Monday, July 31, 2017

Three Years to Safeguard Our Climate


Why we need to start now to address global warming (source; click to enlarge)

by Gaius Publius

Tick tick tick.

Stefan Rahmstorf is one of the most pre-eminent climate scientists in the world:
Stefan Rahmstorf (born 22 February 1960) is a German oceanographer and climatologist. Since 2000, he has been a Professor of Physics of the Oceans at Potsdam University. He received his Ph.D. in oceanography from Victoria University of Wellington (1990). His work focuses on the role of ocean currents in climate change.[1] He was one of the lead authors of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.[1]

Rahmstorf is a co-founder of the blog Real Climate, which has been described by Nature as one of the top-5 science blogs in 2006,[2] and included among the 15 best environmental websites by Time in 2008.[3] He also co-founded the German blog KlimaLounge.[4] KlimaLounge won the 3rd prize of the science blog award of 2013.[5]
He and a group of fellow scientists have authored an article at the journal Nature (lead author is Christiana Figueres) that includes steps toward "turning the tide of the world’s carbon dioxide by 2020." The title is "Three years to safeguard our climate," and it includes both a warning and a list of practical suggestions to achieving success.

It starts with a warning. While much progress has been made in addressing climate change, according to the authors, including the 2015 Paris climate agreement, "there is still a long way to go to decarbonize the world economy. The political winds are blustery. President Donald Trump has announced that the United States will withdraw from the Paris agreement when it is legally able to do so, in November 2020."

Note first the goal — "decarbonize the world economy." This formulation assumes that transforming the planet — "decarbonizing" the earth — can only take place within the current economic system. Thus, for the authors, the often-heard criticism that "capitalism" or "growth" (or relatedly, "population growth") are among the root causes of the climate crisis that, to all appearances, has already started — that criticism, or those criticisms, don't contain solutions that can address the issue.

Their reasoning should be obvious; even if that large a change were desirable (one can agree or disagree on that), there's not enough time to make it. Transforming a global economic system won't happen in the few years left, unless it's done by a kind of violent change (not necessarily bloody, but by definition hugely disruptive), and that level of disruption will also disrupt any coordinated attempt to address climate change.

The Importance of 2020

How much time is left to us? I wrote in 2012 that in my best (lay person's) estimation, "at most, 5 to 10 years" is all that's left — meaning, we have until about 2022 or so, if we're lucky, to make the major transformation of our CO2 emissions pattern needed to significantly alter our climate future under a "business as usual" scenario. After that time, the worst of the destruction to come will be, to use an apt phrase, "baked in."

As it turns out, Figueres, Rahmstorf, et al agree with that time line (emphasis mine):
The year 2020 is crucially important for another reason, one that has more to do with physics than politics. When it comes to climate, timing is everything. According to an April report1 (prepared by Carbon Tracker in London, the Climate Action Tracker consortium, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut), should emissions continue to rise beyond 2020, or even remain level, the temperature goals set in Paris become almost unattainable. The UN Sustainable Development Goals that were agreed in 2015 would also be at grave risk.

That’s why we launched Mission 2020 — a collaborative campaign to raise ambition and action across key sectors to bend the greenhouse-gas emissions curve downwards by 2020 (
That's the warning. This puts the writers much more on the side of the author of "The Uninhabitable Earth" than on the side of those who propose half- and quarter-solutions, which nevertheless keep industry profit in place, and who think we can kick can down the road to the next generation, by embarking, for example, on projects like a methane "bridge fuel" infrastructure buildout that won't be a bridge to anything but profit for investors for at least 30 years.

But it also puts the writers in the camp of people like Margaret Klein Salamon, founder of the climate action organization The Climate Mobilization, who argue that if there's still time on the clock, there's always a way to achieve a goal, assuming we have a plan does what's needed to get there. (For more on both "The Uninhabitable Earth" and Klein Salamon's plan for addressing the climate emergency, see our write-up here.)

What's Needed for Success

According to the authors, it's still possible to decarbonize the economy, "still possible to meet the Paris temperature goals if emissions begin to fall by 2020 (see ‘Carbon crunch’) [chart at the top]."

