Yes there is much we need to do and can do. As we ramp up on pledges quickly we reduce future impacts of droughts, wild fires, hurricanes and other climate related local disasters. We will reduce the effects of sea level rise, and avert warming levels likely to lead to millions of climate migrants (chapter 3, section 3.4. 12 and Figure 3.4 page 246). These actions are also good for our economy and better for biodiversity. By staying within 1.5°C, we can save coral reefs from near extinction, and reduce the amount of adaptation needed for many ecosystems.

But the IPCC never said we risk human extinction or collapse of civilization. Their example of a worst case path (Box 8 of chapter 3), which we are not on, is one in which the world still produces enough food for everyone through to 21 00 though with reduced food security. It would be pretty much as it is now, normal governments, widespread literacy. Yes, that worst case future has a major reversal of the global sustainable development goals, poverty reaching new highs, reduced quality of life. But not a desert planet without kangaroos or humpback whales, agricultural crops or garden flowers. Nor one that has lost technology, and we'd still have the internet for sure (it's very robust because of its distributed design), space rockets, airplanes, skyscrapers, submarines etc.

If you are skeptical of this - and I am not surprised if you are after all the journalistic hyperbole - have a read of their Box 8 of chapter 3., which I'll also discuss more later on.

Nor do they give any fixed deadline. They can't, the science doesn't support any idea of a fixed "cliff edge" that we will fall over at some future date. Have a listen for yourself to the press conference and what the co-chairs said as their summaries in 2018:

If you want to go into it in more depth, I recommend you check out the Technical Summary. That is written by the IPCC scientists themselves. Or, if you don't have a strong scientific background, try a careful read of the Summary for Policymakers, The final draft is written by politicians, but with the aim to present the content clearly for non scientists. It gives a fair summary and is co-written with scientists until just before the final draft.

Climate slogan 12 years to save the planet is not in the report

The journalists who repeat "12 years to save the planet" in their news stories never cite this to the IPCC report by page, section number or quote. Nobody could because this climate slogan is not there.

This has become so serious that five sociologists with expertise on human geography, climate change and public policy wrote a strongly worded article about it as Nature comment:

The authors say the IPCC should break from their traditional strictly non partisan, non political stance to speak out about this misrepresentation of the report. What happens if we go slightly over 1.5°C, when it will be clear to everyone that society didn't collapse and humans didn't go extinct? For most of us, the world would continue to feel much the same as it is today. Will the public continue to trust the IPCC reports after that? Of course the IPCC never said those things, but how can the general public be expected to know this when they are so widely misreported?

Plenty of good reasons for action

There are plenty of reasons for urgent climate action. In only three years of new policies under the Paris agreement, we have already knocked more than a degree off the projection for 2100 (down to 3°C). We are already ramping up on those commitments too. We can do this!

This has already greatly improved our prospects for the rest of this century. We need to keep this up, but let's recognize what we have already achieved with the pledges so far.

To take one example of many, at 4.9°C we risked a world so hot that by 2100, there would be times when the heat combined with the moisture from paddy fields would make it impossible for Chinese farmers to work out of doors for more than a few hours before dying of heat exhaustion (see North China Plain threatened by deadly heatwaves due to climate change and irrigation). There would be similar issues in parts of India, the middle East, Southern US, the Persian gulf, and other places around the world. At 3 °C this risk is greatly reduced, and we have achieved this in a way that leaves plenty of margin to ramp up to more ambitious pledges in the near future.

Unintented side effects of the climate slogans

The authors of the paper argue that we do not need this deadline-ism for action and that it can actually be harmful to our prospects for mitigating climate change. They are speaking up against misrepresentation of the science. Of course we need decision deadlines, and target dates for actions, but with a scientifically accurate framing of the debates that lead to them.

They go into details in the paper itself. They agree that these supposed scientific deadlines do energize some people, but they cause others to give up and despair with the belief that the situation is hopeless.

Myles Allen, who was the coordinating lead writer for chapter 1 of IPCC report in 2018 (framing and context), not one of the authors of the new paper, made a similar remark on April 18 2019. He spoke up about this in his op. ed. in The Conversation:

Today’s teenagers are absolutely right to be up in arms about climate change, and right that they need powerful images to grab people’s attention. Yet some of the slogans being bandied around are genuinely frightening: a colleague recently told me of her 11-year-old coming home in tears after being told that, because of climate change, human civilisation might not survive for her to have children.

Why protesters should be wary of ‘12 years to climate breakdown’ rhetoric in The Conversation:

I have come across what he talks about here so often in my voluntary work helping people over the internet who are scared of false and exaggerated doomsdays. As Myles Allen says, many young teenagers believe these deadlines.

To add to what he says there, in my experience highly educated adults do too. There are many younger kids who take all this so literally, they are convinced that they will not live to adulthood. Adults wonder about what kind of a world their children will grow up into. Some are stimulated to action but some panic, get scared, need therapy for climate anxiety with diagnoses of General Anxiety Disorder, and have difficulty continuing to function, crying, panicking, or they may wonder where to migrate to, to find a safer spot in the future world.

As a science blogger I have written many blog posts to help these people, doing my best to counteract the misleading climate change news in the press. This is one that I did about how ours is a world full of nature on all the scenarios. We do not face a future without giant pandas or humpback whales, or without insects, ladybirds, wild flowers.

No scenarios for a desert planet - worst case we still have food enough for everyone - with diminished food security

As a science blogger I have written many blog posts to help these people, doing my best to counteract the misleading climate change news in the press. This is one that I did about how ours is a world full of nature on all the scenarios. We do not face a future without giant pandas or humpback whales, or without insects, ladybirds, wild flowers.

Many of those I help do not realize that the world has a huge food surplus at present (e.g. food stockpiles, stock to use ratio, of over 30% of yearly production for grains, 50% for sugar, see FAO Cereal Supply and Demand Brief and more extensive summary for two year period ending 2018).

All world hunger is due to politics, and economics. The food is there but the hungry people can't afford to buy it.

We can still feed everyone, through to 2100 on all the scenarios, though with reduced food security and damaged nature services in the least sustainable scenarios. I wrote this, expanding on a comment by one of the speakers to the IPBES report earlier this year:

One of the places where we can make the biggest difference in food supply is in Africa because of its inefficient agiriculture. The "Green revolution" that has revolutionized agriculture on all the other continents, for the most part has passed Africa by. It could produce ten times as much food if it was optimized like the best agriculture in the US and China. Most of the predicted population increase is in Africa.

Worldwide our population is leveling off, no longer exponential. Not leveling off due to scarcity as used to be predicted but due to prosperity. Reduced child mortality, better education, and greater equality of women in decision making all play a role here. Wth fewer children dying, parents have smaller families because they know that they have a good chance of surviving to adulthood.

Japan is one of the nations with the most rapidly declining populations. We are already at peak child, or close to, we jave roughly the same number of children as a decade ago and the world population continues to grow rapidly mainly beause of the extraordinary advances in health care. Worldwide we live ten years longer than 50 years ago. For some countries it is 20 years longer, for China it is a truly remarkable 30 years increase in life expectancy from 1960 to 2010.

This expands on some of that, and goes into other things such as resources and energy return on energy invested for fossil fuels compared to renewables

See also

Not just up to governments - empowered to act in our own lives

One of the main messages of the IPCC report was that it is not just up to the governments of the world. We are all in it together. Our individual choices, how we go to work, the energy use, even down to the food we eat. Here is Debra Roberts talking about our power as consumers and our life choices:

(click to watch on Youtube)

Either way, whether energized to action by these "cliff edge" false deadlines, or numbed into hopelessness, the public's actions are based on misleading ideas which can lead to them making bad policy decisions (the authors of this paper list various examples of how policy decision making could go wrong as a result of this misunderstanding). Neither is needed. What we need is to build consensus and enduring bipartisan solutions. They say that this is a misuse of the report and that the IPCC should challenge this.

But who is reporting this Nature paper? As far as I can see, none of the big mainstream news sources have so much as mentioned it in passing.

Instead the journalists are "upping the ante" to 18 months, quoting Prince Charles - who is not a climate scientist, but what's more, he was using hyperbole, like "I could eat a horse". See my

He was actually giving an optimistic up beat speech about how there are various things going on that mean we are likely to have major changes in place already by the time of the 2020 major climate conference.

The 18 months there is just the time until 2020 when the nations who signed the Paris agreement in 2015 meet to increase their pledges for the first time, and share experiences with each other and the public. They will do this again in 2025, 2030 and so on. And there is nothing in the report about “Saving the planet” as we’ll see.

Things are looking good for that, many countries expected to increase their pledges, including China which recently affirmed its commitment to increase its pledge as well as supporting the Green Climate Fund to help with adaptation of the developing countries (a few years back China transited from a developing country to a developed country and now is in a position to be one of the donors to the fund).

We probably won't get down to 1.5°C right away with that, but for sure will get below our current 3°C target for 2100. Then we have future pledges in 2025 and 2030, each time building on the experience from the previous 5 years as well as technology advances since then that are likely to continue to hugely reduce the costs of renewable power stations and introduce new technology (for instance carbon capture and utilization).

Nor are there any emission targets for 2020 itself. The models studied by the IPCC all have the yearly emissions steady, or slightly increasing through to the early 2020s when they start to fall.

No scientific cliff edges in the report - deadlines set by politicians

Of course politicians can and should set deadlines. The 2020 and 2025 dates are deadlines. The UK target of zero emissions by 2050 is a deadline. But it's we, the public, and the politicians set these deadlines.

What the authors think the IPCC need to speak up against is the idea that there is a date that is hard coded in science. An immovable date that cannot be discussed by politicians. Like the "Dangerous Cliff Edge" sign that you put on a road before a cliff edge.

Dangerous Cliff Edge, County Clare, Ireland by Anna & Michal

There is no date of that sort in the report. They found no tipping points of that sort at all. There are tipping points for the Greenland and West Antarctic ice, but these unfold over thousands of years, plenty of time to step back from that particular cliff using carbon capture and storage over many centuries.

Techy detail: Greenland ice has a tipping point between 0.8°C and 3.2°C, median 1.6°C. If we cross that tipping point (it is possible we already have) the result is very dependent on future climate, between 80% loss after 10,000 years and complete loss after 2,000 years. The threshold for Western Antarctica (and sectors of Eastern Antarctica) is hard to estimate but probably between 1.5 to 2°C. Most of Eastern Antarctica continues to accumulate ice, as it did through the previous interglacials. See Sea level

The melting of the Arctic sea ice is not a tipping point either, according to the report (see Sea Ice). As soon as we reach zero emissions the Arctic ice then is in steady state and will slowly being to heal as some of the excess CO₂ leaves the atmosphere. The idea that the climate will suddenly go haywire once all the Arctic ice melts is junk science. The ice only melts in summer and if the entire Arctic melts one year, then that means it freezes much faster the following winter (the ice forms an insulating layer which stops the oceans from freezing so quickly in winter).

