Saturday, September 07, 2019

Why "50 by 30" Matters This Year

Last year the IPCC warned of an urgent need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent by 2030. Since then fossil fuel consumption and GHG emissions have increased enough that we're now at 50 per cent by 2030.

What does 50 by 30 mean? Why should you care? What will befall us if our governments fail to meet that prescription?

The important thing to remember is that 50 by 30 is the threshold we must meet if we're to have a chance of decarbonizing by 2050.  50 by 30 is actually the easy part that puts us on the path to a zero carbon economy by 2050 without which we don't have much chance of averting catastrophic climate change.

The report explained that countries would have to cut their anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, such as from power plants and vehicles, to net zero by around 2050. To reach that goal, it said, CO2 emissions would have to start dropping "well before 2030" and be on a path to fall by about 45 percent by around 2030 (12 years away at that time). 
Mid-century is actually the more significant target date in the report, but acting now is crucial to being able to meet that goal, said Duke University climate researcher Drew Shindell, a lead author on the mitigation chapter of the IPCC report. 
"We need to get the world on a path to net zero CO2 emissions by mid-century," Shindell said. "That's a huge transformation, so that if we don't make a good start on it during the 2020s, we won't be able to get there at a reasonable cost."
Colorado State university's Scott Denning says '50 by 30' isn't as alarming as it sounds.
"All this work gets summarized as 'in order to avoid really bad outcomes, we have to be on a realistic glide path toward a carbon-free global economy by 2030.' And that gets translated to something like 'emissions have to fall by half in a decade,' and that gets oversimplified to '12 years left.' 
"There's certainly a grain of truth in the phrase, but it's so oversimplified that it leads to comically bad misconceptions about how to get there, conjuring up ridiculous cartoon imagery suggesting we just go on with life normally for the next 11 years and then the world ends," Denning said.
...Missing the target doesn't imply the onset of cataclysmic climate change in 2030, Denning said.

"Things just keep getting worse and worse until we stop making them worse, and then they never get better," he said. "But no matter what, the world has to move on from fossil fuels just as we moved on from tallow candles and outhouses and land lines."
There are so many caveats to all of this. Where to begin?

Consider the source. Dire as this warning is, it does come from the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC. If this organization has demonstrated anything since its inception it is getting projections wrong. The IPCC has been persistently optimistic, unduly optimistic. We get overtaken by events the IPCC warned might happen by the end of the century if we don't mend our ways. They're the diametric opposite of alarmist.

Consider the scope. The IPCC is concerned with one thing, anthropogenic or man-made climate change. Man-made greenhouse gas emissions, mankind's 'carbon budget.' That was useful at one time but that time may have passed. We have crossed enough tipping points that nature is now getting in on the game, generating its own greenhouse gases, especially CO2, methane and warming-driven water vapour.

When the IPCC crunches its numbers it doesn't factor in these non-anthropogenic emissions that are beginning to come on quite strong, especially from wild fires and the release of once safely sequestered greenhouse gases from thawing tundra, permafrost and melting seabed clathrates. If we were to deduct these natural emissions from the carbon budget it would put a huge dent in how much more man-made emissions the atmosphere can bear.

Time is not on our side. It is going to become more difficult, not less, to meet the IPCC targets.  Weaning ourselves off fossil fuels is just part of the challenge. We also need to arrest overpopulation and curb our insane consumption patterns.  More people = more consumption = more emissions. There are more of us, we're living longer, the global 'consumer class' is burgeoning, especially in China and India. These things are all trending in the wrong direction making the path to a carbon-free global civilization more difficult, if not impossible, to achieve with each passing year.

Nobody much cares. Much has changed since Stephen Harper reluctantly and, I'm sure, disingenuously committed Canada to a 30 per cent cut in GHG emissions by 2030. Yet we've never been on track to achieve even Harper's inadequate target. Trudeau is working to expand bitumen extraction, production and transmission in a quest to flood world markets with this climate wrecking, high-carbon sludge.

He may have declared a state of climate emergency in Canada but he doesn't act as though we're in any peril. He won't even acknowledge the IPCC call for '50 by 30.' That's not even on his horizon much less his government's 'to do' list.