Here's what they propose (emphasis mine):
To prioritize actions, we’ve identified milestones in six sectors. Developed with knowledge leaders, these were reviewed and refined in collaboration with analysts at Yale University, the Climate Action Tracker consortium, Carbon Tracker, the low-carbon coalition We Mean Business, the Partnership on Sustainable, Low Carbon Transport (SLoCaT), advisory firm SYSTEMIQ, the New Climate Economy project and Conservation International.

These goals may be idealistic at best, unrealistic at worst. However, we are in the age of exponential transformation and think that such a focus will unleash ingenuity. By 2020, here’s where the world needs to be:

Energy. [by 2020] Renewables [must] make up at least 30% of the world’s electricity supply — up from 23.7% in 2015 (ref. 8). No coal-fired power plants are approved beyond 2020, and all existing ones are being retired.

Infrastructure. [by 2020] Cities and states [must] have initiated action plans to fully decarbonize buildings and infrastructures by 2050, with funding of $300 billion annually. Cities are upgrading at least 3% of their building stock to zero- or near-zero emissions structures each year9.

Transport. [by 2020] Electric vehicles [must] make up at least 15% of new car sales globally, a major increase from the almost 1% market share that battery-powered and plug-in hybrid vehicles now claim. Also required are commitments for a doubling of mass-transit utilization in cities, a 20% increase in fuel efficiencies for heavy-duty vehicles and a 20% decrease in greenhouse-gas emissions from aviation per kilometre travelled.

Land. [by 2020] Land-use policies [must be] enacted that reduce forest destruction and shift to reforestation and afforestation efforts. Current net emissions from deforestation and land-use changes form about 12% of the global total. If these can be cut to zero next decade, and afforestation and reforestation can instead be used to create a carbon sink by 2030, it will help to push total net global emissions to zero, while supporting water supplies and other benefits. Sustainable agricultural practices can reduce emissions and increase CO2 sequestration in healthy, well-managed soils.

Industry. Heavy industry is developing and publishing plans for increasing efficiencies and cutting emissions, with a goal of halving emissions well before 2050. Carbon-intensive industries — such as iron and steel, cement, chemicals, and oil and gas — currently emit more than one-fifth of the world’s CO2, excluding their electricity and heat demands.

Finance. The financial sector has rethought how it deploys capital and is mobilizing at least $1 trillion a year for climate action. Most will come from the private sector. [By 2020] Governments, private banks and lenders such as the World Bank need to issue many more ‘green bonds’ to finance climate-mitigation efforts. This would create an annual market that, by 2020, processes more than 10 times the $81 billion of bonds issued in 2016.
Please read the entire piece to get a stronger sense of why the authors are optimistic that the above goals (a) can be met, and (b) will succeed if they are.

Yes, the timeline is short, and while some contend that the time for enough action to be effective has already passed, that's no more certainly true than the opposite. No one can solve a problem without a plan. According to the authors, people who have been involved in the science of addressing global warming, the above plan, if enacted, offers a good chance of success.


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At 9:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

They're wrong. Sorry.

The geologic record tells us what the surface of the earth looks like when atmospheric carbon exceeds 400 ppm. We're at 404 and are NOT going to reduce that just by cutting our emissions by 30% or whatever. In 3 years, there is another 6-10 ppm built into the resonance already.

They also ignore deforestation and destruction of natural lands to grow crops to feed the 10 billion hominids that will pollute the earth in the next 15 years.

And they ignore the other consequences of the temp. rise already here -- releases of methane by the gigatons from permafrost and clathrates.

All of this is gradual, but inescapable. In the next decade, all these shall happen making hypothetical reductions in other burning moot.

The atmospheric carbon will go up and up and up. It'll rise because of releases already unavoidable; by the fact that humans continue to over-reproduce; and because flora that would be sequestering C will be both killed and rotting (which releases its sequestered C).

But mostly it'll continue to rise because humans are totally incapable of addressing (or even in believing in) a problem of this scale. And humans have NEVER totally changed their lives and thinking unless big profits are to be had. And humans will never fix this because humans are far too stupid.

If this climate scientist were dictator of the world, maybe we could be ordered to do it because he said so (punishable by death, of course). But otherwise, with so much of the world ruled by corporate fiat... can't ever happen.


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