If you have read a recently published paper suggesting a major impact from the Arctic ice albedo effect - this is leading edge work, which in science is like a conversation and this particular paper is an outlier in the debate with significant issues. The Arctic is getting more absorbing of heat but not as much as you'd expect because of increasing cloud cover. Meanwhile other areas such as the southern Pacific around Australia and Malaysia are getting significantly brighter as a result of global warming and you have to look at the whole picture, which actually is of a planet that is getting slightly brighter, less absorbing of heat as it warms up. See my:

They found no other climate tipping points.

As for ecosystems, the corals go nearly extinct at 2°C but no other major ecosystem is affected. They do not turn to deserts either, sponges may take over for instance.

(click to watch on Youtube)

Some corals such as the ones in the Red sea will survive, because due to a historical accident they are pre-adapted to higher temperatures. Some individual species of coral in the barrier reef are more resistant than others, and corals can certainly adapt given time, since there is a range of several degrees in the temperature conditions that corals do survive in. The issue is that local corals are so finely tuned to local conditions they die after just the minutest of increases. So the problem here isn't really a coral species hard edge for temperatures either, it is more a question of whether they can adapt or move in time. It might be that humans can help to some extent by translocating them artificially, but this is not easy if you have an entire coral reef to maintain. For more about the corals, with a focus on the Australian great barrier reef, see the second half of my

Other coastal ecosystems such as sea grasses, kelp forests, and salt marches span wide ranges of conditions. However, like many of the terrestrial ecosystems, they would be largely unaffected, with many of the species surviving over a wide range of conditions. There are vulnerable spots near the warm edges, however again other species will take over in time, and fish especially can move easily in response to climate change.

Even the mangroves, sensitive as they are, survive a 2°C rise fine. This is a major thing to happen to our world, to lose most of the corals, but it does not endanger the planet as a whole or human survivability.

This is another article I'm writing to support people we help in the Facebook Doomsday Debunked group, that find us because they get scared, sometimes to the point of feeling suicidal about it, by such stories.

Do share this with your friends if you find it useful, as they may be panicking too.

What the IPCC report itself says - no collapse of civilization

If you read the report itself , they do give an example worst case (Box 8 of chapter 3) and it is one with increasing poverty by 2100, reduced food security, but we still can feed everyone on every scenario and it is still a civilization. I will discuss it later in this article

You can read the report for the details, either the Technical Summary (for those with a decent scientific background), or the Summary for Policymakers,s (for non scientists). See also my

For an overview they have a five-fold classification:

  1. Unique and threatened systems transition from high to very high risk between 1.5°C and 2°C (it was thought to happen at 2.6°C in the previous report) - these are ones with restricted geographic range
  2. For extreme weather events the transition from moderate to high risk is between 1.0°C and 1.5°C
  3. Transition from moderate to high risk of distributed impacts is between 1.5°C and 2°C - these are risks that disproportionately affect particular groups. (RCF3)
  4. Global aggregate impacts increase from moderate to high levels of risk between 1.5°C and 2.5°C - that's global monetary damage, global-scale degradation and loss of ecosystems and biodiversity. (RCF4)
  5. Large scale singular events transition from moderate to high risk at 2.5°C (previously was 4°C) (these are things like sudden disintegration of large areas of ice shelves in Greenland or Antarctica)

Then they have a similar graph for selected ecosystems and other related risks, at the red level there is a high risk of impacts. Here, the temperatures are shown as horizontal grey lines for the present day (gray bar) 1.5°C and 2°C. The yellow area means that we start to notice the effects, at red they are severe risks with widespread impacts, and as it shades to purple, there is significant risk of irreversible changes and there is limited capability to adapt, for instance many of the coral reefs are already lost at 1.5°C, and it's hard to prevent this, while at 2°C then nearly all are lost.

Figure SPM.2 of the summary for policy makers

Their main focus is on the difference between 1.5°C and 2°C, because that was their remit, what they were tasked to do. They only briefly mention the effects at 3°C. For that we need to wait for the next report in 2021. The previous IPCC report did cover 3°C, but it's clear from the 2018 report that science has advanced too much since then for it to be a fair comparision to directly compare what it said about 3°C with the results of the 2018 report for 1.5°C and 2°C.

At 1.5°C it will feel very similar to what it is now to most people unless you live in one of the most affected regions - for most of those sectors it is in the yellow region where you start to notice differences (like the changing climates many of us are already noticing but more so). At 2°C many will start to notice significant differences and at 3°C the world will feel very significantly different. But none of them are desert worlds or uninhabitable worlds. Ecosystems change to other ones, e.g. tropical forest to savannah, or in northern Europe the species distributions of forests change with more deciduous trees and fewer conifers. The higher northern latitudes actually have improvements in agriculture.

One of the biggest impacts on terrestrial systems between 1.5°C and 2°C is in the Mediterranean and the regions around it (including southern Europe, northern Africa and the Near East). It is possible (though not certain) that above 1.5°C, large parts of the Mediterranean biome transform to desert, a change unparalleled in the last 10,000 years - that's in the executive summary of Chapter 3. If this does happen, of course people can live in deserts and there are ways of doing agriculture too, with remarkable work in greening deserts and you can mitigate such effects with improvements in water management and so on, or people can move to parts of the world that have become more habitable. This is still a matter of policy decisions and beyond the remit of science, whether we need to stop the Mediterranean region transforming to a desert biome.

We already have climate migrants, for instance in Bangladesh, due to sea level rise. It's mostly internal. How much of this happens is hard to assess as it depends on how much they can mitigate it. They may be able to stay where they are especially if the Green Climate Fund helps them to mitigate the effects more with funding and technology transfer. The more developed countries can help prevent a climate refugee crisis. By way of example, Netherlands engineers are already helping Bangladesh to adapt to rising sea levels.

They cover this and the differences between 1.5°C and 2°C in the chapter 3, Impacts of 1.5°C on Natural and Human systems. For those with a less scientific background see the section Projected Climate Change, Potential Impacts and Associated Risks in the summary for policy makers.

For the 3°C impacts, we will need to wait for the next report in 2021, because science has advanced beyond the last one to the point that we can't directly compare what they say about 3°C with what the 2018 report says about 1.5°C and 2°C.

However we also have the full IPBES report. The draft chapters are now available online. Also see this which I wrote based on the summary for policy makers and the press conference:

Report has no fixed future dates

With that background you can understand why their report has no hard deadline. The IPCC is resolutely non political. They act similarly to scientific expert witnesses called to testify to a government select committee. They fulfill their remit, to present the scientific evidence. They leave all matters of policy decisions to the politicians.

In the report, they presented four different ways to get to 1.5°C. They made it clear that these are just some examples from an almost infinite variety in possible future policies:

All of them have increasing emissions year on year for the first few years through to 2021 because it takes time to turn things around. All climate scenarios are almost indistinguishable for the first few years. But they differ in what we do after that.

The first of these, P1 required 45% reductions by 2030 (40–60% interquartile range) ramping down to close to zero emissions by 2050. (Technical summary page 33, chapter 2 section 2.2.1 - it is called LED or Low Energy Demand in chapter 2).

This mainly relies on CO₂ reductions but also uses a measure of reafforestation, land conservation, restoration and management, and sequestration in sea margin habitats (such as sea grasses, mangroves, and salt marshes), This is the path that politicians have favoured.

The second one, P2, (S1 in chapter 2) delays the reductions a little, but still uses mainly reafforestation, conservation and other land used based negative emissions

First and second pathways to 1.5°C need steep CO2 reductions - or removal through reafforestation etc - or both

These paths depend mainly on reducing CO₂ emissions. If we continue with just the 2015 pledges and with no carbon dioxide removal (CDR in the report) then we reach the limit for 1.5°C (with a margin of 0 to 9 years) by 2030. That's why they say we have to increase pledges significantly by 2030, either that, or do significant carbon dioxide removal through land use change, or do both, to achieve the 1.5°C targets.

Now we can do very significant CO₂ removal through land use change. In case this seems impossible to you I'd just to briefly mention the Chinese Loess Plateau project. They restored an area the size of Belgium - you might think this is image manipulation, but no, this is a real project:

Loss Plateau in September 1995

Loess Plateau (Loess Plateau - Wikipedia) in September 2009. See Greening the desert (Greening the desert)

This documentary, “Hope in a Changing Climate” - by the soil scientist John D. Liu (2009) covers the project right from the start when it was almost a desert landscape. The second half of the video covers how similar projects have transformed regions in Ethiopia and Rwanda.

Video here:

(click to watch on Youtube)

The FAO has a special focus / section on soil health called the "Global Soil Partnership" which is very active worldwide helping to preserve and restore soils. It was a major issue a few years back and there has been a lot of progress in tackling this both in actually doing something, programs to help farmers improve their soils, and research to know how to do it, and in getting data including the first map of global soil carbon content, so that they can assess progress. This is connected with the urban myth you often hear that we are going to run out of top soil in 40 years. Actually, no, that never was possible. There are areas of soil degradation and areas where it is acumulating. But there are serious issues of soil health worldwide, and the Global Soil Partnership was formed to deal with these. For details and for many inspring examples of other projects like the Loess Plateau one, see my

Third and fourth pathways need industrial scale carbon dioxide capture at biofueled power station

The other two pathways there are ones where we do not do much until we exceed 1.5°, but then ramp rapidly down to zero and then do negative emissions with carbon capture and storage. We've got power plants that burn biochips, and commercial scale industries that capture CO₂, and the Drax biofuel power plant in the UK has just become the world's first to do both. Britain's Drax becomes world's first biomass plant to capture carbon . It is just a pilot so far capturing a ton a day.

This video about the Adu Dhabi power plant shows that we already have carbon capture and storage going on at an industrial scale:

(click to watch on Youtube)

This steel plant captures 800,000 tons a year and plans to expand it to 2.3 million by 2025 and 5 million before 2030. The Sleipner gas fields CO₂ injection in Norway can store 600 billion tons. That alone is enough to store all the CO₂ for the 2018 IPCC report, even the fourth of their paths with extensive carbon capture and storage, so there is no problem storing it if we can pipe it to suitable reserves.

Biofuel burning has often been criticized on the basis that it involves using agricultural land for biofuels, or that if it burns trees, they are replaced on too long a timescale even if taken from sustainably managed commercial forests. There are no such problems with crop residues or sawdust, or wood that is in the form of offcuts or sections of trees that can't be used in other ways, which likely decompose and produce a fair bit of methane or carbon dioxide anyway if not burnt. But is there enough of this to justify large scale power plants? The Drax power plant in the UK imports wood offcuts and residues from the United States to keep it going.

One interesting development recently is CBECCS - a mixed coal bioenergy gasification with carbon capture and storage. The idea is to convert coal power stations to use crop residues (so avoiding the issue of crops that are grown just for bioenergy, or felling forests for bioenergy). With a mix of 35% crop residues then the power plant produces electricity with net zero emissions. The biomass fraction can ramp up when more biomass is available. This could be deployed in China, Brazil, India and other places with abundant crop residue biomass. The farmers could sell the crop residues to the power stations. The CO2°Capture has the benefits of also reducing the air pollution which is such a major issue in India and China, while at the same time providing net zero emissions energy.

