‘Time is no longer on our side’: Cambridge scientists to test radical ways to stop climate change

The University of Cambridge is launching a new research lab to explore radical ways of fixing the Earth’s climate.

The new centre is being established in response to concerns current efforts to tackle climate change by reducing emissions will not be enough to halt or reverse damage to the environment.

The Centre for Climate Repair project is being coordinated by Sir David King, a former chief scientific adviser to the government, who said time “is no longer on our side”.

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“What we continue to do, what we do that is new, and what we plan to do over the next 10 to 12 years will determine the future of humanity for the next 10,000 [years],” he said.

Refreezing the Earth’s polar regions and removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere are among the bold ideas being proposed for research. Known as geoengineering , such futuristic techniques could become a reality if scientists manage to figure out a way of implementing them.

Widespread changes in extreme temperatures have been observed over the last 50 years. Cold days, cold nights and frost have become less frequent, while hot days, hot nights, and heat waves have become more frequent.

One idea being considered by scientists is spraying salt water high into the atmosphere to “whiten” clouds in the Arctic region in order to reflect heat back into space.

Another proposal is “re-greening” and “greening” areas of the planet with vegetation, on sea and on land, to remove carbon dioxide from the air.

In October the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that changes on an unprecedented scale would be needed by society to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

The panel said countries need to cut carbon emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 and to net zero by 2050, with steep cuts in other greenhouse gases such as methane. The IPCC said methods to take excess carbon out of the atmosphere, known as carbon capture, will also be needed.

A poll by YouGov at the time found that a majority of Britons would be happy to reduce their consumption of resources to slow or halt the negative effects of climate change.

One in three preferred an approach that relies on technological solutions to counter climate change.

Steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or lessen the health impacts of climate change could have positive health effects. For example, promoting the safe use of public transportation and active movement - such as biking or walking as alternatives to using private vehicles - could reduce carbon dioxide emissions and improve public health. They can not only cut traffic injuries, but also air pollution and associated respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Increased levels of physical activity can lower overall mortality rates.

Additional reporting by Press Association