Updated Climate Change Problem Profile


  • 2019-10-20 - Cur­rent ver­sion, changelog:

    • Made lan­guage more neu­tral as per feed­back from Kit.

    • Re­duced pro­posed ne­glect­ed­ness from 6 to 4, which is still an in­crease from 2 used in the origi­nal pro­file. This re­duces the over­all score to 24.

    • Added note about lack of quan­ti­ta­tive re­search into im­pacts of 4C+ of warm­ing.

    • Added links to three spe­cific or­ga­ni­za­tions which have been eval­u­ated be­fore—Cool Earth, Coal­i­tion of Rain­for­est Na­tions, Clean Air Task Force.

    • Added a few more links to Learn More.

  • 2019-10-07 - V1 posted.


In this post I have de­tailed sev­eral points of feed­back about the cur­rent 80,000 Hours Cli­mate Change prob­lem pro­file (pub­lished in April 2016) which I have used as mo­ti­va­tion to draft an up­dated prob­lem pro­file. I pro­pose that the re­vised to­tal score for Cli­mate Change should be 24, up­grad­ing its sta­tus to be­ing a “Recom­mended” cause.

I look for­ward to re­ceiv­ing feed­back on any part of this.

Re­lated: In a re­cent AMA, Will MacAskill was asked “Do you think cli­mate change is ne­glected within EA?”. This topic was also pre­vi­ously dis­cussed in a thread ti­tled “Does cli­mate change de­serve more at­ten­tion within EA?” back in April 2019 on this fo­rum.

Feed­back on cur­rent Cli­mate Change prob­lem profile


The ex­ist­ing pro­file as­signs a ne­glect­ed­ness score of 2 out of 12 with the com­ment:

“The re­sources ded­i­cated to pre­vent­ing cli­mate change globally, in­clud­ing both in­side and out­side all gov­ern­ments, is prob­a­bly $100-1,000 billion per year. How­ever, we are down­grad­ing that to an effec­tive $10-100 billion per year, be­cause much of this spend­ing i) would have hap­pened for other rea­sons, ii) is not fo­cused on the ex­treme risks of cli­mate change, or iii) is poorly al­lo­cated.”

The Ne­glect­ed­ness scor­ing guideline ad­vises that any cause with $10 billion of fund­ing a year is 2 out of 12 ne­glected.

I dis­agree with this ap­proach to scor­ing ne­glect­ed­ness for two rea­sons. Firstly, this ap­proach will un­der­value cap­i­tal in­ten­sive causes where the to­tal re­quired in­vest­ment is so large that $10 billion/​year may still rep­re­sent un­der­fund­ing. A bet­ter model would be one which ex­am­ined the to­tal fund­ing re­quired to solve the prob­lem com­pared to the cur­rent level of fund­ing. For the ex­am­ple of cli­mate change, the lat­est UN press re­lease (2019-10-23) states that “the world would need to in­crease its efforts be­tween three-and five-fold to con­tain cli­mate change to the lev­els dic­tated by sci­ence –a 1.5°C rise at most –and avoid es­ca­lat­ing cli­mate dam­age already tak­ing place around the world”. This im­plies that there is still plenty of scope for fur­ther ac­tion – this is not an area which seems likely to be suffer­ing from diminish­ing re­turns yet. Se­condly, the cur­rent scor­ing ap­proach favours causes where a sin­gle ex­tra per­son work­ing on the area will have a big to­tal im­pact. This is an im­por­tant lens to use to con­sider causes, but fails in cases where a cause with many peo­ple already work­ing on it can still use­fully use many more.


The ex­ist­ing pro­file as­signs a solv­abil­ity score of 4 out of 8 with the com­ment:

“Co­or­di­na­tion is difficult due to the free-rider prob­lem. How­ever some op­tions such as effi­ciency are straight­for­ward.”

The Solv­abil­ity scor­ing guideline ad­vises that a score of 4 means that dou­bling di­rect in­vest­ment would solve 1% of the prob­lem.

