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Success Of Climate Deal Will Hinge On Chemistry

Environment: Innovations in energy technology and new materials will be needed to implement Paris agreement

by Cheryl Hogue
December 14, 2015

Credit: Bryan Meltz/Emory Unversity
Tim Lian, a physical chemist at Emory University, researches light-driven charge transfer for solar energy conversion.
Credit: Bryan Meltz/Emory Unversity
Tim Lian, a physical chemist at Emory University, researches light-driven charge transfer for solar energy conversion.

Chemists and other scientists are expected to play a key role as the world implements the new climate change deal that governments clinched in Paris on Dec. 12.

The historic Paris pact includes commitments by 185 countries and the European Union to control emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. It signals a shift away from a world economy marked by unfettered release of carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels. The agreement is expected to drive innovation in renewable energy, battery storage, and energy efficiency. It also opens the door for more nuclear energy and further development and deployment of technologies to capture and sequester CO2.

American Chemical Society Executive Director and CEO Thomas M. Connelly Jr. says, “The Society appreciates that the delegates at the Paris climate summit have taken the science seriously and appear to have reached agreement on the critical elements of an accord to address climate change.” He adds, “Translating that agreement into effective solutions will demand the best efforts of scientists, with chemists playing a prominent role.” ACS publishes C&EN.

Other chemists likewise see opportunity for innovation in the agreement. Keith E. Peterman, a chemistry professor at York College of Pennsylvania, says the transition from a fossil-fuel-based society to one that increasingly relies on renewable energy will require new materials. “The chemists are going to be the ones to develop them,” says Peterman, who attended the Paris conference.

Advanced materials will also be needed for more sustainable and energy-efficient transportation and construction, says Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme.

Meanwhile, the new accord telegraphs a message to businesses. “It signals encouraging stronger investment in low-carbon solutions—and that requires stronger investment in R&D,” says Elliot Diringer, executive vice president of the Center for Climate & Energy Solutions, a nonpartisan U.S. group that advocates for action to combat climate change. “There is a clear opportunity for business to partner and drive innovative low-carbon and energy efficient solutions forward,” adds Novozymes CEO Peder Holk Nielsen.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry views the Paris accord “as perhaps one of the biggest job creators in the world,” one which will include increased private sector employment for researchers and developers of new materials and technology.



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