Global warming. The carbon footprint of the observation of the universe as assessed by scientists

As global warming escalates, the IPCC continues to warn of its dangers. In order to be able to act, Pierrick Martin and his colleagues carried out a complete assessment of the carbon footprint of the IRAP, in order to be able to implement courses of action.

It is no longer a secret that if CO2 emission rates remained at their current level, an increase of 2.0 ° C would be achieved between 2041 and 2060. To avoid this, it is necessary to reduce the emission rates by 40%. CO2. 60% by 2030 compared to 2010.

It is in this context that the IRAP researchers (Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology) they were arrested. “In the community, the topic has affected an increasing number of people in the last decade, and particularly since 2018. It is as citizens that we have been affected by the scientific diagnosis of the IPCC. “says Pierrick Martin, CNRS researcher and author of the IRAP carbon footprint assessment.

Scientists are clear that we need to act and consider profound transformations in all sectors. For us, scientific research must be interested. There is no reason why scientific research should be exempt from this effort “the institute’s astrophysicist continues.

IRAP is the largest astronomical research institute in France. It is an important international center for the development of astronomical instrumentation on land and in space. The institute is spread over three different sites: two buildings in the city of Toulouse and one in Tarbes.

In order to carry out their own assessment and acquire the necessary skills to do so, two dozen people underwent recognized carbon assessment training during their first confinement. A carbon accounting methodology and set of tools developed and used in France for over 20 years.

The goal is to identify the most powerful levers to achieve significant reductions in GHG emissions.

Practically, “the evaluation of GHG emissions occurs by multiplying the “activity data” which quantify the use of a given source by the “emission factors” which quantify the carbon unit “. These famous emission factors come from the Carbon Base database of the Environmental and Energy Management Agency (Ademe).

According to the methodology used,IRAP has a carbon footprint of about 7,400 tons of carbon equivalent for 250 people in 2019 “, says Pierrick Martin. “70% of these emissions come from the development and use of means of observing the universe“, Indicates the researcher.

Then comes business travel, including international air travel. As regards local infrastructures (heating, electricity, transport, food, waste, etc.) they represent 10% of the total IRAP emissions. “It wasn’t obvious a priori. We thought air transport and local infrastructure consumed more energy “he continues.

A greenhouse gas reduction strategy is underway. Air travel is the most visible part we have focused on. We need to reduce and optimize our business trips. “

But it is important to take action, in particular by rethinking the main means of observation of the sky, explains Pierrick Martin, “decarbonisation of existing operational infrastructures, strengthening research and development of low-carbon technologies on which future projects will be based, and reducing the pace and scope of the deployment of new research infrastructures.

The tracks are formally simple, it touches the heart of the research, but in practice it is complicated to implement “, confides the astrophysicist to IRAP. With good reason the presence of many actors, especially international ones, who gravitate around research.

We cannot do without these tools, they are the engine of the progress of scientific research. But you have to quickly commit to a transition to be able to choose it “concludes Pierrick Martin.

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