It could be used in regions that produce large amounts of crop residues and also have large local energy demand and serious local air pollution. In China the Huabei and Yuwan basins are especially promising and also have abundant sequestration capacities for CO2 (estimated at 264 gigatons and 186 gigatons respectively). The authors worked out that this would need a carbon dioxide price of $52 per ton, see Gasification of coal and biomass as a net carbon-negative power source for environment-friendly electricity generation in China

This is all proven technology that we can certainly scale up and use worldwide if needs be later this century.

So, the IPCC were not just interpolating straw man proposals here. These are real possibilities that politicians could choose. But more expensive, and more difficult for sure than the path the politicians did choose to make their aim.

They also presented another example pathway to 2°C that involved ramping down by only 25% (10 - 30%) by 2030 and down to zero emissions by 2070 (Technical summary page 33) .

There are many other possible variations. The IPCC did not say what we should do of all these possibilities, did not say we have to stay within 2°C, or 1.5 °C, and they did not say that the biofuel burning carbon capture and storage is impossible.

They also made it clear that these are projections, not exact predictions. This is one of the main graphs they showed, which also showed the amount of climate uncertainty for the 1.5°C path. The science just isn’t there to predict it more exactly than this. In addition, there are built in natural variations in climate such as the Atlantic and Pacific multi-decadal oscillations which average out eventually, but only on a timescale of about 30 years.

The report also says that if we continue at the "Current warming rate" through to 2030, we may reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2047 (that time interval is not shown on this graph).

The authors of the paper in Nature assume that the 2030 deadline that is so often repeated in the media stories about the IPCC report comes from the earliest date in that error margin. They are not the only ones to say that. Myles Allen also says so in his article in The Conversation.

However, I haven't seen any journalist reports that use quotes from the report or section numbers to back up that figure. So, it's hard to know for sure. It may be based on the 45% reductions by 2030. But if so, that is certainly not any kind of a hard deadline. It's one way to stay within 1.5°C, but especially if you permit overshoot there are many other possibilities, and even more if you aim for 2°C

Perhaps there is no way to find out for sure where the 12 years figure comes from.

Once we reach zero emissions temperatures immediately level out

As soon as we reach net zero emissions, the temperature steadies. Theoretically if we stop suddenly there is a fraction of a degree overshoot because we remove the masking aerosols from fossil fuel burning, but this is less than half a degree.

In practice by the time we reach net zero then the aerosols are down to around net zero also (Chapter 1, 1.2.4). They remark that we can ease the transition by targeting removal of soot first (which is warming). It's important to reduce methane emissions as we approach net zero, which will also help prevent overshoot due to suddenly stopping the aerosol emissions.

Depending how we do this and what type of world we transition to, the masking aerosols might even increase. For instance, if our world has a large amount of biofuel burning, then these produce similar aerosols to fossil fuels (which originally were biofuel after all). A nationwide study in Norway found that the cooling aerosols and albedo effects from the widespread use of wood burning stoves offsets 60 -70% of total warming effects from the CO₂ emitted by the biofuel burning.

If we ramp right down to the point where anthropogenic emissions are more than balanced by the terrestrial and ocean land sinks, then the CO₂ levels go down, and if we had no anthropogenic emissions at all (or all our emissions captured directly at source), then from then on CO₂ levels in the atmosphere gradually fall and very slowly the planet cools back down again, rapidly at fast (perhaps a quarter of a degree in 50 years), but then more slowly over centuries and millennia.

There is an overshoot, if we were to stop emissions abruptly, or possibly so, but their best guess is that it is only a fraction of a degree (see for instance the yellow curve in Global Warming of 1.5 ºC - chapter 1, figure 1.5) for a couple of decades followed by cooling reaching a quarter of a degree cooler by 2100. In a more realistic situation where we ramp down more gradually, by the time we reach zero emissions there are no anthropogenic masking aerosols left and the climate immediately starts to cool down slowly. The rising sea levels do continue, but not as fast as if the world was warmer.

The temperature can ramp down faster if we can do carbon capture and storage.

Carbon capture and utilization (instead of just storage)

There are likely to be many more ways to do this in the future within a few years. We may also be able to make cement from the CO₂ (which is a double win, because the cement industry is a major source of CO₂ emissions currently), and use it productively in many other ways. For current pilot projects exploring this, see The COSIA Carbon XPRIZE Challenge but most of this is not yet proven on an industrial level.

(click to watch on Youtube)

Five of the ten are focused on carbon mineralization technology.

One of them is a team from Aberdeen that hopes use replace the entire cement industry with cement made through CO2°Capture. as a carbon negative replacement for ground calcium carbonate.

Their Carbon Capture Machine works much like the stalactites in caves, to precipitate the CO2 into calcium and magnesium carbonates as a replacement for Ground Calcium Carbonate (GCC) . If this works on a commercial scale it can decarbonize the concrete industry, responsible for 6% of the world’s annual CO2 emissions. That would be a $20 billion. industry transformed from carbon positive to carbon negative!

Carbon Upcycling makes new CO2ncrete from CO2 and chemicals, competing directly with the $400 billion concrete industry - in places like California with a carbon tax and mandate for low carbon building materials.

CarbonCure Technologies injects CO2 into wet concrete while it is being mixed. They are already in commercial use with 100 installations across the US, retrofitting concrete plants for free then charging a licensing fee. It may take up to 20 years to be used on scale for reinforced concrete, because that’s needed as a durability testing period.

For more on this see Between a Rock and Hard Place: Commercializing CO2 Through Mineralization

Why don’t they speak up about this?

So why didn’t they speak up when the journalists so radically misrepresented the main conclusions of the report?

I hear this a lot from the scared people who contact me. I am one of the few who speak up in my blog posts about all this, and people say to me, why is it only you saying this, and a very few experts? Indeed the only author from the IPCC who has spoken up about it, that I know of, is Myles Allen. See his article in “The Conversation”:

However, he is speaking as an scientist, and not as a spokesman for the IPCC. Why don’t the IPCC say this?

Why the IPCC is so resolutely non political - and should they be?

That’s where this new paper comes in. It is called Why setting a climate deadline is dangerous and it says in its subtitle / short abstract:

The publication of the IPCC Special Report on global warming of 1.5°C paved the way for the rise of the political rhetoric of setting a fixed deadline for decisive actions on climate change. However, the dangers of such deadline rhetoric suggest the need for the IPCC to take responsibility for its report and openly challenge the credibility of such a deadline.

You can read the new paper in Nature through the link provided on the website of one of its authors, through ShareIt - the Nature sharing initiative: Why setting a climate deadline is dangerous.

The IPCC maintain a very strong separation between science and policy makers. The report is written by scientists, as is the technical summary which most scientist readers will use, but the “Summary for policy makers” in its final form is written entirely by governments, with the IPCC not even taking part in the final drafting of it.

The IPCC feel that this is important, that they are seen as standing above any political debates, activism, climate denialism, doomism and just present the straight facts.

They also do not do any scientific research as part of the report, rather, they summarize the scientific research in their field in a high level systematic review.

This is a method that originates in medicine as a way of finding out the best current understanding of research in a changing complex field.

So, what should they do when they are seriously misrepresented by journalists, activists and politicians?

If they speak out, won’t this blur the line between science and politics? Would this impact on the credibility of future IPCC reports? It is a very important point, and the authors agree that this is an issue.

However they have been so badly misrepresented by the media and activists, that the authors argue that to stay silent in this situation is the more political thing to do.

The authors present several negative consequences of not speaking up. I will go into this in detail in my summary of the paper later on, but one of the main ones is that if we do not stay within 1.5°C, then by their own predictions, the dire consequences the activists and doomists predict will not happen. This then would damage the credibility of the IPCC, even though they never said these things. You can see how this works by a couple of the comments on my own article below - in an early version the title was confusing and readers thought I was saying that the IPCC should challenge itself and their response made it clear that the IPCC had already lost credibility in their eyes through these climate deadline statements even though it never said them.

Their silence is being interpreted widely as a tacit approval of what the journalists say about the report. It seems to many that they are supporting the deadline-ist framing of the report.

Journalists “upping the ante” to 18 months

Journalists have not reported this paper in Nature and are just ignoring it. As far as I know this blog post is the first mention of it in the news, at least the first page of Google News.

Now many journalists are “upping the ante” and saying we have only 18 months, with the implication that if we don’t do very drastic action by 2020, then civilization will collapse and humans likely go extinct.

Here is how the BBC is reporting it:

The sense that the end of next year is the last chance saloon for climate change is becoming clearer all the time.

"I am firmly of the view that the next 18 months will decide our ability to keep climate change to survivable levels and to restore nature to the equilibrium we need for our survival," said Prince Charles, speaking at a reception for Commonwealth foreign ministers recently.

Twelve years to save Earth? Make that 18 months...

This is UTTER NONSENSE. And I have a great deal of respect for Prince Charles, but if you read what he said in context it is absolutely clear that he was speaking in hyperbole here, like the way you say that “I could eat a horse” when you are very hungry (it is literally impossible for a human being to eat a horse in its entirety, there is not enough space in your stomach). His main message was a positive one.

I unpack his statement a bit in my article:

The eighteen months here is just the time until the next opportunity to renew the Paris pledges in 2020, something they do every 5 years by the Paris Agreement. Some, and perhaps many countries will already commit to 1.5°C in 2020, but realistically there will be a fair few can't or feel they aren't ready for it - no problem. Most will increase their pledges somewhat, reducing our expected global temperature rise a little more - and then as they get more experience implementing their pledges they can commit further in 2025, 2030 and so on.

That was one of the important innovations of the Paris agreement. Countries pledge to commitments that are ambitious but feasible, then as they gain experience, which can include winning over venture capitalists and private citizens buying renewables, starting new industries for electric cars, and renewables, retraining workers for the new industries, changing habits of their citizens, get experience running their first ever multi-gigawatt renewables power stations, and so on. Meanwhile the technology benefits from new research and economies of scale, and prices of renewables fall. After five years of this, it's expected that they find that they can increase their pledges, and again, and again. And this is indeed happening, many pledges will definitely be increased over the initial targets.

Prince Charles was just saying he is optimistic that there will be major improvements already by 2025, and as examples he mentions substantial new initiatives to increase private sector funding for sustainable development throughout the Commonwealth.

As you see, journalists take public figures words out of context, and they also use very emotive words such as that this action is needed for our very survival. Many of our youngsters, and adults too, take this quite literally, and I know that from things they say to me privately and also publicly in our Doomsday Debunked Facebook group set up to help them. Believing these journalistic exaggerations, they think that by the time they reach adulthood, in a little over a decade, the world will no longer have any humans in it, and that our civilization and species will be gone.

