Thursday, October 04, 2018

When Science Speaks Truth (Sort Of) to Power

It can't be easy to be the bearer of bad news to a crew of powerful individuals who would rather not know.

It must be all the harder for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC keeps getting its climate change forecasts wrong. The biggest drawback is the requirement that the Panel only report "consensus" findings. Contrarians or holdouts can have an undue influence on conclusions. The second major drawback is that the reports are routinely based on very old data. The latest studies are not reviewed.  And so IPCC reports have proven to be unduly optimistic and of date which partly explains why world governments are failing to keep up with the progress of climate change. As UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, recently observed, world leaders are falling ever further behind the advance of climate change.

In Incheon, South Korea, this week, representatives of over 130 countries and about 50 scientists have packed into a large conference center going over every line of an all-important report: What chance does the planet have of keeping climate change to a moderate, controllable level? 
When they can’t agree, they form “contact groups” outside the hall, trying to strike an agreement and move the process along. They are trying to reach consensus on what it would mean — and what it would take — to limit the warming of the planet to just 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, when 1 degree Celsius has already occurred and greenhouse gas emissions remain at record highs. 
“It’s the biggest peer-review exercise there is,” said Jonathan Lynn, head of communications for the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “It involves hundreds or even thousands of people looking at it.”
...It is universally recognized that the pledges made in Paris would lead to a warming far beyond 1.5 degrees — more like 2.5 or 3 degrees Celsius, or even more. And that was before the United States, the world’s second-largest emitter, decided to try to back out. 
“The pledges countries made during the Paris climate accord don’t get us anywhere close to what we have to do,” said Drew Shindell, a climate expert at Duke University and one of the authors of the IPCC report. “They haven’t really followed through with actions to reduce their emissions in any way commensurate with what they profess to be aiming for.” 
The new 1.5 C report will feed into a process called the “Talanoa Dialogue,” in which parties to the Paris agreement begin to consider the large gap between what they say they want to achieve and what they are actually doing. The dialogue will unfold in December at an annual United Nations climate meeting in [coal friendly] Katowice, Poland.
...At issue is what scientists call the ‘carbon budget’: Because carbon dioxide lives in the atmosphere for so long, there’s only a limited amount that can be emitted before it becomes impossible to avoid a given temperature, like 1.5 degrees Celsius. And since the world emits about 41 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, if the remaining budget is 410 billion tons (for example), then scientists can say we have 10 years until the budget is gone and 1.5 C is locked in.
Unless emissions start to decline — which gives more time. This is why scenarios for holding warming to 1.5 degrees C require rapid and deep changes to how we get energy. 
The window may now be as narrow as around 15 years of current emissions, but since we don’t know for sure, according to the researchers, that really depends on how much of a margin of error we’re willing to give ourselves. 
And if we can’t cut other gases — such as methane — or if the Arctic permafrost starts emitting large volumes of additional gases, then the budget gets even narrower. 
“It would be an enormous challenge to keep warming below a threshold” of 1.5 degrees Celsius, said Shindell, bluntly. “This would be a really enormous lift.” 
So enormous, he said, that it would require a monumental shift toward decarbonization. By 2030 — barely a decade away — the world’s emissions would need to drop by about 40 percent. By the middle of the century, societies would need to have zero net emissions. What might that look like? In part, it would include things such as no more gas-powered vehicles, a phaseout of coal-fired power plants and airplanes running on biofuels, he said. 
“It’s a drastic change,” he said. “These are huge, huge shifts … This would really be an unprecedented rate and magnitude of change.”


Lorne said...

Meanwhile, Mr. Trudeau talks about the vital importance of getting our bitumen to market. Sadly, it is a message too many support.

the salamander said...

.. I really don't want to read another Mainstream Media or partisan op ed puff piece 'reporting' political aspirational horse shite about dilbit or LNG. And such crap must reflect reality, not fantasy and rainbow unicorn idiocy.

We (Canadians) need to read & hear informed science. No matter how grim, it must reflect reality just like a doctor's appointment and teatment protocol, not focus groped vote gathering fantasy. If an article or speech related to greenhouse gas, ie - bitumin - tar sands or LNG - fracking gets its snout in the public eye, it must include many many concise, coherent admissions re carbon and methane escape. Of course the reality & reportage requires far more comprehensive detailing every time. Hell, fantasy football and hockey pools at least pay attention & deference to 'salary cap', injury lists & free agent salary expectations - but we can't expect the same diligence from elected public servants, political parties or our respective governments ? ? Now there's a scandal..

The easily tossed catch phrases suck, big time. We get 'Nation Building' 'Growing The Economy' - Jobs Jobs Jobs - ''Energy Security For Canadians' 'Meeting Paris Agreements' - but that's suck eggs nonsense. Instead we get Environmental destruction, habitat destroyed, species extirpation, fouled fresh waters, unredeemable landscape with token buffalo to con us.. and Question Period kabuki theatre.

Canada is 'the last redoubt' - of that I'm convinced. We cannot imagine or support the enormity of environmental migration from the US of A.. much less from the rest of the world's population seeking safety from strife, persecution or rising waters, drought, space, arable land, clean water and air.. yet they will come anyway.. seeking to grow food & livestock, catch fish, find lumber to build

Temporary Shelter From The Storm.. and they will be grateful..
even if we are beset by rascism, ignorance, failed& derelict governments

Purple library guy said...

Technologically, as far as I can tell pretty much all the pieces are in place. Cars? Workable. Electricity? Totally there. Cargo transportation? On the cusp for trucking, but we should be using rail anyway, where electric technologies are the best in the first place. So zero emission rail, absolutely do-able. Construction? There's more than one new concrete technology that absorbs CO2 rather than emitting it. Highly energy efficient buildings have been demonstrated and demonstrated and demonstrated, the only obstacle is nobody will insist on them in the zoning. Heating that doesn't use fossil fuels clearly exists, whether simple electrical heating or efficient heat pump stuff.
Shipping? Well, nobody seems to be looking into it very much, but I don't see a problem. We used to do zero-emission shipping via wind power for millennia, I'm sure we can come up with something. And batteries for long distance transport are really heavy, but for sea transport that's barely an issue; if anything, heavy batteries at the ship's bottom makes it more seaworthy.

Air travel is the only area where I don't see already existing workable technologies. So far we're looking at faking it--making burnable fuel in some sustainable way. But air travel isn't a huge slice of the world's energy budget. Everywhere else, it's not a matter of research, not even a matter of bringing things out of the lab and into mass production: The technologies are there, they're in production, they're proven, they work, often they're the best and cheapest solution.

And all we have to do to make them actually happen is bring out the guillotine for the carbon aristocracy.

The Mound of Sound said...

Climate change and government is a bottomless well of hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance, Lorne. That is too deeply embedded to hope for some reformative epiphany. We are and shall remain a petro-state.

The Mound of Sound said...

It's as disheartening to accept the reality as it is to realize that there's no truly reformative change on the horizon.

The Mound of Sound said...

PLG - all true, yes. You argue for the guillotine to take down the carbon aristocracy. Schellnhuber put it a bit more eloquently at the 2015 Paris climate summit when he said mankind's only hope of a survivable future hinged on the "induced implosion" of the fossil energy industry. He was arguing for prompt governmental action to end fossil fuel production and consumption.

My expectation is that governments will take the next IPCC report, whittle down both the timing and urgency of its recommendations and then lie about accepting the best possible scenario while simply ignoring it.

Anonymous said...

Well, now it seems ol’ Canada is the last one to catch on to the new global paradigm, Trump boldly leading.

Who knew? Mac

Anonymous said...

Truth is Dead. Anyong