WM the brief

Enhanced weathering: a natural solution for climate change

Climate change is often diluted into the issue of global warming, a one-dimensional problem which focuses on the increase in temperature across the planet.

Enhanced weathering
Siobhan Archer, Sustainable Investing Specialist

Climate change is often diluted into the issue of global warming, a one-dimensional problem which focuses on the increase in temperature across the planet. This easy-to-grasp concept is one that has been popularised by activists and touted as an easy way to boil down (excuse the pun) a complex issue. The reality of climate change, and its drivers, is that it is a series of levers that have contributed to the large-scale problem we see today.

The planetary boundaries

In 2009, a Swedish scientist, Johan Rockström, led a group of 28 internationally renowned scientists to identify the nine processes that regulate the stability and resilience of the earth’s system – coining the earth’s ‘planetary boundaries’. The concept of planetary boundaries takes into account: freshwater usage, land-system change (for example the cutting down of forests, which are carbon sinks, for a new use like crop growing), ocean acidification and six other areas that influence the planet’s strength, with climate change through global warming being just one. Although this concept complicates climate change, it also brings in some much-needed nuance.

A solution to climate change?

As sustainable investors, we look to invest in companies that provide solutions to climate change: renewable energy companies, battery and storage for electric vehicles, digitalisation, etc. We also look for credible ways to remove carbon dioxide from the air, lessening our impact on the planet.

These carbon removals can be done in different ways: from investing in forestry, as trees have proven to be carbon sinks removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, to more technological solutions such as our partnership with Climeworks. Climeworks builds fans which trap carbon dioxide from the air through very fine mesh-like materials and then reuse the carbon dioxide in gas format, to be added to fizzy drinks or pumped underground to be stored indefinitely as solid carbon.

A lesser-discussed carbon capture method is enhanced weathering. Enhanced weathering looks to replicate and accelerate the naturally occurring, slow process of chemical rock weathering, whereby acid rain reacts with the rocks and soils it lands on. Acid rain is rain that has absorbed carbon dioxide from the air through its organic journey in the atmosphere. Naturally, when rain falls it reacts with rocks on the ground, forming bicarbonate, a solid, and this bicarbonate eventually washes into oceans where the carbon is stored in this solid form for hundreds of thousands of years. Enhanced weathering looks to replicate and speed up this process, by using pulverised or powdered rocks to increase the surface area for this chemical reaction, allowing it to happen at a higher rate and sequester more carbon dioxide from the air.

This carbon capture method has some important co-benefits in terms of biodiversity and the planetary boundaries. The dispersion of minerals in the powdered stones used for the enhanced weathering, usually silicate or carbonate high in calcium or magnesium, are also beneficial for soils and oceans. On land, these minerals can contribute to higher soil quality, reducing the need for fertilisers and pesticides to increase crop yields. In oceans, these minerals contribute to the overall alkalinity (pH levels) of the ocean, helping to neutralise some of the effects of global warming through lowering the acidity. It is important to do this as ocean acidification has some serious effects on certain species of fish, corals and underwater creatures. For example, as ocean acidification increases, organisms that require hard shells and skeletons, such as oysters or snails, will struggle to keep their shells in top condition. If ocean pH levels get too low, their shells may even begin to melt and dissolve. Ocean acidification can also affect the behaviour of clownfish, who are unable to detect predators in more acidic waters and their larvae struggle to find suitable habitats, their senses confused by the new chemistry.

Creation of a high-quality carbon removals market

GT recently announced its participation in the NextGen CDR Facility, an initiative set up to buy and fund high-quality carbon dioxide removals. As a founding buyer, LGT – together with Boston Consulting Group, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, SwissRe and UBS – will purchase over one million tonnes of verified carbon dioxide removals, allowing for the creation of a high-quality carbon removals market. NextGen’s product pipeline will invest across different removal technologies, including enhanced weathering, a growing area of interest.

Enhanced weathering techniques provide a natural solution to the issue of climate change whilst operating within the safe boundaries of nature. We are hopeful that enhanced weathering will become increasingly popular in the years to come.

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