The Draw­down Pro­ject lists 80 solu­tions for avoid­ing CO2 emis­sions in the pe­riod 2020-2050. To­gether, these are costed to $29.6T to miti­gate 1034 GT CO2. 37 GT were emit­ted in 2018 (source), so as­sum­ing flat emis­sions in the pe­riod 2020-2050, we would ex­pect 1110 GT CO2 to be emit­ted. So the solu­tions de­scribed in Pro­ject Draw­down are the cor­rect or­der of mag­ni­tude to avoid/​miti­gate all of these emis­sions. The Cli­mate Policy Ini­ti­a­tive found that in the pe­riod 2015-16 there was $463B/​year of cli­mate in­vest­ment. As­sum­ing flat in­vest­ment in the pe­riod 2020-2050 gives $13.9T. So a dou­bling of in­vest­ment would be the right or­der of mag­ni­tude to en­tirely pay for the solu­tions listed by the Draw­down Pro­ject. This back of the en­velope calcu­la­tion has many flaws but sug­gests to me that the cur­rent solv­abil­ity score is too low – a dou­bling of in­vest­ment would solve 10-100% of the prob­lem. Be­ing con­ser­va­tive, that would sug­gest in­creas­ing the solv­abil­ity score from 4 (1%) to 6 (10%).

Out of Date Sources

The ex­ist­ing pro­file states that it is mostly based on the “Open Philan­thropy Pro­ject’s re­ports on an­thro­pogenic cli­mate change, ex­treme risks from cli­mate change and geo­eng­ineer­ing re­search”. Th­ese sources ap­pear to have been pri­mar­ily writ­ten based on the IPCC AR4, pub­lished in 2007. The ex­treme risks page also men­tions IPCC AR5, pub­lished in 2014.

This whole cause pro­file should be writ­ten with refer­ence to IPCC AR5 along with the more re­cent IPCC SR15 pub­lished in 2018. SR15 is a par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant source as it con­tains the most up to date car­bon bud­get which was 420 giga tonnes of car­bon diox­ide for a 66% chance of limit­ing warm­ing to 1.5 de­grees. In 2018 the world emit­ted 37 giga tonnes of car­bon diox­ide. So if emis­sions con­tinue at this rate, we will have spent our re­main­ing car­bon bud­get in less than 12 years, start­ing in 2018.

Fo­cus on Ex­treme Risks

The ex­ist­ing pro­file fo­cuses on what it terms “ex­treme risks” from cli­mate change but doesn’t jus­tify why the risks at lower tem­per­a­tures are not also very con­cern­ing.

“there ap­pears to be an un­com­fortable prob­a­bil­ity — small, but non-neg­ligible — of se­ri­ously bad out­comes re­sult­ing from un­miti­gated green­house emis­sions. We call these the ex­treme risks from cli­mate change.”

This seems at odds with the cur­rent fore­casts for ex­pected lev­els of warm­ing and what the im­pacts will be from this warm­ing.

The Cli­mate Ac­tion Tracker tracks ex­pected warm­ing given cur­rent na­tional com­mit­ments to re­duce emis­sions. Their lat­est anal­y­sis in Septem­ber 2019 fore­casts 2.9C (2.3C − 3.7C) of warm­ing if cur­rent pledges and tar­gets are met. How­ever, there is a “25% chance [of ex­ceed­ing 4°C by the end of the cen­tury] based on the higher end of the cur­rent poli­cies sce­nario”.

The de­tailed im­pacts of such large amounts of global warm­ing are cur­rently poorly un­der­stood. The UK For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Office com­mis­sioned a 2015 risk as­sess­ment on the topic of cli­mate change. It’s rele­vant to quote a sec­tion of this re­port here.

--- (Be­gin quote from 2015 risk as­sess­ment)

The de­tailed chap­ters of the same re­port [AR5] sug­gest that the im­pacts cor­re­spond­ing to high de­grees of tem­per­a­ture in­crease are not only rel­a­tively un­known, but also rel­a­tively un­stud­ied. This is illus­trated by the fol­low­ing quotes:

  • Crops: “Rel­a­tively few stud­ies have con­sid­ered im­pacts on crop­ping sys­tems for sce­nar­ios where global mean tem­per­a­tures in­crease by 4ºC or more.”

  • Ecosys­tems: “There are few field-scale ex­per­i­ments on ecosys­tems at the high­est CO2 con­cen­tra­tions pro­jected by RCP8.5 for late in the cen­tury, and none of these in­clude the effects of other po­ten­tial con­found­ing fac­tors.”

  • Health: “Most at­tempts to quan­tify health bur­dens as­so­ci­ated with fu­ture cli­mate change con­sider mod­est in­creases in global tem­per­a­ture, typ­i­cally less than 2ºC.”