This is why I think it is a responsibility for science bloggers like myself and journalists to speak up against this.

David Attenborough is another very respected public figure who has been inadvertently encouraging this doomist framing by some of the things he says, You can watch it here: Attenborough presents Climate Change - The Facts

Standing here in the English countryside, it may not seem obvious, but we are facing a manmade disaster on a global scale. In the thirty years since I first started talking about the impact of climate on our global world, conditions have changed far faster than I ever imagined. It may sound frightening, but the scientific evidence is that if we have not taken dramatic action within the next decade, we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies. We are running out of time but there is still hope. I believe that if we better understand the threat we face, the more likely it is that we can avoid such a catastrophic future"

Attenborough climate show a 'call to arms'

Strictly speaking it is not true. He says it is based on scientific evidence but gives none. Nor did any of the people he interviewed in the program say this. It seems to be an example of a “climate slogan” which is simplified to present a more powerful simple message.

In the documentary he gave examples of the California fires, which did involve people leaving their houses but only because they burnt down and they would surely return and rebuild.He also talks about rising seas displacing hundreds of thousands of people from coastal cities, and flooding. Perhaps this is all that he means by it. Climate migrants. After all he didn’t give any other examples. He didn’t say “collapse of all our societies”. Or “collapse of civilization”.

However whatever he meant it has been widely reported as a collapse of civilization

If you listen to what the IPCC themselves say, they do not talk about a risk of human extinction or collapse of civilization. There is no mention of such ideas anywhere in the report, or the press conference the journalists attended, their responses to questions or the short summaries by the co-chairs.

I’ve been one of the few who appear in Google News search results speaking up against this starting with my

The IPCC’s own example of a worst case scenario for 2100

The IPCC give an example of a worst case, one of their scenarios from chapter 3 of the 2018 report. No human extinction, nothing about collapse of civilization. We feed everyone through to 2100, though with less food security. Much of our natural world is still here, the majority of the species survive, and it is not a desert. It is not a world without insects. However the corals are nearly all gone, many areas of the world face problems, severe loss of biodiversity, and increasing rather than decreasing world poverty by 2100.

This is a scenario where somehow, despite everything, the Paris agreement was to fall apart completely. We act too little too late, in an uncoordinated way, and only just scrape in at 3°C by 2100 (it is not plausible that we don’t act at all, as these things happen). At present we target 3°C with our pledges, but with a lot of leeway to improve on that Their description for 2100 in this example worst scenario (which we are not on) is:

“Droughts and stress on water resources renders agriculture economically unviable in some regions and contributes to increases in poverty. Progress on the sustainable development goals is largely undone and poverty rates reach new highs.”

“Major conflicts take place. Almost all ecosystems experience irreversible impacts, species extinction rates are high in all regions, forest fires escalate, and biodiversity strongly decreases, resulting in extensive losses to ecosystem services.”

“These losses exacerbate poverty and reduce quality of life. Life for many indigenous and rural groups becomes untenable in their ancestral lands. The retreat of the West Antarctic ice sheet accelerates, leading to more rapid sea level rise.”

The details are here:

Things have changed a fair bit since they wrote that. I think a new "worst case" would be rather different. It's not plausible any more that we scrap the Paris agreement. It was momentarily touch and go in autumn 2018, when they were deciding the rule book, when there was trouble getting agreement but they did find a way ahead on the last day. So, now we have the framework, the rule book by which to do the accounting of the effects of the voluntary NDC's and there is nothing else technically to stop it.

If we did scrap it somehow, again that worst case is implausible, because renewables have gone down in price significantly even since the 2018 report. Also, the momentum we have now is hard to imagine reversing. As I said, China is expected to strongly increase its pledges in 2020, the UK obviously will, EU likely to, we can expect that 3°C figure to come down a fair bit after 2020, and then we have 2025 and 2030 to get onto the 1.5°C track, and if we have reduced it somewhat but not quite enough by 2030, we can still get on track with a faster ramp down, say, from 2030 to 2045 (depending on how much margin is left, and how much we have managed to sequester through recovery of degraded lands etc.).

Some of you may have been influenced by David Wallace Wells. He is not a climate scientist, indeed, not a scientist at all. He is a general journalist who only became interested in climate change two years ago, for the first time. His first article on the topic was widely slated by climate experts as containing many misunderstandings and exaggerations. He went on to expand it into a book, and this is what is scaring people. For details see my:

Another recent story that may have scared you is this “think tank” report by two businessmen, with no scientific credentials.

It uses David Wallace Wells as a source along with many scientific papers that they misunderstand. It clearly never went through any scientific peer review, they can’t have even got a climate scientist to give it a quick check over.

As examples of their many errors, they describe a paper about future heat waves such as we have had in Europe in 2019 and previously for instance in 2003, as about conditions of "lethal heat conditions, beyond the threshold of human survivability,".

They unearthed a figure of a figure from an old report of a billion people affected by a sea level rise of 25 meters (way beyond anything possible this century) and claim this is the number of climate migrants we will have by 2050 if we reach 3°C by then. It’s not even the same topic. If you get a sea level rise you can protect against it with sea walls, and 25 meters is more than ten times the expected sea level rise by 2100 even with the worst of the scenarios.

Michael Mann did speak up against that one. But few people said much, they just ignored it. Meanwhile I was bombarded by questions from scared people in Doomsday Debunked who believed this thing hook line and sinker. Though the BBC didn't run it, CNN did, as did the Independent, and Livescience, and a number of other widely read sites, shame on them!

What the IPCC report said in more detail

This is a paraphrase of the executive summary of Chapter 3 - I have covered most of the points, though left out some that had significant overlap with earlier points.

  • Increases in frequency, intensity and amount of high precipitation (rain, snow, hail etc) and increase in intensity or frequency of droughts
  • Hot extremes in the warm season increase by up to 3°C for 1.5°C of global warming in the mid latitudes where most warming is expected (factor of two). At high latitudes the cold season would have an increase in warming of up to 4.5°C at 1.5°C of global warming, (factor of three)
  • Strongest warming in the cold season (with increases of up to 4.5°C at 1.5°C of global warming, i.e., a factor of three)
  • Strongest warming in central and eastern North America, central and southern Europe, the Mediterranean region (including southern Europe, northern Africa and the Near East), western and central Asia, and southern Africa
  • Number of exceptionally hot days to increase most in the tropics, extreme heat waves emerge early and expected to be widespread already at 1.5°C of global warming
  • 1.5°C instead of 2°C means around 420 million fewer people frequently exposed to extreme heatwaves and 65 million fewer exposed to exceptional heat waves assuming constant vulnerability (i.e. they don't migrate to avoid them)
  • 1.5°C to 2°C increases the amount of very heavy precipitation events globally, especially in high latitude regions such as Alaska / western and eastern Canada, northern Europe and northern Asia, and also in mountainous regions such as the Tibetan plateau and Eastern Asia, including China and Japan and eastern North Atlantic.
  • Fewer tropical cyclones but more of the very intense cyclones (limited evidence, low confidence). Heavier rain with the tropical cyclones.
  • Risks associated with droughts (more often and more extreme) are substantially larger in the Mediterranean region (extending to southern Europe, northern Africa and the Near East) and southern Africa.
  • Lower rates of change make it easier for natural and human systems to adapt for a wide range of freshwater, wetland, coastal and ocean ecosystems including coral reefs, as well as food production systems, human health and tourism.
  • At 2°C, there's much more risk of simultaneous impacts on food, water and energy, increasing current hazards and vulnerabilities of increasing numbers of people, with small island states and economically disadvantaged populations at particular risk.
  • Increase in the areas at risk of flooding
  • Higher probability of a sea ice free Arctic ocean in summer, every 10 years at 2°C compared to every 100 years at 1.5°C. An overshoot to 2°C has no long term effect on how easily the Arctic ice heals as it cools down again - there is no tipping point.
  • Global mean sea level rise of 0.26 – 0.77m at 1.5°C (by 2100) and 10.4 million more people affected at 2°C.
  • Even at 1.5°C a wide range of marine organisms, ecosystems and aquaculture and fisheries will be impacted by ocean acidification.
  • Many systems will have larger risks at 1.5°C than at present, and adaptation is needed for those, but even greater effort is needed at 2°C. They are also greater with an overshoot.
  • The number of species that lose over half their geographic range is far less at 1.5°C. At 2°C it's 18% of insects, 16% of plants, 8% of vertebrates, reduced to 6% of insects, 8% of plants and 4% of vertebrates at 1.5°C
  • Percentage of land areas where the ecosystems are transformed to another type of habitat is 4% at 1.5°C global warming (interquartile range 2–7%) which increases to 13%, interquartile range 8–20%) at 2°C, more than double. Above 1.5°C, large parts of the Mediterranean biome transform to desert, a change unparalleled in the last 10,000 years (medium confidence)
  • If we stay within 1.5°C it prevents thawing of around 1.5 to 2.5 million km2 of permafrost over a centuries timescale compared to 2°C
  • Fish and plankton can move in response to ocean warming, forming new ecosystems to emerge. But the kelp forests and coral reefs are less able to move and likely to have high rates of mortality and loss and the majority of warm water corals (70 to 90%) will disappear even at 1.5°C.
  • Loss of fisheries productivity, acidification, hypoxia and dead zones and declining ocean productivity are far less at 1.5°C than 2°C.
  • Human risks of flooding far lower at 1.5°C than 2°C and risks of water scarcity far higher at 2°C than 1.5°C, which depends a lot on future socio-economic conditions - the socio-economic drivers are expected to have far more effect here than changes in climate.
  • At 1.5°C there are smaller reductions in yields of maize, rice, wheat, and other cereal crops, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America (they don't mention in the executive summary but there are projected increased yields in northern latitudes because of the extended growing season).
  • At 2°C there's a projected loss of 7-10% loss of the range for livestock globally with considerable economic consequences locally.
  • Impacts on fisheries at low latitudes, including oysters and other shellfish and fin fish.
  • Effects of carbon dioxide removal depends a lot on how it is done (e.g. reafforestation can be far more beneficial if done in a way that helps restore natural ecosystems)
  • Lower health risks from heat waves and also ozone formation.
  • Potential shifts in geographic range of malaria, dengue fever and other vector born diseases (e.g. carried by mosquitoes) which poses a health risk.
  • Lower risks of undernutrition at 1.5°C
  • Greater risks for urban areas, but depending on how they adapt.
  • More poverty and disadvantage and out migration at higher temperatures. Amount of migration expected is a significant knowledge gap.
  • Reduced economic growth at 2°C compared to 1.5°C, with largest effects projected for low and middle income countries and regions (Africa, South East Asia, India, Brazil and Mexico especially affected)
  • Risks for coastal tourism especially, because of heat extremes, storms, or loss of beaches and coral reefs
  • At 1.5°C then natural sedimentation can offset the sea level rise for existing and restored coastal ecosystems, along with landward migration of wetlands.

