Monday, May 30, 2011

"A Risk Any Sane Person Would Seek to Drastically Reduce"

That is the assessment of Lord Stern of the London School of Economics after reviewing the latest International Energy Agency figures on carbon emissions in 2010.  The report shows that the global recession had only a minimal effect on carbon emissions and that 2010 saw a record 30.6 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions, up a full 1.6 Gt over 2009.

The shock rise means the goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius – which scientists say is the threshold for potentially  "dangerous climate change  " – is likely to be just  "a nice Utopia  ", according to Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA.

Professor Lord Stern of the London School of Economics, the author of the influential Stern Report into the economics of climate change for the Treasury in 2006, warned that if the pattern continued, the results would be dire.   "These figures indicate that [emissions] are now close to being back on a 'business as usual' path. According to the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's] projections, such a path ... would mean around a 50% chance of a rise in global average temperature of more than 4C by 2100  ," he said.

"Such warming would disrupt the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people across the planet, leading to widespread mass migration and conflict. That is a risk any sane person would seek to drastically reduce ."

• About 80% of the power stations likely to be in use in 2020 are either already built or under construction, the IEA found. Most of these are fossil fuel power stations unlikely to be taken out of service early, so they will continue to pour out carbon – possibly into the mid-century. The emissions from these stations amount to about 11.2Gt, out of a total of 13.7Gt from the electricity sector. These "locked-in" emissions mean savings must be found elsewhere.

"It means the room for manoeuvre is shrinking," warned Birol.

• Another factor that suggests emissions will continue their climb is the crisis in the nuclear power industry. Following the tsunami damage at Fukushima, Japan and Germany have called a halt to their reactor programmes, and other countries are reconsidering nuclear power.

"People may not like nuclear, but it is one of the major technologies for generating electricity without carbon dioxide ," said Birol. The gap left by scaling back the world's nuclear ambitions is unlikely to be filled entirely by renewable energy, meaning an increased reliance on fossil fuels.

• Added to that, the United Nations-led negotiations on a new global treaty on climate change have stalled.  "The significance of climate change in international policy debates is much less pronounced than it was a few years ago ," said Birol.

The German government has announced it will abandon nuclear power generation completely by 2022.  It will be interesting to see just how Germany will make good the nuclear power deficiency.  If any country can muster the political will to launch a major renewables programme, it's probably Germany.  However Germany remains committed to coal power generation on the promise of carbon capture and sequestration technology as a solution to emissions problems.


Anonymous said...

Canada has no will to even try and cut emissions. Harper is in favor, of the Alberta dirty tar sands. Greed comes first, and corruption pays very well, especially at the top of the food chain. Gas and oil company's, pay out a lot of money, to the politician that favors them the most.

The eco damage from the dirty tar sands, can never be reversed. There will be no renewable energy programs, until the last drop of oil, gas and, the last lump of coal is gone.

crf said...

Unlike Germany, Japan hasn't halted its reactor program. Germany is exiting Nuclear power, Japan isn't.

Home Inspector Training said...

Yes, of course the climate has changed in the past and each change has had specific causes. What is evident now, is the the current period of warming is being caused by human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels and that it will continue to get worse if we carry on the way we are. Unfortunately, some people will always deny warning signs, which is why human history is full of the misery of war, famine and collapsed civilizations.

Home Inspector Expert said...

From all that I have read, a 2 degree C rise would make most of the planet too hot to support agriculture, and it was chosen several years ago, before the full impacts were understood, as a reasonable attainable level. IIRC, 2 degrees C correlates to 450 ppm.
Here are some of the problems:
We (planet) are already at or have just passed the carrying capacity based on arable land and fossil fuels. This means disruptions in the weather or in fuel/fertilizer will send significant populations into famine. With last year’s wheat harvest destructions in Australia and Russia, and this year’s disaster, which is still unfolding, in the American Midwest, more people will face food insecurity this year.
Dmitry Orlov characterized excess deaths (mortality above the average rates for a cohort): Unless you work in a morgue, you don’t see it as it happens, but one year you go to a class reunion and you realize many of your classmates are gone.
So, we might not even see the excess deaths until several years after the fact just as we could not see peak oil when it occurred in 2005, but only the effect on the economy/housing market/debt system in 2008.
All this from just one half a degree (F) warming.
There is the problem of cascading effects. When one system breaks, the ones dependent on it may also break. We do not know how many instances of death via starvation this will cause.
At some point, the non-linear effects will kick in. Take sea level rise. When the wet process of glacier disintegration accelerates, then this previously unstipulated cause of sea level rise (because scientists do not know how to quantify it, they do not include it in their calculations) becomes a major factor. Hundreds millions more displaced onto non-arable land.
It just gets worsened and worsened.
So, all the dismal projections are based on linear effects, but the larger non-linear effects are not figured in because we do not know how to do so.

The Mound of Sound said...

Well put HIE. It is indeed the "boiling frog" syndrome. Jared Diamond and others have shown us that earlier civilizations fell extinct by deliberately ignoring forewarnings. Those were strictly regional or isolated situations such as the Mayans and the Easter Islanders but, this time, we're poised to do much the same thing on a global scale.

Although, as Gwynne Dyer aptly puts it in his book "Climate Wars," it won't be the impacts of heating that will take down the West, but war.