  • Poverty: “Although there is high agree­ment about the het­ero­gene­ity of fu­ture im­pacts on poverty, few stud­ies con­sider more di­verse cli­mate change sce­nar­ios, or the po­ten­tial of 4ºC and be­yond.”

  • Hu­man se­cu­rity: “Much of the cur­rent liter­a­ture on hu­man se­cu­rity and cli­mate change is in­formed by con­tem­po­rary re­la­tion­ships and ob­ser­va­tion and hence is limited in an­a­lyz­ing the hu­man se­cu­rity im­pli­ca­tions of rapid or se­vere cli­mate change.”

  • Eco­nomics: “Losses ac­cel­er­ate with greater warm­ing, but few quan­ti­ta­tive es­ti­mates have been com­pleted for ad­di­tional warm­ing around 3ºC or above.”

A sim­ple con­clu­sion is that we need to know more about the im­pacts as­so­ci­ated with higher de­grees of tem­per­a­ture in­crease. But in many cases this is difficult. For ex­am­ple, it may be close to im­pos­si­ble to say any­thing about the changes that could take place in com­plex dy­namic sys­tems, such as ecosys­tems or at­mo­spheric cir­cu­la­tion pat­terns, as a re­sult of very large changes very far into the fu­ture.

--- (End quote from 2015 risk as­sess­ment)

In 2018, the IPCC SR15 re­port ex­am­ined the im­pact of 1.5C vs 2.0C of tem­per­a­ture in­crease. This re­port makes it clear that even the differ­ence be­tween 1.5C and 2.0C of warm­ing is suffi­cient to im­pact hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple.

  • “limit­ing global warm­ing to 1.5°C, com­pared with 2°C, could re­duce the num­ber of peo­ple both ex­posed to cli­mate-re­lated risks and sus­cep­ti­ble to poverty by up to sev­eral hun­dred mil­lion by 2050”

  • “Limit­ing global warm­ing to 1.5°C in­stead of 2°C could re­sult in around 420 mil­lion fewer peo­ple be­ing fre­quently ex­posed to ex­treme heat­waves”

  • “ex­po­sure to the in­crease in wa­ter scarcity in 2050 will be globally re­duced by 184–270 mil­lion peo­ple at about 1.5°C of warm­ing com­pared to the im­pacts at about 2°C”

In ad­di­tion to this, it’s im­por­tant to recog­nise that there re­mains a large amount of un­cer­tainty about when cer­tain cli­mate tip­ping points (e.g. melt­ing arc­tic ice, melt­ing per­mafrost) may be ac­ti­vated and speed up the re­sult­ing warm­ing. This pos­si­bil­ity is not ac­counted for in the es­ti­mates pro­duced by the Cli­mate Ac­tion Tracker.

So in sum­mary, we are cur­rently on course to ex­pe­rience 2.9C (2.3C − 3.7C) of warm­ing by 2100 with a 25% chance of ex­ceed­ing 4°C. We know that the im­pacts of 2.0C vs 1.5C is already very large. Im­pacts at higher tem­per­a­tures will be even higher (non-lin­early), and poorly un­der­stood tip­ping points mean we may reach these higher tem­per­a­tures even sooner than ex­pected. There­fore this pro­file should not just fo­cus on the ex­treme risks of cli­mate change—even the fore­cast level of warm­ing takes us into very dan­ger­ous ter­ri­tory.

Rea­sons not to work on it—Some­what crowded

The ex­ist­ing pro­file says the fol­low­ing:

“Although only a small amount of this effort fo­cuses on the ex­treme risks from cli­mate change, re­duc­tions in green­house emis­sions dis­pro­por­tionately re­duce the risk of ex­treme tem­per­a­ture in­creases. There­fore most of the ex­ist­ing fund­ing di­rected at cli­mate change is go­ing to a quite rea­son­able strat­egy for work­ing on the ex­treme risks from cli­mate change and you might think that this prob­lem is already re­ceiv­ing quite a lot of re­sources.”

This fails to con­sider whether the cur­rent lev­els of re­sourc­ing are enough to meet the tar­get of limit­ing warm­ing to 1.5C. The Cli­mate Ac­tion Tracker fore­casts 2.9C (2.3C − 3.7C) of warm­ing if cur­rent pledges and tar­gets are met—hence more ac­tion is clearly needed.