To find out more I recommend reading the exectuive summary of chapter 3, Impacts of 1.5°C on Natural and Human systems. For those with a less scientific background see the section Projected Climate Change, Potential Impacts and Associated Risks in the summary for policy makers.

No the IPCC do not err on the side of least drama

The awful Australian report also covered this article, which is often cited in this context:

It is peer reviewed. However that doesn't’ mean it is “right”.You need to think of these papers like a conversation. If a paper is published means that someone has a sufficiently well argued point of view to pass peer review as something that other scientists will read with their coffee in the morning and then discuss. And discuss it they did, and the general conclusion was that the climate change scientists, whose work is summarized by the IPCC just follow the scientific method, as does the IPCC itself in summarizing the work.

When the evidence so far is incomplete, and the systems hard to model, they have to try to fill those gaps, and sometimes they err in the direction of under estimating effects, as happened with the Arctic ice projections (now fixed).

However, they go where the science leads them in its current form. Sometimes they over estimate as happened with the carbon budget estimates before the 2018 report. The IPCC report’s occasional errors go both ways too, with perhaps the biggest of their rare mistakes, an error in the 2007 report when they said that all the Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035. See my

Climate migrants and the green climate fund

Florida is severely impacted by future sea level rises. If we get as far as a 1.8 meter global sea level rise, then according to one study, there would likely be 2.5 million Florida residents migrate away, most from Miami. 250,000 would likely leave San Francisco and nearby areas. Meanwhile Texas could see an additional 1.5 million immigrants, just because of the sea level ri se.' We're moving to higher ground': America's era of climate mass migration is here

The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact was formed to look into ways to mitigate this in 2010.

Interview about it here with two scientists, the first is d Susy Torriente, chief resilience officer and assistant city manager for the city of Miami Beach talking about what they are doing in Miami.

I go into this in detail towards the end of

Bangladesh is already hard hit by climate migrants.

Ganges delta - Wikipedia

The poorer countries are more likely to solve it by internal migration. An estimate for Bangladesh finds that 0.9 million people of its population could be displaced by direct inundation by 2050 and 2.1 million by 2100, almost all of this in the southern half of the country. As well as sea level rise - about half of those in the urban slums were displaced by river bank erosion and river flooding. This is because of the way rainfall increases and becomes more erratic with climate change, and also the melting Himalayan glaciers affecting river flows. They also are affected by stronger cyclones in a warming world which damages infrastructure.

Every day 1000 to 2000 people migrate to Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka - and almost all of them when asked say they migrated because of the changing environment.

However Bangladesh is also spending considerable amounts on climate mitigation and adaptation. It spends $1 billion per year on climate change adaptation - a lot for a poorer country. That is 6 to 7 percent of its annual budget.Three quarters of that money comes directly from the government, only a quarter from international donors. The average European emits as much carbon in 11 days as a Bangladeshi in a year. For poorer Bangladeshis, the climate change bill per year often reaches as high as double their annual income, and poorer communities there are picking up crippling debts. So the costs of climate change are already hitting Bangladesh hard

Bangladesh would need about $3 billion a year by 2030 for climate adaptation, and $2 billion to mitigate against effects of climate change. So far the average domestic and external investment combined is $1.3 billion leaving a $1.7 billion funding gap. However Bangladesh is seen as an example of a country that is doing a lot to combat climate change.

Because of their similar situation, Bangladesh has support from the Netherlands in several projects, notably the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 (BDP 2100) by knowledge transfer, and support of the institutions responsible for delta planning. It will be financed internally up to a level of 2.5 per cent of GDP per annum by 2030 of which, 2.0 per cent of GDP would be from public funding and 0.5 per cent would be from the private sector.

Rebecca Eldon, who researched into Bangladesh’s NDC for her thesis, puts it like this:

Since my first visit to Bangladesh, the country has stood out to me as one of the most unique places in the world. There is incredible beauty, seen both in the population’s love for art and culture, and in the deeply rooted kindness and hospitality people show to one another. At the same time there is heart-breaking poverty, which is exacerbated as Bangladeshis experience some of the most severe impacts of climate change in the world.

Researching Bangladesh’s Nationally Determined Contribution | International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD)

Netherlands is fine because they are high technology and already have protection which they can raise as the sea levels rise. Sea walls can be indefinitely high - the world's highest earthworks dam is 300 meters high. Some places like Florida have limestone bedrock and can't keep the sea out with dams because it is porous to sea water. Their only solution is to build up on stilts, or to have sacrificial ground floor rooms that flood during tidal surges and king tides, together with raised roads or to build up the land itself.

For more details on Florida and the Netherlands see the end of my:

The Green Climate Fund is supposed to be $100 billion a year worldwide according to the Paris agreement with voluntary contributions from the developed countries as well as voluntary transfer of advanced technology to help with mitigation. Of course the US has withdrawn from it, that was one of Trump’s reasons for leaving the Paris agreement that he didn’t want the US to commit billions of dollars to this fund that only helps other countries and not the US (though of course indirectly the fund benefits everyone - a world with other countries in good economic state and with fewer climate migrants is a world in which the US benefits too).

But China has recently affirmed a commitment to the fund which is significant, not disclosed a contribution amount yet, that’s for the next 2020 meeting (until recently it counted as a developing country, now it counts as a prospective donor to such a fund). Hopefully others will increase their contributions by then too. And of course a future US president can rejoin or Trump can change his mind. It is under funded, only a tenth of it funded so far but in future hopefully it can be fully funded.

True situation - very positive

Actually the situation is very positive.

As I wrote about before in my Positive Side Of Climate Change Facts - After Two Years Of Climate Change Action, Heading For 3°C With 1.5°C Well Within Reach:

Almost nobody seems to report the positive side of our recent climate change action. As someone who followed the topic before Kyoto, what happened since 2016 was remarkable. The change in attitude, pace of action, at last gives much hope that we can rise to the challenge. I have never in my life seen such a coming together of nations worldwide to solve a problem.

Since then, written in April, 2019, only three months ago, the progress has continued to be remarkable. Scotland has already pledged to carbon zero by 2045, the UK by 2050, and the next President of the European Commission - or likely to be, Ursula von der Leyen’s proposed green new deal will make Western Europe the first 1.5°C compatible continent if passed.

All the leading Democrat candidates for the US elections in 2020 have election pledges that are at a minimum 1.5°C compatible. Whether they win the election in 2020 or not, climate change has entered US politics in a way that it never has before. The topic was not even mentioned throughout the 2016 campaign, and paradoxically, Trump with his rejection of the Paris agreement has probably been a significant factor in the US and the world, in bringing climate action right to the top of the political agenda.

In the US, as in Europe there’s a youth movement in the US, the Sunrise Movement, the activists who occupied Nancy Pelosi’s office

(click to watch on Youtube)

These are our future voters in the US, and their voice will get louder, not weaker, in future elections. Just as we have a green new wave of voters in Europe, which swept the EU elections, there is one in the US too. This is a movement that is not going away and will be a factor in all the future US elections from now on, as more and more young people of the current generation grow up and get the vote, and the effects of climate change become increasingly obvious to the adults too. If they do not succeed in 2020 then there are the elections in 2024, and 2028.

China is currently targeting a 20% non fossil share by 2030, and there were reports that it is expected to target 35% of electricity from renewables by 2030 according to drafts for its next plan, the “Renewable Portfolio Standard”.

Then China together with France also made a series of pledges on 29th June 2019

They agreed to on the importance of zero emissions, to update their pledges in 2020 as a progression beyond the current pledges, the importance of maintaining biodiversity, and the need to fully fund and support the $100 billion Green Climate change fund and advanced technology transfer to developing countries to help them mitigate climate change as well as adapt to it.

Some of the main points:

  • Agreed to work together on link between climate change and biodiversity and a global response to biodiversity loss.
  • Agreed on the importance of achieving net zero emissions.
  • Reaffirmed importance to update their pledges in 2020 in a way that is a progression beyond their current pledges and to fulfill their current commitments to the letter and to publish long term mid-century low emissions strategies by 2020
  • Affirmed importance of increased financing for nature based solutions, as activities that sustainably manage natural or modified ecosystems in ways that help with adaptation and mitigation and simultaneously provide biodiversity benefits, including sustainably managing forests.
  • Emphasized importance of climate finance for developing countries for both adaptation and mitigation and affirmed their commitment to the $100 billion a year Green Climate Fund together with transfer of advanced technology to developing countries (this is significant as China is not currently a member of it but as a rapidly developing country it is now in a position to join)
  • China is committed to green the Belt and Roads initiative
  • Agreed to work together on the link between climate change and biodiversity, and a global response to biodiversity loss. France and the UN support China for the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2020 and reiterate their determination to actively contribute to the process of developing the post-2020 global biodiversity framework launched at the 14th Conference of the Parties (COP14)

Carbon brief's comment on this is here: China pledges to strengthen climate plan

Another study finds that China is already on its way to peak emissions earlier than it pledged to (its current pledge is to peak before 2030). This was based on a study of its cities. Bejing peaked in 2007.

This study found that the decarbonization of Chinese cities depends on their GDP, that as the GDP increases, decarbonization is easier (a pattern found in other countries too). If the country as a whole progresses in the same way as the cities, China's emissions may peak between at 13–16 gigatons of CO₂ per year between 2021 and 2025, approximately 5–10 years ahead of the current Paris target of 2030.

That study is here

Carbon Brief's comments on that study are here:

China’s emissions ‘could peak 10 years earlier than Paris climate pledge’

China has built a major new renewables industry, with vast solar farms, hydro power and UHVDC power lines linking the renewables together across the country.

The world's largest solar farm, from space

The 850-megawatt Longyangxia Dam Solar Park. It is built right next to a big hydropower dam - because then in the day when the sun is shining the power comes from the solar powers and the dam ramps down. At night then the dam then releases the water it held back during the day.

This more than doubles the power output from the hydro electric and because the hydro can store power until it’s needed, like a giant battery, this means there is no curtailment - it never produces more power than is needed.

Prices of solar panels and wind turbines continue to fall, faster than previous estimates, and of batteries also. The Committee on Climate Change’s report: Net Zero The UK's contribution to stopping global warming, puts it like this:

One of the most positive and important developments since 2008 has been the very rapid cost reduction that has accompanied the global expansion of renewable electricity generation (especially for wind and solar power) and an accompanying fall in the cost of batteries.

They share this remarkable graph of the current and near future projected costs of onshore and offshore wind, and of solar-PV in the UK - both Solar-PV and the onshore wind are actually already competing with the lowest cost fossil fuels, without subsidies. Offshore wind is rapidly headed that way too. And this is for the UK which spans 50 to 60 degrees north, yet already is able to produce solar PV power competitive with fossil fuels:

The price drop for solar is especially remarkable, a drop from 2012 to 2022 from 27 to 4 cents per kilowatt hours. That's a huge reduction in just a decade. It's now competitive with even the lowest priced fossil fuels, it costs less to supply the power from solar even in the UK, 50 to 60 degrees north. Before 2015, only four years ago, solar power couldn't compete even with the most expensive of fossil fuels without government subsidies.

