right? It’s kind of basic chemistry and physics, and we’ve known about it for ages. And all we understand now is the seriousness of it, of course. And so what we can do, we’re locked into at least another nought point three degrees of warming added to 1.2. That’s the 1.5 scenario, right? Yeah. So that’s the minimum. So even though today we’re seeing more storms, floods and heatwaves, we’re going to see more of those things. And it’s because of us, because of humans, that is that is doing that and there’s nothing we can do. So when we’re talking about the future, we have to talk about how to mitigate it, stop the worst from happening, but also how to adapt because there are things which are going to happen. Sea level is going to go up more. And so we’re going to have to adapt to these things as well as mitigate.

David Linden: Do you think we’re doing enough to adapt right now? Mitigation often gets the headlines if you see what I’m saying. Is there enough being done on adaptation?

Martin Siegert: On both issues no. On both, there’s just not enough. And we’re being caught out by extreme events, and we can obviously see that with what happened in Northwest Europe last summer, where dozens of people died in Germany and Belgium, in very developed countries with lots of money going into climate adaptation and things, they died because it rained. And that’s what happened. Other people dying in basements in New York, because it rained, so we have to get used to adaptation. We’re not doing enough and we’re certainly not doing enough mitigation. But both of those need to be thought about what we need to avoid is the most damaging climate change. We need to restrict global warming to whatever we can get away with. And the way to achieve the 1.5 scenario is to activate a decarbonisation plan globally right now, and we need to essentially decarbonise by about 40 percent by 2030 and then take it down to 100 percent net zero by mid-century. And if we did that, then so our outputs of carbon dioxide are matched by what we can cycle straight, either through nature based solutions like trees and peatlands and wetlands or through mechanically removing its carbon capture and storage, or mechanically direct air capture from the air, net zero will allow hopefully the climate to stabilise and may even get a bit cooler because we will expect a little bit of that CO2 to drop out of the atmosphere. Of course, it does take a while, but some of it, of course, will, and that will deliver hopefully one point five by the middle of next century going to this century and beyond. So, so that’s the best scenario. That’s the best we can hope for. I’ve got to tell you, we are not on track for that. I mean, this decade is the decade that we need to deliver the 40 percent of carbon dioxide reductions, and we’re not on track to do that. We’re still emitting way too much. And by the next 20 years afterwards, to deliver to net zero, you know, even the United Kingdom, we’ve got an ambitious plan for net zero by 2050. We are not on track to meet that right now. And the Independent Climate Change Committee pointed that out quite well last year. And then we had a new strategy on climate change, which was fantastic at saying the right things said, all of the right things, in fact, but we had very little investment alongside it to deliver those changes. So we’re still left questioning how we deliver the changes that we so desperately understand we need. How do we actually do that in a developed, wealthy country like the United Kingdom that has historically been responsible for putting a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, has amazing technological and academic know how to innovate and make the changes and has huge amounts of money to invest, to make the changes as well in a way that can can change the world. We did it in the 19th century, the industrial revolution, the United Kingdom changed the world. This is our moment again. We’ve got the same ingredients we’ve got a problem. We’ve got the solutions to that problem. We’ve got amazing academics. We’ve got all the money we could ever want. We’ve got big companies that are up for it, what we need to do is to take on this challenge. This is the challenge of the moment. It really is. We know this problem exists. We know that we are responsible for it and we know we can do something about it. So we need to ask ourselves what is stopping us from marching on with this to change the world for the better, to help our children and those that come after, et cetera. If we don’t, the world will be more difficult to inhabit in the future. Not easier. And it will be our fault. And so, so what’s holding us back? And I have to say that I thought about this a lot over the last few years, and it all comes back to the same issue. And it’s inertia driven by vested interests. We have people making an awful lot of money out of a fossil fuel economy that wants to continue to do that and build around it. It’s inertia to stop things, stop things happening. And I’m afraid we need to call it out and we need to stop it. We need to change our ways because, you know, our children’s future and those that come afterwards depend on us, depend on us to change.

David Linden: OK. Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of different industries that are being called out, I think at the moment for maybe deflection and those sorts of tactics rather than actually dealing with it, as you as you rightly say there. Do you think there are, the companies that do want to change it, do want to engage with this, you know, some call them greening companies, maybe or ones that are purely set up for the purpose of trying to make that difference. What do you think are maybe some of the tools or things that they can use to get on the right path? Because certainly one of the things I struggle with is what is the right way of change for a company, right? What’s the right way for someone to do? You’ve got all these different things like the science-based targets and all this stuff. And I think to be frank with you from an outsider, you could say that really know what to believe is the right path here or not. So, A) does that make it complicated, but B), have you got some sort of thoughts on that particular subject around what we could be looking at or could be using that is helpful?

