A once-in-a-lifetime energy transformation

As the planet edges ever closer to climate change tipping points, is now the time to entertain more radical approaches to climate repair?

December 07, 2022
© Illustration by Ian Morris
© Illustration by Ian Morris

In the coming decades, our cities and countryside will undergo a host of transformations in response to the pressures of a changing climate. For many this shift will be most visible in cities, as just over 80 per cent of the UK’s population live in urban areas.

A growing population will put pressure on the UK’s built environment, but we cannot let investment in new infrastructure lead to increased greenhouse emissions. Meanwhile, the drive towards widespread electrification of heating and transport would constitute one of the biggest changes to the fabric of our streets and homes in a century. The transition will affect almost everyone. To meet our net-zero targets, the UK needs to carry out green upgrades in at least 25m homes in the next three decades—around one every 30 seconds. 

Beyond our cities, rural areas will likely see a surge in nature-based efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change and environmental degradation. From less radical initiatives (such as preserving peat bogs for the vital role they play as a carbon trap) through to proposals for rewilding, we can expect to see more active management of the UK’s depleted biodiversity and ecosystems in the near future.    

Given that the success of climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies is uncertain, more interventionist measures—which have previously occupied the fringes—are attracting more attention as serious options. These range from less contentious approaches, such as carbon capture—which is already being piloted on a large scale by the International Energy Agency—to more controversial ideas, like adding sulphur dioxide to the upper atmosphere to block solar radiation. If the UK doesn’t explore these options, other countries still might.

Our contributors urge the UK policymaking community to position itself at the forefront of innovation in this sphere. To bolster local energy capacity, Guy Newey makes the case for enabling energy transfers between neighbours. Dervilla Mitchell argues for an injection of pace and ambition in decarbonising the very fabric of the built environment: concrete itself. David King champions climate repair by asking: is it time to start entertaining the idea of “refreezing” the Arctic?

This article first appeared in Minister for the future, a special report produced in association with Nesta.