UCLA climate scientist, Daniel Swain, warns that we must not read too much into '50 by 30' even if we were willing to try to achieve it.
In some ways, the "12 years" narrative may set up a deadline that's too lenient, because some key part of the climate system may already be at or past tipping points, Swain said. 
It creates the false illusion that there is some sort of guardrail moving forward, that if we just get in under the deadline we'll be OK, he said. But "twelve years from now, it could be too late for some of these things, like the ice sheets." 
Research in the past few years reinforces the idea that some climate tipping points have already been breached.
Glen Peters, director of the Cicero climate research center in Oslo, warns we're already way behind the power curve.
"In terms of deadlines, we have already missed the deadline," he said. "We should have started mitigating decades ago, then we would have the problem solved."
So what does this mean when we go to the polls this October? If your party won't acknowledge the '50 by 30' obligation what they're telling you is that they're writing off the future of our country.  A vote for them is a vote against Canada and against our young people. Those who won't change course and take meaningful action now are writing off the future and why would you support that?

It's a question of life or death and this October you get to choose.


the salamander said...

.. maybe Dame McKenna will explain it to us ..
.. maybe she needs a harsh anology

she's currently emulating Peter Kent's vapid performance as Minister or Mistress of Environment.. oddly she also seems to hold the portfolio of Mistress of Propaganda and Good Cheer.. I do not like it.. but the term 'glide path' was a much needed head smack.. I caught a few of those from linebackers when I visited the middle of the field as a 170 lb flanker at U of G.. my ears rung for 3 daze.. and I was introduced to smelling salts by our outstanding trainers..

But back to 'glide path' .. for them that know, its a scary term.. its most often used to describe a flight thats going to end.. by happenstance - and to a certain tiny extent.. Instinct and brilliance of the crew piloting an aircraft.. perhaps the engines flamed out.. or not enough fuel was loaded.. or or or.. and does it even matter ? Panic time.. The aircraft is going down with no power, looking for a Hudson River.. but sadly is over the vast Canadian Arctic where the polar bear do roam, the boreal forest (or what remains of it) or the burning Amazon.. not much luck re runways nearby eh ? So brace yerself.. we augering in.. or more properly explained.. we are setting up our future generations for the truly spectacular 'augering in' .. Let's just call it 'The Wrong Stuff' .. The Nation Dismantling' .. A Great Delusion

.. when the adults failed
and the children were left to be the adults in the room..

The Mound of Sound said...

What frustrates me, Sal, is that the Liberals, even if they are well-intentioned, will declare a national emergency but won't accept that same fact. True to form they believe you negotiate your way out of existential threats. How do you negotiate with a house engulfed in fire?

Justin's sophomoric approach is to contrive a "win-win" solution. Fight climate change while also expanding the petro-economy. He tells us, as though it was fact, that we can have both but that's political horse shit that has become so commonplace today. Nowhere does he lay out a specific plan showing that can be done. He wants us to take it "on faith." It's magical thinking which is a hell of a weapon to bring to bear on an existential threat.

I don't believe he is either sincere or well-intentioned. Were he either of those he would be able to defend his meagre emissions cuts plan against the '50 by 30' warning. Why is he not adopting that target? Why can we do so much less?

You will never hear a Tory or a Liberal mention the fact that Canada is both a top overall GHG emitter and one of the three top per capita emitters. Why not? Is it because that would make plain Canada's responsibility to lead the fight to decarbonize instead of lurking in the shadows waiting for other countries to lead? The facts speak for themselves so why do the Tories and Libs always avoid them?

We are in an emergency, a truly existential emergency. When you're informed there are three bombers coming over the pole you don't say that, maybe if you can get two of them you can still take in that movie tonight.

Churchill put it more eloquently when he said that "Sometimes it is not enough to do our best. Sometimes we must do what is required." You won't hear that coming from our leaders.

Anonymous said...

The Liberals and others have used the negotiation technique within the confines of neoliberalism to the point, they cannot think outside that box until one of the boards loosens enough and wacks them in the head hard enough they will see the light. By that time, it will be too late. Anyong

The Mound of Sound said...

I expect you're right, Anyong. Vision and courage have little currency in the neoliberal era.