The research priorities to address climate and climate mitigation strategies will need to shift significantly and quickly. Davies and Rejeski  addressed this issue in the context of EPA and nanotechnology, but the same fundamental issues of the pace and scope of technological change also hold true for climate issues and for other organizations. They noted that:
EPA has spent its entire existence in a rearguard battle to mitigate the impacts of technologies born during the Industrial Revolution. The internal combustion engine, invented in the late "19th century", was just one. The same story could be told about the basic technologies used by the chemical industry or in manufacturing or electricity generation, to name just a few.
EPA has made impressive progress in restoring clean air and clean water, but if it is to deal with new technological challenges, it will need new approaches.
As seen in the discussions above, new technologies are expected to be key components of climate mitigation technologies. Research programs will need to be flexible enough to address these emerging disciplines and responsive enough to incorporate breakthroughs and new results.
Key research needs, ordered by the stage of research from fundamental to applied rather than by priority, are:
1. Fundamental research is needed to better understand the basic physical, chemical, and biological processes involved with new technologies and their applications. Improved understanding of catalyst chemistry, biological processes for fuel production, nanomaterial behavior, and combustion processes for alternative fuels are examples of areas in which a more thorough fundamental understanding is needed to evaluate the potential for GHG mitigation technologies to adversely impact the environment.
2. Research is needed to understand where emerging technologies may be used in climate mitigation applications (and in which situations those technologies are not suitable for use), how they can benefit mitigation efforts, and how they may impact the environment.
3. To fully evaluate the environmental impacts of climate change mitigation approaches, research is needed to quantify the health and ecosystem effects associated with the effluents and other stressors caused by mitigation approaches. In some cases, these effects are relatively well understood, particularly where the changes are in amount and location. In other cases, the stressors will also have changed, which will require developing an understanding of the effects associated with exposure to those stressors. Emissions of nanomaterials and genetically modified organisms are specific examples of such changed stressors. Many of the impacts identified above are to ecosystems, which have historically been of secondary importance to human health impacts. Given the increasing emphasis on use of biomass and the impacts of land use changes, additional emphasis on ecosystem health is warranted.
4. Support for technology development, demonstration, and deployment is crucial to the success of GHG emission mitigation [4, 5]. The need for information on the long-term environmental impacts must not be overlooked in the planning and implementation of the research efforts. These efforts must also include measurements of the types and amounts of effluents to air, water, and soil; direct changes in land use and impacts on ecosystems; and evaluation of the impacts associated with the construction and end-of-life disposal of the system being evaluated.
5. Information is needed in the near term to support regulatory decisions that must be made during the permitting stages of new technology demonstrations. Demonstration projects that are designed and operated in such a way that they cause measurable adverse environmental impacts will construct for themselves a significant barrier to further development and commercial acceptance. It is crucial, then, to have the support of the regulatory agencies for such projects, and that support will hinge upon the availability of the best possible data and information on environmental impacts associated with the construction and operation of these new technologies.
6. There is a critical need to develop consistent data and work with existing methods already developed for life cycle analyses and assessments (such as ISO 14040 and related standards ) of mitigation technologies and strategies. The life cycle analyses must go beyond evaluation of life cycle GHG or net energy consumption and address other environmental impacts to the extent possible. In many, if not most, cases, this will require significant collection of data on environmental emissions and impacts for use in life cycle assessments.
7. Climate change by its very nature is a consequence of the global scale of emissions, and many of the environmental impacts may also be of concern because they are so widespread. Research and mitigation of environmental impacts other than climate change have historically been focused on much smaller scales, particularly at the plant, neighborhood, and urban scales. The tools and approaches used for evaluations at these smaller studies are not necessarily appropriate for continental and global scale evaluations. In addition, when the scale of the system being studied increases, the types and extent of cross-systems interactions also tends to increase, resulting in significantly more complex problems. Research on such large scales will require different analytical and measurement tools and a greater degree of cross-disciplinary interaction.
8. Because the scale of the climate issue is global, research must provide the information necessary to address the environmental impacts on an international level. Interactions among researchers and technology developers across national boundaries are crucial to ensuring that environmental impacts are not simply transferred to different locations, and to enable potential international agreements to mitigate GHG emissions that are protective of local environments and particularly of sensitive and special ecosystems. 9. Finally, many of the approaches for reducing GHG emissions involve direct action by, and interaction with, the general public. The use of compact fluorescent light bulbs is one example of a mitigation measure that directly involves situations in which the general public would need to act to mitigate potential environmental impacts associated with that measure. Although there are efforts to provide information on energy efficiency, climate footprint, and other parameters directly related to GHG emission mitigation, similar information about the potential adverse environmental impacts of these approaches is not always available. Guidance on disposal of advanced lighting technologies and embedded electronics components, awareness of material and product recycling, and other information that can be directly used by the general public needs to be more fully developed and communicated.
Although there is growing research in many developing areas, the level of research support is significantly below what is likely to be needed. The IEA report estimates that, globally, about $16 trillion in research, development, and deployment investments in energy technologies, including the cost of deploying new technologies at full scale, will be needed from now until 2050, or about $400 billion per year . To be most effective, these investments need to be made earlier rather than later, which means that investments in the first 10-20 years should be at significantly higher levels than the $400 billion. These investments include not only fundamental research, but also support for technology development, demonstration, and deployment costs. However, it is not clear whether these investments include the research needed to understand the environmental impacts associated with emerging energy technologies, and it is certain that they do not include research associated with agriculture, afforestation, and reforestation, and other non-energy mitigation approaches.
Was this article helpful?