Martin Siegert: I agree, is a bit confusing, and I don’t blame you for having that. I’ll get confused myself. But actually, it’s a pretty straightforward problem. Actually, I think sometimes you make it confusing when we don’t necessarily need it to be. The bottom line is all companies that exist today are going to have to be compliant with net zero in 30 years time. That’s well within sort of long term planning horizon for every company. And so every company needs to take a look at themselves. So how are we going to achieve that? How are us, as a company can now it may be, you don’t necessarily have the skills embedded within the company to try to do that. And we know that at Imperial College, which is why we put on a programme with our business, Global Climate Change Management of Finance, which incidentally, David, you’ll be speaking to those students in a few weeks time. And it’s a business school programme, business school programme that’s focused on climate because we know that people at university now, their careers, the next 30 years are going to be dedicated to the net zero transition. And so as a university, we need to ask ourselves, are we equipping people going into business with the skills that they need to meet this challenge? And if we just give them normal, you know, accountancy and finance degrees and things, well probably not, because it’s business as usual, it’s just doing things in the normal way. What we’re trying to do at Imperial is to fuse the sort of knowledge of climate change with business acumen and accountancy and all these other things so that when they go into companies, they are absolutely enthusiastic about the need for change. Understand why that change has to happen. They can talk to other staff. You know, they can infiltrate these organisations and they can explain why this transition is so necessary, but also in terms of business, how it’s possible and how is actually advantageous as well. In the same way the industrial revolution was advantageous, you know, we can we can take that same approach again. Now doesn’t mean that change for some is uncomfortable and there’ll be some industries that are going to have to change. But I can tell you, look at some, some places that have changed. Look at the car industry, for example, who would have thought 10 years ago that every major manufacturer of cars would now have an electric vehicle offer? And actually, the projection by the middle of this decade is that we hardly making any internal combustion engine vehicles because it be difficult to sell them. Well, why did that happen? How did that happen? It didn’t happen because governments decided to do something. It really didn’t, it happen because of an entrepreneur in a bit of a maverick in America, it was Elon Musk who decided to make electric cars appealing, didn’t invent electric cars, they’d been around for forever. But he designed them to make them appealing. And he did that, and of course, every anyone who is doing an electric car or been in an electric car gets sold instantly by how wonderful they are. If they can, we can increase the range a little bit. If we can decrease the amount of time it takes to charge a little bit, then it’s game over for the internal combustion engine vehicles. So, you know, we an industry can change it and go low carbon and we can see happening. Wind power. Who on earth would have thought that we would have had such colossal amounts of electricity driven by offshore wind by just 10 years ago? I mean, the scale has been phenomenal and the cost has come down when we’re talking today at sky high oil and gas prices, in particular gas. But you know, the wind is still a win, wind is free, you put up turbines and that’s it. It’s renewable energy and it’s cheap. The problems we’re facing with with massive gas prices, the solutions aren’t to drill more gas, the solutions are to accelerate our decarbonisation and focus on renewables and possibly nuclear as well for baseload. But that’s how to achieve it. We know we can do that. We know, by the way, the same type of expertise that exists in many oil and gas companies about how to do complex offshore operations, how to put big bits of plants in the middle of the ocean and make it safe. But that’s exactly the type of expertise we need for offshore wind and at scale that’s needed. You know we need those companies to really invest and start mobilising that talent in this way as well. So the future of oil and gas for me is pretty straightforward. It just focuses on offshore wind at a scale that will match the energy that’s been lost. And one way to achieve it isn’t necessarily more in the North Sea, or that’s not a bad thing to do, but to start putting wind farms where the trade winds are, because North Sea wind relies on weather and sometimes it’s windy. Most often it is windy actually in the North Sea, but sometimes it isn’t, rarely, and when that happens, you know, the wind stops, the electricity stops, but if you put the the big floating offshore wind platforms in where the trade winds are, you’re tapping into the rotation of the Earth, not weather any more. And it’s plentiful and should stay in forever. And you connect that to very high voltage, you know, grid across Europe, for example, you’ve got as much electricity as you’d ever want.

David Linden: But it’s interesting that with other conversations I’ve had on this podcast, you know, you’ve brought out offshore wind. You know, we do a lot of work in offshore wind ourselves, but there’s also we had a whole podcast, for example, on geothermal. And, you know, the future of oil and gas should be geothermal as an example. Martin thank you. Thank you for taking the time again today to do that. And I guess thanks to everyone for listening as well. Please make sure you subscribe. Obviously, give us a good rating as well and share with your friends. Talk to you next time. Thanks very much again.

 

 

 

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