And - yes we can have a power system entirely based on renewables. We don’t actually need coal fired power stations or nuclear power to balance the variable output of renewables. Indeed those can’t ramp up and down fast enough. We can use fuel cells or molten salt to store power. Once electric vehicles are commonplace, they could earn money for their owners all the time they are parked, by automatically buying excess power from the grid and then selling it back again when renewable power levels are low. However, the easiest and least cost way to provide the peaking power right away is through hydro power, pumped hydro which can respond instantly and has vast potential (including using water pumped between lower and higher levels in disused mine shafts).

This debunks a myth about renewables - we have plenty of space for them, and they do not take away good agricultural land or land for conservation, not if done properly. Solar panels raised above the ground can be mixed with agriculture, they can be built on house roofs, on brown fields, on low conservation value areas of desert, or floating on canals, lakes and other waterways (especially useful in hot dry conditions as they help reduce water loss through evaporation).

One particularly useful synergy comes from putting floating solar on hydro dams, where it also helps to reduce evaporation and can double the power output of the hydro without any curtailment because of the way the hydro can rapidly respond as peaking power

And if you are concerned by effects on wildlife, it’s true that there can be effects, but this just means they need careful siting. The concerns are real and they do need care, but they are based mainly on very early examples of each, built before the problems that could arise for such installations were fully understood.

This is about those "toy models" you get sometimes where the researchers take a few equations and claim they represent the entire planet and predict disaster. It shows how you can have toy models like that that are sustainable too

If you have heard all the news about a "sixth mass extinction", this post may get you thinking, it's not as clear as it seems, there are actually winners as well as losers. Of course we need to preserve species as much as we possibly can. But we start with a very biodiverse world, more so than at most times in Earth's history and we face a future where according to some researchers, individual biospheres may actually be more biodiverse than now, much as probably happens when continents collide to form supercontients. This draws heavily on the work of Chris Thomas, whose book is well worth a read if you don't know it.

This is the UK’s current progress towards carbon reductions of 80% by 2050:

There the gray bars are levels enforced by law.

We are now going to tip that graph down to reach zero emissions by 2050, and by 2045 for Scotland.

China has continued to build lots of coal power stations, so also has India, to the point that we can’t stay within 1.5°C if we use them to capacity - but neither are expected to use them to capacity.

This is an insurance to make sure that they can withstand the transition as they rapidly industrialize. They produce far less CO₂ per capita than the US, even China has half the CO₂ emissions per capita of the US, meanwhile India has less than a quarter of China’s emissions per capita:

Worldwide CO₂ emissions for 2016

India remains on track to overachieve on its 2°C compatible target and 1.5°C is within reach India | Climate Action Tracker, see also Guest post: Why India’s CO₂ emissions grew strongly in 2017 | Carbon Brief

China faces the biggest challenge of all, it is expected to meet its commitments which include 20% non fossil fuel by 2030 and to peak emissions before 2030 but it has to increase its commitments for us to have a chance to say within 1.5°C. China | Climate Action Tracker

As they ramp up to full scale industrialization, the coal fired power stations have low start up costs and high ongoing costs. Renewables have very high start up costs, and low maintenance costs (compared to the high costs of fuel for the fossil fuel plants). Also, importantly, the startup costs for building them decrease rapidly year on year. Wait a couple of years before you build it, and you get a much higher profit margin on your new renewables power station.

With that background it actually makes economic sense to build a coal fired power station now, then a renewables power station a year from now that will take over most of the capacity planned for the coal fired one, producing its electricity at lower overall cost. This is especially so because of the need to ramp up to a whole new industry of renewables, and build the first large scale renewables power stations, and learn from them for the future ones. Another factor is the difficulty of encouraging the businesses of India and China to invest in renewables with its high start up costs, and the return on investment only years later. This is a particular dilemma for countries like India and China, when there is a shortage of venture capital. Also, in those countries, most people do not have high levels of savings, for instance for roof top solar. Renewables is still seen as risky by many investors in India, and one of the main roles of the Green Climate Fund investment in solar rooftop technology in India is to convince local people that it is worthwhile to invest in renewables and that you will get a good return on your investment.

This DOES NOT MEAN CHINA AND INDIA ARE INSINCERE about ramping up their pledges. China and India are amongst the most affected, and are strongly motivated to do their darnest to address climate change, and are showing by action that this is a top priority for them.

See my

As I said in my Positive Side Of Climate Change Facts

The pace is accelerating. Month on month it may seem glacially slow, but over a few years, extraordinary. We can do this!

There’s a pervasive idea in our society of an almost impossible situation, that we can’t do anything about climate change, or that nobody is doing anything, or that we are headed for a doomsday scenario and it is almost over, already. None of that is true, not remotely so.

Why we should be wary about the 12 year deadline-ism

In the intro I mentioned how Myles Allen, a lead author for the IPCC report in 2018, spoke out about this in : Why protesters should be wary of ‘12 years to climate breakdown’ rhetoric in The Conversation:

Today’s teenagers are absolutely right to be up in arms about climate change, and right that they need powerful images to grab people’s attention. Yet some of the slogans being bandied around are genuinely frightening: a colleague recently told me of her 11-year-old coming home in tears after being told that, because of climate change, human civilisation might not survive for her to have children.

It’s so sad. To add to what he says here, we encounter kids like this in Doomsday Debunked all the time, scared sometimes to the point of being suicidal that they will not live to adulthood, and young adults who feel they shouldn't have children because they have read that they would be bringing them into a future uninhabitable Earth. A fair few are receiving therapy and drugs to treat PTSD and GAD and other anxiety disorders, and have panic attacks and vomit in fear many times a day. The sad thing is that much of what scares them so much is out and out junk science, exaggerated stories or these over simplified climate slogans.

Myles Allen continues:

The problem is, as soon as scientists speak out against environmental slogans, our words are seized upon by a dwindling band of the usual suspects to dismiss the entire issue.

I've come across this too. Even when the climate scientists do speak out, as they do sometimes, their views do not get the publicity - a story is far more likely to be shared on social media or run in the mainstream news if it says that all the insects will die, civilization end or humans become extinct.

Myles Allen,continues, in his : Why protesters should be wary of ‘12 years to climate breakdown’ rhetoric

Using the World Meteorological Organisation’s definition of global average surface temperature, and the late 19th century to represent its pre-industrial level (yes, all these definitions matter), we just passed 1°C and are warming at more than 0.2°C per decade, which would take us to 1.5°C around 2040.
 That said, these are only best estimates. We might already be at 1.2°C, and warming at 0.25°C per decade – well within the range of uncertainty. That would indeed get us to 1.5°C by 2030: 12 years from 2018.

Indeed we may well temporarily go over 1.5°C in the very near future. Not in 10 years, it could happen as soon as five years from now.

But that is climate variability, averaged over one year instead of the 30 years used for climate change projections. This is good science but would not mean we have “missed” the Paris agreement target. As Carbon Brief put it:

Such a breach would not mean that the world has “missed” the Paris Agreement’s aspirational target of limiting human-caused global warming to 1.5C
World has 10% chance of ‘overshooting’ 1.5C within five years

They go on to say, quoting an IPCC climate scientist, Rogetl, as interviewed by Climate Brief:

“International temperature targets are defined in ‘climatological’ means – that is global temperatures that are typically averaged over a period of 30 years. So exceeding 1.5C in one given year does not mean that the 1.5C goal has been breached and can be discarded. Actually, this is precisely what we expect when approaching a global warming limit of 1.5C.”

And at the end, again quoting Rogetl:

“It is important to note that governments support a 1.5C temperature goal because they consider that to be a level of warming that is acceptable or safe for their citizens and societies. Breaching that level of global warming does indeed mean that we failed to limit warming to that ‘safe’ level, but does not mean that climate change should suddenly go unchecked. The world doesn’t end at 1.5C, but, at the same time, science also shows us that severe impacts are already to be expected at 1.5C of warming.”

World has 10% chance of ‘overshooting’ 1.5C within five years

Myles Allen puts it like this:

But an additional quarter of a degree of warming, more-or-less what has happened since the 1990s, is not going to feel like Armageddon to the vast majority of today’s striking teenagers (the striving taxpayers of 2030). And what will they think then?

It's not impossible that we reach 1.5°C by 2030, that it's within the range of uncertainty. If we do hit this level, the world will feel much as it does today to the majority of the population of the Earth.

Myles Allen goes on to say that

"the IPCC does not draw a “planetary boundary” at 1.5°C beyond which lie climate dragons."

 So please stop saying something globally bad is going to happen in 2030. Bad stuff is already happening and every half a degree of warming matters, but the IPCC does not draw a “planetary boundary” at 1.5°C beyond which lie climate dragons.

Why protesters should be wary of ‘12 years to climate breakdown’ rhetoric - by Myles Allen

This is a new paper in Nature saying the same thing.

The authors are

Mike Hulme, professor of human geography and department head at the University of Cambridge, who has a special research interest in how knowledge of climate change is constructed (especially through the IPCC); and interactions between climate change knowledge and policy, and has published many papers on climate change.

Shinichiro Asayama, visiting scholar at the department of Geography (lead author)

Rob Bellamy, Presidential Fellow in Environment in the Department of Geography at the University of Manchester, also author of this article in the Conversation, Should we engineer the climate? A social scientist and natural scientist discuss

Oliver Geden, sociologist and head of the EU/Europe Research Division at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin who works on European Union’s climate and energy policy, climate engineering, and the quality of scientific policy advice.

Dr Warren Pearce, sociologist and senior lecturer at the University of Sheffield and member of the inaugural Board of Science in Public, the international cross-disciplinary network focused on the relationship between science, technology and publics.

Paraphrase of paper

You can read the paper itself here: Why setting a climate deadline is dangerous.

But it is written by scientists for scientists. The language may be intimidating for some, and I think it will help to do a paraphrase of some of the main points in less techy language.

They refer to the sensationalist headlines I already mentioned, the civil disobedience by the Extinction Rebellion, the declaration of a climate emergency by the UK parliament and the Green New Deal proposal in the US. They continue:

The world suddenly seems to have limited time in which to act decisively on climate change — and, if not, to be resigned to our climate fate.

They then explain some of the history that lead up to this rise of “Climate deadline-ism”

It began as a result of long standing scientific and political work to try to find out what is “dangerous” climate change. This was converted to a peak temperature, then a fixed carbon budget, and now, to a deadline, after which any attempts to do anything are said to be “too late”.

This helps to increase a sense of urgency - but it also creates a situation where a climate emergency is rashly declared with possibly politically dangerous consequences.

There, they mean, dangerous in the sense that it risks derailing the climate change action in the future.

So then - what is a responsible response for the IPCC to all this?

They then expand on these points.

First, there were various suggestions of targets to aim for - greenhouse gas concentrations, ocean heat content, or sea-level rise, but global temperature was what they finally decided back in 1992 was the best way to quantify a level of “climate change”.