Rea­sons not to work on it—Difficult to make progress

The ex­ist­ing pro­file says the fol­low­ing:

“Given these difficul­ties, you might ex­pect efforts to re­duce cli­mate change to have lit­tle pay­off. Con­sis­tent with that, many coun­tries have failed to meet their stated com­mit­ments to re­duce car­bon emis­sions.”

This is too sim­plis­tic. The Draw­down Pro­ject has ex­am­ined 80 scal­able solu­tions for re­duc­ing emis­sions, many of which are ex­pected to be prof­itable to de­ploy. Elec­tric­ity from wind/​so­lar is now cheaper than from coal. There are huge op­por­tu­ni­ties to make very di­rect im­pacts on re­duc­ing/​miti­gat­ing emis­sions – they need more in­vest­ment and more peo­ple work­ing on them.

Pro­posed new Cli­mate Change prob­lem profile

Ti­tle: Cli­mate Change [with­out the “(ex­treme risks)” suffix]


Green­house emis­sions are likely to lead to global tem­per­a­ture in­creases of 2.3ºC-3.7ºC by 2100 with a 25% chance of ex­ceed­ing 4°C based on cur­rent na­tional poli­cies. Warm­ing of greater than 4C takes the world into ter­ri­tory where the im­pacts on hu­man­ity are very difficult to fore­cast but which are likely to be catas­trophic and mu­tu­ally re­in­forc­ing. Poorly un­der­stood cli­mate tip­ping points which are not in­cluded in cur­rent fore­casts may cause us to reach these tem­per­a­tures decades sooner than ex­pected.

You are more likely to think that ex­treme cli­mate change is among the most press­ing global prob­lems if you think that we have obli­ga­tions to peo­ple who do not yet ex­ist and that there is great value in en­sur­ing that hu­man civ­i­liza­tion con­tinues in the long term.

There are many op­tions for work­ing on this prob­lem in­clud­ing re­duc­ing green­house emis­sions through ca­reers in poli­tics, think-tanks or jour­nal­ism, work on de­vel­op­ing lower emis­sions tech­nolo­gies as an en­g­ineer or sci­en­tist, and work to de­ploy lower emis­sions solu­tions by work­ing as an en­trepreneur or for a com­pany which is already work­ing in this area.

  • Our over­all view: Recom­mended This is among the most press­ing prob­lems to work on.

  • Scale: 1416 Cli­mate change will im­pact 100s of mil­lions of peo­ple and, if emis­sions con­tinue, could have catas­trophic con­se­quences for hu­man civil­i­sa­tion. Also see ‘Ex­pla­na­tion of how we scored this prob­lem’ be­low.

  • Ne­glect­ed­ness: 412 Many peo­ple are already work­ing on this area. How­ever, the scale of the re­quired solu­tion is so large that there is lit­tle ev­i­dence of diminish­ing re­turns from fur­ther effort.

  • Solv­abil­ity: 68 Lots of differ­ent solu­tions have been iden­ti­fied and to­gether these can achieve net-zero within the 2050 timeline set out by the IPCC.

  • Pro­file depth: Ex­plo­ra­tory

  • Pro­file au­thor: Martin Hare Robertson

  • Last up­dated: Oc­to­ber 2019

This is one of many pro­files we’ve writ­ten to help peo­ple find the most press­ing prob­lems they can solve with their ca­reers. Learn more about how we com­pare differ­ent prob­lems, see how we try to score them nu­mer­i­cally, and see how this prob­lem com­pares to the oth­ers we’ve con­sid­ered so far.

What is this prob­lem and how much does it mat­ter?

What is our anal­y­sis based on?

We drew on the Open Philan­thropy Pro­ject’s re­ports on an­thro­pogenic cli­mate change, ex­treme risks from cli­mate change and geo­eng­ineer­ing re­search which are pri­mar­ily based on the 2007 IPCC AR4. This pro­file has been sub­se­quently up­dated with refer­ence to the 2014 IPCC AR5 and 2018 IPCC SR15 re­ports along with Pro­ject Draw­down.

What is this prob­lem and what are the ar­gu­ments for work­ing on it?

