408. WE-Heraeus-Seminar: A Physics Perspective on Energy Supply and Climate Change: Prediction, Mitigation and Adaptation

A Physics Perspective on Energy Supply and Climate Change: Prediction, Mitigation and Adaptation

Su, 25.05.2008 18:00  –   Th, 29.05.2008 15:30
W. Blum, CERN Genf; U. Platt, U Heidelberg
Physikzentrum Bad Honnef
Hauptstr. 5, 53604 Bad Honnef, Germany

Event partner:
Wilhelm and Else Heraeus-Foundation
Contact person:
Werner Aeschbach-Hertig,


Background and Purpose

A dramatic climatic impact resulting from man’s industrial and agricultural activities is by now a fact. The most prominent greenhouse gas is CO2, which is released in huge quantities in energy production. Consequences of particular concern are a shift of climatic zones, sea level rise, lowering of the ocean’s pH, declining biodiversity and increasing weather extremes. Political response to the problem has been building up, none the least by the UN and the EU, with guidance provided by the recent IPCC 2007 report: The matter is urgent, as countermeasures will be become increasingly expensive if postponed. To anticipate the consequences and define ways to alleviate them is a major scientific challenge, to which physicists can contribute in various ways.

The starting point is a prediction of temperature rises and their potential consequences. Climate and environmental system modelling has reached a state where the results agree adequately with many observations, but to provide a rational basis for political action, further refinement is necessary.

In view of the dominating role of CO2, low carbon energy supply is a major issue. Options are Renewable Energies (biomass, wind, solar thermal, photovoltaics e.a.), nuclear fission and prospective fusion reactors. But there remain until now unsolved problems like costs, management of solar and wind fluctuations, energy storage, nuclear safety and waste disposal as well as the extremely challenging physics and technology for fusion reactors. Another approach is Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), the separation of CO2 from fossil-fuel combustion followed by subsurface or deep-ocean storage of the generated CO2. Furthermore, there are numerous measures to lower the energy demand, such as improved thermal insulation of buildings, or intelligent traffic control.

A different approach is ‘geo-engineering’, including artificially raising the atmospheric albedo, or promoting ocean fertilization to increase the oceanic CO2 uptake. However, numerous side-effects, frequently of an ecological nature, are to be expected, so that a critical advance assessment is required.

Despite of all of these possibilities, climatic change appears inevitable to a considerable degree. Therefore, strategies of adaptation must be developed to steer the economic, societal, and environmental effects of the changes toward tolerable routes.

During the seminar all of these items will be treated in some detail by internationally distinguished experts. While economic, societal and purely technological aspects cannot be ignored, the emphasis will be on the physics viewpoint. A book will be published of the lectures, while the transparencies will be made available in the AKE-Archiv .