From the mid 1990s through to 2015 the target was 2 °C. The 2015 agreement was first to introduce 1.5 °C, though at the time more of a rhetorical aspiration than a real future target.

However, mainly as a result of public campaigning in the last three years, the safe limit has now been reframed as 1.5 °C,

Then another thing that happened is that the scientists found that the future temperature is nearly exactly proportional to the amount of CO₂ added - that no matter if it is done over a year or 30 years, adding the same amount of CO₂ to the atmosphere leads to the same temperature increase. As a result scientists started to look at policies in terms of the total CO₂ emissions allowed to limit global warming to a given level.

This then lead to an approach that lets us estimate how many years remain to a particular climate target. Based on that, the IPCC estimated a range of 12 to 34 years from 2018 for the remaining time to reach 1.5°C, which is where the 12 year rhetoric comes from

This has now been turned into literal “clicking clocks” on the web. I know that some of my readers are especially sensitive to count down clocks - which is why I added the yellow text overlay (and also to help with any use of them serendipitously as images in social sharing).

Climate Clock — a multimedia experience by activist/musician David Usher and Concordia researcher Damon Matthews


Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC)

Note that both of them count down accurately to the centisecond, or hundredth of a second - yet they give different figures. As of writing this, the David Usher / Damon Matthews clock says 15 years, 4 months 6 days and a constantly changing number of hours minutes, seconds and centisecs while the Mercator one says 8 years, 5 months, 6 days and a constantly changing number of hours, minutes, seconds and centisecs.

It is obvious we do not know such a thing to this level of accuracy! In fact the error bar in the IPCC report was more than a decade, between 12 and 34 years. counting from 2018.

As they put it in the paper:

From a communication perspective, this translation is understandable. Neither global temperature nor carbon budgets convey any great sense of urgency to non-experts whereas time — and the associated notion of a deadline — is a metric that converts the abstract, statistical notion of climate change to a more recognizably human experience. Rather than degrees Celsius rise in temperature, or gigatonnes of CO₂ emitted, the ticking countdown clock sends an alarming message to the public of time slipping away.

I can confirm from my own experience that people find clocks like this extremely scary, and they can often trigger panic attacks (a scary experience for them, heart pounding, breathing fast). Indeed I wondered whether to include screenshots from the clocks at all here, bearing in mind my more vulnerable readers, but the fact that they count down to different dates, and the text overlays, should help there.

They then talk about various issues with using a clock metaphor and a fixed CO₂ budget for a deadline.

They describe various possible responses that would seem sensible decisions on the basis of the ticking clock metaphor but may not be the best for our climate future.

  • Policy makers might try to "borrow" from the future by using geoengineering to keep temperatures below 1.5°C while building up a debt of CO₂ to be removed with carbon capture and storage.
  • They might use authoritarian measures to impose unpopular policies to achieve the goals.
  • When the clock continues to click over and nothing major happens - when as Myles Allen says the 1.5°C future feels very much like today to most people, it might lead to "Cry wolf" responses undermining the credibility of climate science when this imagined disaster doesn't happen and we don't find ourselves going over a cliff edge.
  • Climate policies that merely "hit the numbers" get priority over those that are more just, promote sustainability and are better for the long term future [an example here from past experience in the UK might be planting lots of trees but the trees aren't looked after and soon die]
  • The message of deadline-ism will only resonate with certain groups. For others the message can be alarmist and polarizing, which makes it harder to craft enduring bipartisan solutions

The next paragraph may be puzzling to you if you haven't followed the climate debates, especially since they use the short form of citation with just the names of the author and not paper titles.

Climate change is a ‘wicked social problem’, one that must be resolved and renegotiated, over and over again. Deadline-ism is at once both ineffectual and self-defeating.

It would be easy to just skim over and miss the point which is an important and central one.

Climate change as a wicked problem

This refers to an idea originating from sociology that some problems are "tame" like the ozone layer hole. In that case, there was a clear result, the thinning of the layer, leading to increased risk of UV damage, the causes were clear (CFC's), the solution was clear (to find a way to stop release of chemicals that damage the ozone layer") and there was a clear criterion of success, that the ozone layer stops thinning and begins to heal.

But climate change is a "Wicked problem". There is no ready clear criterion for what the problem is - lots of different effects of climate change not just one thing. Many are negative, are balanced by increased risk of heat waves, drought, wild fires, and hurricanes, rising sea levels.

Some though are beneficial, such as the greening of the planet and improved agricultural yields due to the warming of northern latitudes, and CO₂ fertilization effects. The prediction is for increasing crop yields at least through to 1.5°C.

  • only a small part of the world, less than 4%, show a browning effect. Many areas have an increase in leaf area of more than 50%. Since the 1980s, enough new leaves have sprouted to cover twice the area of mainland United States

Rising CO₂ has 'greened' world's plants and trees | Carbon Brief

In another study, then from the early 2000s, the leaf area has increased by 5%, an area equivalent to all of the Amazon rainforests. One-third of Earth’s vegetated lands are greening, while 5 percent are growing browner. The study was published on February 11, 2019

A warmer world will open up large areas of Canada and Siberia to conventional agriculture.

This figure is from: Northward shift of the agricultural climate zone under 21st-century global climate change

The region between the magenta and blue lines is the extra area that could open up to small cereal crops, such as barley and oat, and used to describe the minimal climatic requirements for agriculture. It’s based on Growing degree-days - a calculation involving the amount of the temperature above a base (here 5 C) over the year, where e.g. an average of 8 C for a day would be 3 growing degree days. The lines are for GDD’s above 1200 C per year which is considered feasible for small cereal crops.

Another look at the same data, shows a band from 1200 to 1400 growing degree days for each time period to make it easier to compare

It is from the extended data here Northward shift of the agricultural climate zone under 21st-century global climate change

See my What is the impact of global warming on agriculture?

For some other positive effects of warming: gray whales will be able to return to the Arctic and swim around to the Atlantic from the Pacific as they haven't done for thousands of years.We get shipping able to navigate the North West passage again.

Generally then an ice free Arctic will have many beneficiaries, to the extent that if we have a few decades with the Arctic ice free in summer, entire industries and large groups of people are likely to develop a dependency on it, as well as the wildlife that comes to expect an ice free summer there. If climate cooling leads to the ice returning to the Arctic there may well be many who are not keen on that prospect by then. For an interesting paper on this see

There is widespread consensus here that the harmful effects of climate change far outweigh the beneficial effects - but that is an evaluation in the "soft" areas of sociology, politics, economics etc, and is not something you can determine through science as simply as for a tame problem such as the effects of the healing of the ozone layer.

Many social problems are never finally solved, but cycle around over and over. In the paper: "Climate change as a wicked social problem:" the authors give the example of crime rates. It is not realistic to aim for a zero crime rate - so there is no stopping rule, no criterion of final success. Success rules are inherently political and subject to change. Evidence plays a role but cultural values do too, and what works in one part of the world may not work in another.

Climate change originally seemed to be a tame problem, like the ozone layer, but it turned out to be a wicked problem, like tackling crime.

There are many proposed indicators for success, but the timescales vary by decades. The modeling and numbers seem precise which can lead to scientists to be asked for advice on policy change, but this is going well beyond their range of expertise.

To underline this point this earlier paper mentioned some of the many different solutions that have been proposed for climate change

In the public discourse on climate change, a multitude of practical solutions has been suggested. They include a rollout of nuclear power plants across the globe; a switch of all energy supply to solar, wind or biofuels; a transformation of our lifestyles; promotion of vegetarianism; a tax on carbon; implementation of an emissions trading system; go-engineering projects; and the abolishment of capitalism.

There are many proposed solutions, all motivated by the same goal to reach zero carbon emissions, but the solutions would lead to radically different social realities. Some may lead to more catastrophic changes than global warming itself.

That paper ended

Climate change is a challenge, as acknowledged by the various proposals. Nevertheless, climate science provides no help to meet this challenge, once it has been acknowledged. The essential expertise for making progress with climate change mitigation and adaptation lies in the social sciences, including economics but also including a variety of other disciplines such as cultural studies, history, sociology and policy research. We need to understand the different social contexts of climate policy before we can find pragmatic steps to manage the problem. It is high time the expertise of the social sciences is recognized and assembled

We face many such "wicked problems" here in the UK, as we work towards our goal of zero emissions by 2050: They often need creative and innovative solutions. Multifaceted solutions that are "win win win" for everyone. Some examples include

  • Proposal by the Soil Association for one meat free day a week for school children. This doesn't mean a day of cheese instead of meat but rather pulses, lentils, and other plant based proteins. This is better for children's health, and helps with obesity. A 20% reduction in meat can have far more effect than you'd think. 27% of our land area is used for livestock - so, for dairy and meat. Only 7% of the Earth’s surface is used for crops. This ingenious map shows this graphically

Yields and Land Use in Agriculture For details see my We can feed everyone through to 2100 and beyond

Reduce meat eating by 20% worldwide and it would have a hugely beneficial impact on the pressures on the tropical rainforests, at the same time as benefiting health in countries where people over indulge in meat. Or you can just do it by saving on the 20% of meat that gets set aside as leftovers on the consumers' plates.

Another example

  • Suffold wildlife after a high tide in 2014 let the sea remain in the flooded areas which formed a new salt marsh. This helped protect the coastline, formed a good habitat for birds, but also became a nursery for dover sole and bass, supporting the local fishing industry. Salt marshes store ten times more carbon than temperate woodlands and forty times more than tropical rainforests (which despite the impressive vegetation often have very thin soil).
  • There are calls here to phase out all peat sold in the UK. The extraction of peat for gardening is the equivalent to the annual emissions of over 300,000 cars. 630,000 tonnes of CO₂ per annum, and it is not needed for horticulture. The Royal Botanic Gardens never use it now except for insect eating plants and a few other acid loving plants
  • Another particularly interesting initiative is the proposal by the Wildlife Trust for a "Nature Recovery Network". The idea is that modern housing estates would come with "green arteries" that would help connect together nature, also bringing it into the everyday life of everyone.
  • Then we have the new "Essex passive home" by Hastoe housing association. This brings the idea of a passive home, which used to be thought the preserve only of the very rich, down to within reach of affordable housing for everyone.

    According to independent reports it has reduced heating bills to as little as £130 a year.

    Hastoe Scheme adds to passive affordable housing trend

For more on all this:

Relevance to deadline-ism

So to go back to the paper after this digression, the problem with deadline-ism is that it tries to simplify a wicked problem to a tame one. "If you can reduce emissions to zero by 2050, all problems are solved and you can ride away into the sunset of an endless future of all climate problems solved - and if you can't - then we have failed"

But climate change is not like that. There is no stopping rule. We need to be careful about climate and biodiversity through this century at least. Whatever level of CO₂ emissions we reach in 2050 we still have to be aware of where we are going next, and to be taking measures to protect biodiversity as we do so.