Based on cur­rently an­nounced na­tional com­mit­ments, green­house emis­sions are likely to lead to global tem­per­a­ture in­creases of 2.3ºC-3.7ºC by 2100 with a 25% chance of ex­ceed­ing 4°C based on cur­rent na­tional poli­cies.

Warm­ing of greater than 2C will re­sult in sig­nifi­cant hu­man­i­tar­ian harms to hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple, in­clud­ing more se­vere weather, food crises, and the spread of in­fec­tious dis­eases, which would dis­pro­por­tionately af­fect the world’s worst off. Warm­ing of greater than 4C takes the world into ter­ri­tory where the im­pacts on hu­man­ity are very difficult to fore­cast but which are likely to be catas­trophic and mu­tu­ally re­in­forc­ing. Hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple may be forced to mi­grate, while drought and famine also af­fect similar num­bers of peo­ple. In 2018 the to­tal num­ber of re­fugees, asy­lum-seek­ers, and in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple wor­ld­wide, as tracked by the UN, was ~70 mil­lion peo­ple. There­fore, if hun­dreds of mil­lions of ad­di­tional peo­ple are forced to mi­grate, this may re­sult in con­flict and ul­ti­mately the failure of some na­tion states. Poorly un­der­stood cli­mate tip­ping points which are not in­cluded in cur­rent fore­casts may cause us to reach these tem­per­a­tures decades sooner than ex­pected.

This warm­ing is hap­pen­ing at a time when a very large num­ber of an­i­mal species are be­ing pushed to ex­tinc­tion. In Novem­ber 2017, 15,364 sci­en­tists signed a World Scien­tists’ Warn­ing to Hu­man­ity: A Se­cond No­tice which stated that “we have un­leashed a mass ex­tinc­tion event, the sixth in roughly 540 mil­lion years, wherein many cur­rent life forms could be an­nihilated or at least com­mit­ted to ex­tinc­tion by the end of this cen­tury”. The UN 2019 Global En­vi­ron­ment Out­look re­port states that “A ma­jor species ex­tinc­tion event, com­pro­mis­ing plane­tary in­tegrity and Earth’s ca­pac­ity to meet hu­man needs, is un­fold­ing.” This is be­ing caused by more than cli­mate change. How­ever, a rapidly chang­ing cli­mate will wipe out many species which are already vuln­er­a­ble.

IPCC SR15 stated that limit­ing warm­ing to 1.5C re­quires a 45% re­duc­tion in CO2 by 2030 and net-zero by 2050. The re­main­ing car­bon bud­get for a 66% prob­a­bil­ity of limit­ing warm­ing to 1.5C is 420 GtCO2. An­nual global emis­sions of 37 GtCO2 in 2018 gives fewer than 12 years of cur­rent emis­sions be­fore we are likely com­mit­ted to 1.5C of warm­ing.

The Draw­down Pro­ject, work­ing with over 200 schol­ars, sci­en­tists, poli­cy­mak­ers, busi­ness lead­ers, and ac­tivists, ex­am­ined 80 differ­ent solu­tions which could be de­ployed. Taken to­gether, these solu­tions chart a course to a world which would have net-nega­tive emis­sions around 2050. The solu­tion which re­duces CO2 the most only ac­counts for 8.7% of the to­tal. Hence, no sin­gle solu­tion can be pur­sued in iso­la­tion—all of the listed solu­tions would be re­quired to reach net zero.

The changes re­quired to deal with cli­mate change are mas­sively de­cen­tral­ised as they im­pact the way that gov­ern­ments, cities, com­pa­nies, and com­mu­ni­ties op­er­ate. This means that it is rel­a­tively easy to end up in a po­si­tion within an or­gani­sa­tion which has some di­rect con­trol over how quickly that or­gani­sa­tion will re­duce their emis­sions.

What are the ma­jor ar­gu­ments against work­ing on it?

This area re­ceives a lot of at­ten­tion already from gov­ern­ments, think tanks, in­ter­na­tional or­gani­sa­tions (such as the United Na­tions), com­pa­nies, and non-prof­its. Cli­mate Change has been an es­tab­lished prob­lem for for over 30 years, with the IPCC be­ing formed in 1988 and re­leas­ing the first Assess­ment Re­port in 1990. In­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion since then has re­sulted in the 1997 Ky­oto Pro­to­col and the 2015 Paris Agree­ment. The Cli­mate Policy Ini­ti­a­tive found that $463 billion/​year was spent on cli­mate ac­tion in 201516. There is also a long his­tory of grass­roots ac­tivism about cli­mate change from or­gani­sa­tions such as 350.org (2007), Peo­ple’s Cli­mate Move­ment (2014), The Cli­mate Mo­bil­i­sa­tion (2014), Sun­rise Move­ment (2017), School Strike for Cli­mate (2018), and Ex­tinc­tion Re­bel­lion (2018). De­spite all of this, global emis­sions con­tinue to rise. Given the broad scope of the prob­lem and the large sur­face area of the re­quired solu­tions, it is likely to be difficult to have any cer­tainty about whether any spe­cific work on the prob­lem is the most effec­tive work which you could be do­ing on the prob­lem.

The in­ter­na­tional di­men­sion cre­ates a free-rider prob­lem be­tween coun­tries – it is in each coun­try’s in­ter­est to bear less of the costs of cli­mate change miti­ga­tion, which makes in­ter­na­tional co­or­di­na­tion on poli­cies difficult. In par­tic­u­lar, if you are do­ing work in one coun­try to re­duce emis­sions, this work may be more than offset by ac­tions taken in other coun­tries.

Key judge­ment calls you need to make

You are more likely to think that this is among the most press­ing global prob­lems, if:

  • You think that we have obli­ga­tions to peo­ple who do not yet ex­ist (in ad­di­tion to peo­ple who cur­rently ex­ist).

  • You think that there is great value in en­sur­ing that hu­man civ­i­liza­tion con­tinues in the long term.

  • You think there is great value to pre­serv­ing the Earth’s ecosys­tems and bio­di­over­sity.

What can you do about this prob­lem?

What ap­proaches ex­ist for solv­ing this prob­lem?

World green­house gas emis­sions must rapidly drop to zero. There are sev­eral di­men­sions to this.

  • Directly Re­duc­ing Emis­sions—Every com­pany, city, and build­ing will need to get to net-zero emis­sions. The re­quired changes will vary. Some of the solu­tions are already known and just need to be rapidly de­ployed (see Pro­ject Draw­down). Some prob­lems still need to be solved (e.g. net-zero long haul haulage, ship­ping, and flights).

  • Policy—Na­tional and lo­cal policy can be used to en­courage faster de­ploy­ment of these solu­tions.

  • Poli­ti­cal—The re­quired policy changes are likely to be driven par­tially by grass­roots mass move­ment cam­paigns which provide demo­cratic poli­ti­cal sup­port for these changes.

  • Re­port­ing/​Ac­countabil­ity—Com­pa­nies are start­ing to in­clude cli­mate re­port­ing as part of their reg­u­lar re­port­ing. Firstly, this can cover a com­pany’s own car­bon foot­print and its plans to re­duce this. Se­condly, this can in­clude ex­po­sures that the com­pany has to the im­pacts of cli­mate change (e.g. ex­pected changes in prices of crops or im­pacts of gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion).

  • Fi­nan­cial Mar­kets—Over $11 trillion of in­sti­tu­tional in­vest­ment has been di­vested from fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies. Scal­ing all of the solu­tions which re­duce emis­sions will re­quire a large amount of fi­nanc­ing.

  • Nega­tive Emis­sions—It is likely that we will need to de­ploy CO2 re­moval at scale to reach net-zero by 2050 as per IPCC SR15.

  • Research

    • Cli­mate Science—Fur­ther re­search on the ex­pected im­pacts of cli­mate change is still re­quired. How­ever, we already know enough to be sure that ur­gent ac­tion is re­quired. One of the largest re­main­ing ar­eas of un­cer­tainty is about the spe­cific global im­pacts of warm­ing of 4C and above. It’s pos­si­ble that fur­ther re­search into this would help to strengthen the case for faster ac­tion to re­duce the risk of this much warm­ing.

    • So­cietal Re­silence—Re­search into how to min­imise the sys­temic risks to so­ciety from cli­mate change.

    • Geo­eng­ineer­ing—Geo­eng­ineer­ing refers to large-scale in­ter­ven­tions in the Earth’s cli­matic sys­tem with the aim of limit­ing cli­mate change. Geo­eng­ineer­ing may be­come more at­trac­tive to gov­ern­ments in the fu­ture if large tem­per­a­ture in­creases oc­cur. Re­search we do now about its fea­si­bil­ity, likely side-effects, risks and op­ti­mal gov­er­nance could help fu­ture poli­cy­mak­ers make more in­formed de­ci­sions about whether to use geo­eng­ineer­ing when fac­ing ex­treme cli­mate change. How­ever, con­tinued in­vest­ment in geo­eng­ineer­ing re­search may also cause less in­vest­ment in other miti­ga­tion and adap­ta­tion strate­gies. See GiveWell’s page on geo­eng­ineer­ing re­search for more.

What skill sets and re­sources are most needed?

  • Poli­cy­mak­ers, ac­tivists and lob­by­ists who can de­liver poli­cies and pro­grams at scale to re­duce green­house gas emis­sions.

  • Eng­ineers who can de­velop new clean tech­nol­ogy and al­ter­na­tive en­ergy sources.

Who is already work­ing on this prob­lem?

  • Directly Re­duc­ing Emis­sionsPro­ject Draw­down have iden­ti­fied 80 scal­able solu­tions. This blog post ex­am­ines some of the gen­eral is­sues.

  • Policy—Coun­tries define their own Na­tion­ally Deter­mined Con­tri­bu­tion (NDC) un­der the Paris Agree­ment. Th­ese are cur­rently asses by Cli­mate Ac­tion Tracker. Cli­mate change is rele­vant to many as­pects of na­tional policy, in­clud­ing en­ergy gen­er­a­tion policy, en­ergy effi­ciency stan­dards, build­ing reg­u­la­tions, coastal and flood plain defences, wa­ter policy etc. Many coun­tries also have their own ded­i­cated cli­mate change policy units e.g. the Com­mit­tee on Cli­mate Change (CCC) in the UK. A no­table foun­da­tion work­ing on en­courag­ing gov­ern­ment adop­tion of miti­ga­tion poli­cies is Cli­mateWorks.

  • Poli­ti­cal—There are sev­eral ac­tive grass­roots or­ganis­ing move­ments, in­clud­ing Sun­rise Move­ment (US), School Strike for Cli­mate (Global), Ex­tinc­tion Re­bel­lion (Global), 350.org (Global).

  • Re­port­ing/​Ac­countabil­ity—The most com­mon re­port­ing stan­dard is the GHG Pro­to­col, with re­ports sub­mit­ted to the Car­bon Dis­clo­sure Pro­ject (CDP). GHG Pro­to­col clas­sifies emis­sions into three scopes - (1) di­rect emis­sions, (2) in­di­rect emis­sions from elec­tric­ity, (3) in­di­rect emis­sions from sup­pli­ers or cus­tomers of your product. Scope 3 emis­sions are of­ten a dom­i­nant source of emis­sions for a com­pany, which im­plies that com­pa­nies need to work more closely with their sup­pli­ers and con­sider the life­time emis­sions of their prod­ucts af­ter they are sold to cus­tomers. CDP scores the GHG Pro­to­col dis­clo­sures on a four level scale: A—Lead­er­ship, B—Man­age­ment, C—Aware­ness, D—Dis­clo­sure (see page 8 of this). The Science Based Tar­gets (SBT) ini­ti­a­tive sup­ports com­pa­nies in set­ting tar­gets con­sis­tent with limit­ing warm­ing to 1.5C.

  • Fi­nan­cial Mar­kets—Fos­sil Fuel Divest­ment is tracked cen­trally here, al­though there are lots of smaller lo­cal cam­paigns. The UN Green Cli­mate Fund is in­vest­ing billions in pro­jects around the world.

  • Nega­tive Emis­sions—Com­pa­nies such as Car­bon Eng­ineer­ing and ClimeWorks are work­ing on com­mer­cial­is­ing di­rect cap­ture of CO2 from air. The World Re­sources Ini­ti­a­tive pro­duced a re­port on the grow­ing mar­ket in re­foresta­tion and land restora­tion. Cool Earth was iden­ti­fied by Giv­ing What We Can’s re­search as a promis­ing or­gani­sa­tion work­ing on pre­vent­ing de­foresta­tion.

  • Research

Another source of in­for­ma­tion about which or­gani­sa­tions are work­ing in this area is to re­view the an­nounce­ments made at cli­mate sum­mits e.g. the Septem­ber 2019 UN Cli­mate Ac­tion Sum­mit.

What can you con­cretely do to help?

Learn more