So then this deadline-ism raises the question of the role of science in politics. Scientists are used to just giving the evidence and then standing back and letting politicians use it as they will. Their job is done at that point.

But if politicians and society at large are misusing your evidence, is it still your job to just stand back and let them do this?

The authors of this paper say no. Having prepared this report, which unintentionally created the conditions for this deadline-ist rhetoric the IPCC have to take responsibility for it.

Although the rhetoric is usually seen by scientists as a misleading interpretation of the IPCC findings, the IPCC and most climate scientists have so far kept silent, thereby implicitly seeming to endorse it. However, given that the IPCC’s SR15 report helped to create the condition for this rhetoric, as the institutional authority for climate science the IPCC should take responsibility for more actively engaging in political conversations around it.

They argue that to remain silent, though it seems the safer option, the most politically neutral, that it would be irresponsible because of the dangers of this climate deadline-ism that they outlined in the paper.

Now the IPCC faces a challenge to its historical stance of policy neutrality. To remain silent about the 2030 deadline rhetoric is perhaps a safe option for the IPCC. It can retreat into a comfort zone that appears to preserve its integrity as a policy-neutral advisor. But because of the dangers of climate deadline-ism that we have outlined, this would be irresponsible.

The authors argue that the IPCC should speak up. Even though this would invite a backlash from the activists who would see the IPCC as being too political.

The alternative would be to challenge the political rhetoric of “Science says we have only 12 years left.” This may invite a backlash from activists that the IPCC has become too political. But the IPCC should recognize that the knowledge it produces is already unavoidably political. It should therefore act as a politically responsible agent in the public sphere and challenge openly the credibility of this deadline rhetoric.

They conclude by saying this is one more example of the way that climate science has become inescapably political.

Role of science bloggers and journalists

It's unlikely the IPCC follow this recommendation, because political neutrality is so important to them. So what can we do?

The IPCC presentation was clear, about the uncertainties, the different paths, the realistic hopes and the scientific possibilities. I do not understand myself how journalists went to that press conference, listened to what the committee said, and their responses to the questions from the press- and then went home and wrote the news stories we all read.

Perhaps if more people had heard what the scientists themselves said, we would be in a different situation today. I don't know of anyone else who embedded the video summaries of the co-chairs or the press conference in their articles. We need more opportunities for the scientists to speak directly to the general public about their findings.

It's the journalists that transformed it to the "deadline-ism". In the same way, journalists, science bloggers and social influencers may be able to turn this around.

Debra Roberts talks about the importance of those who are good at communiations to take the messages of the IPCC to the public

(click to watch on Youtube)


Debra Roberts on whether the IPCC should work with communications specialists.

And again that was obviously something we discussed, those are the kind of skills we need access to because this is a world of ideas it's a world of free-flowing information and communication about those ideas and information has become critical.

It's a specialist skill so we're not going to expect that specialist skill to be deeply embodied in a climate modeler. so I think it is another skill space that it's necessary that we need to call on board but I think there's a whole range of those new types of skills.

Just purely understanding the way humans receive messages, that's a whole new body of research that we've got a draw on board. So, yes of course you've got to have the killer graphic but what happens when that killer graphic goes through my visual Center and I respond to it as a human we've also got to understand that value chain of communications.

So I not only want the great comms people to be accessible to us, the people who are going to reduce the killer graphics, but I want us to be reflecting in our assessments on that science of communication on that science of understanding because that's really going to be the key.

Because at the end of the day we only be in that curve if you and I have an intention to change the way we live in this city whatever city we live in, if we change our aspirations. So, the question is you know what what impacts on us. So I think there's a whole body of science as well around that that we need to start looking at and drawing in to to our system.

I am doing my best to help with this process in my own small way with these blog posts. Carbon Brief to a great job of this. If you are someone with a way with words and a science blogger, do consider playing your part too. Especially accurate summaries of what the scientists actually say - so few people just read the reports and listen to the scientists and then just do their best to communicate what they say straight to the public without personal embellishments and exaggerations. Also if you have views of your own, that you want to present, to separate them out clearly from what the scientists are saying so that readers know which is which.

Then it is also so valuable when individual climate scientists speak up about it, like Myles Allen and the authors of this paper. If you are a climate scientist, even if you do not get publicized much by the media, science bloggers like myself, and maybe eventually a few responsible journalists can mention your blog posts in their articles.

There just do not seem to be many climate scientists speaking up, probably because of the traditional reluctance to get closely involved in politics except as expert witnesses. Please, more of this is a great help to everyone else.

Another example is the IPBES report. Almost nobody presented the central message of the report, which was that we know how to SAVE those million species. Not just an aspiration but a worked out economic and political strategy. More on that later in this article.

There have been a whole series of appallingly bad media reports. The report on the FAO was similarly misrepresented widely:

Example of insects study - climate slogan only plausible if you barely give it any thought

Some of the things the climate activists say only seem credible if you are strongly in favour of action against global warming already. It is amazing how a vivid climate slogan can completely hijack your critical processes so that you don't even see its absurdity.

Many people who are normally thoughtful and careful, come to believe these slogans. If you are one of those who believed this slogan, please stop and think. A world without dung beetles? Dung and dead animals piling up in meadows and forests with nothing coming to eat them?

A world without midges in the Scottish highlands? As the UK climate gets warmer with wetter winters? Doesn't sound too plausible does it? You normally get more insects, not fewer, in warmer climates. Butterflies hibernate in winter or overwinter as eggs. Insects need warmth to move about because they are cold blooded.

There are issues with insect biodiversity but they are mainly to do with modern farming practices. As for global warming, insects flourish in warmer conditions, though drier conditions make them less numerous. Hurricanes when they blow down trees in forests increase insect numbers. Their short lifespans (for most of them) mean they can fluctuate in population quickly and there are simple measures a farmer can take to help improve insect diversity such as leaving more field margins and reducing pesticide use.

After you stop and think about that, it then becomes no surprise perhaps to learn that in fact that study was deeply flawed.

It had only one data point for Australia and one for China, both for the domestic honey bee!

Dr Manu Saunders who is an insect ecologist Manu Saunders put it like this on Twitter:

It's a bit like having a report on biodiversity of mammals that says

"Oh BTW we couldn't find any data about wild mammals in China or Australia so we have used data points for pigs instead".

Most of the map was completely blank. Also these experts commented on the way they did the search, searching for papers using "Declin*" as one of the search terms seems likely to bias in favour of papers that found declining populations. There are ways to do systematic studies like the IPCC and there are the non systematic studies like this one, that can at most be indicative of interesting ideas to follow up further. It was a lightweight paper by a couple of researchers that did pass peer review and had some interest, but never deserved this level of worldwide attention.

Yet this non systematic and not very convincing study hit prime time news on the BBC with nobody commenting on this point there, or any of the other flaws in it mentioned by the experts on twitter. Ecosystem experts tweeted about these limitations but there was no mention on the BBC or the other media outlets worldwide that ran this story.

The FAO section on insect pollinators based on reports from nearly all the countries in the EU, which found many insect populations in good health, and a wide number of projects to preserve them worldwide, got no publicity at all.

On that same topic, I wonder if you remember seeing reports like this:

“Scientist Brad Lister returned to Puerto Rican rainforest after 35 years to find 98% of ground insects had vanished”

Insect collapse: ‘We are destroying our life support systems’

It turns out it was a mistake. They hadn't taken account of the effects of hurricane Hugo before some of their early reports (which opens up the forest and encourages insects). In actuality, the insects are positively correlated with warmth - as you might expect. The warmer the conditions, the more insects, also more frogs and more birds. The opposite of the report that lead to those alarmist headlines.

Yet - journalists very rarely correct such stories - the Guardian hasn't issued any correction or any publicity for this new study AFAIK. The correction got almost no publicity; the original report was publicized widely.

The earlier German study was accurate - but due to modern farming practices, and insecticides probably.

The FAO mention the German study, and that Germany has started an Action Programme for Insect Protection which is here (you can use google translate to see it in English): Insektenschutz

They talk about many countries who submitted reports to the UN on measures they are taking to ensure biodiversity. This table summarizes their conclusions:

On insects for pollination then they were decreasing only on livestock grassland-based systems. Everywhere else, stable or mixed trends

They remark on the limited data for insects, but it is vastly better than that insects study that hit the news a week or so previously. Yet, hardly anyone picked up on this at all.

Of course, it's not always good news to have lots of insects. Locusts for instance. As another example, the bark beetles in Califorina spreading due to the dry conditions and creating conditions that encourage wild fires.

They are spreading due to the drier conditions there which make it more favourable to them.

(click to watch on Youtube)

This sort of thing is a reason for limiting climate change. But it is the opposite kind of a problem from the one the press have misinformed the public about. Too many not too few insects.The problems of too few insects are usually due to insecticides and agricultral practices not warming though drought caused by global warming can reduce numbers.

I think that journalists and science bloggers have a responsibility to speak up about such things, do diligent research, and if necessary, get advice from experts. And the experts - they need to be calling out this research too for what it is. Few of them ever do, and only in the worst cases.

I can give many other examples of this inaccurate and exaggerated reporting. We've had a veritable tsunami of fake and exaggerated doomist climate news, ever since the 2018 IPCC report.

Journalists and readers suspending critical thinking, and not dong the most basic of checks, if the story supports the "We are doomed" climate disaster message. Yet they almost never run the positive ones, like, in this case, the insects section of the FAO report or the correction of the Puerto Rica study.

Can we turn this around?

We need to turn this around somehow at source. Journalists need to work out better practices for reporting and fact checking. Encourage journalists to run their reports on climate change past a competent climate scientists, to check for the worst misunderstandings before they run the story.

This is not to preview the politics, just to check for plain out and out major errors, junk science, non peer reviewed material and misunderstandings and exaggerations. I think the general public deserve better of their news than the major mistakes that appear daily in our climate reporting.

Maybe there is some other approach that would work. Press freedom is very important. But this is an area where this barrage of nonsense has to stop - especially in the most highly respected news sources that most people would not think could get such things wrong.

Do say if you have any ideas about this, in the comments to this article.

Or, maybe there is a way forwards where scientists do actually engage directly in politics. This is best done with the collaboration of sociologists and economists and others in the soft sciences.

The IPCC 2018 report was already innovative, the first time they brought together their three main working groups, science, impacts and economics, in a single report.

Myles Allen talks about this and how he hopes there are more such reports in the future at the start of this talk here: It's also interesting for the way he explains how the process works.

(click to watch on Youtube)

The approach of IPBES - to have sociologists and economists as part of the report itself

Here I would like to make a comment of my own on this paper. I am not suggesting that the IPCC changes their traditional strict separation of science from politics.

But looking forwards, part of the problem here is that the IPCC, though it has to cover social aspects in its reports, is resolutely focused on natural sciences to its core. It covers social sciences, but only to the extent it is needed to flesh out climate scenarios or the most obvious effects of possible policies.

Perhaps they are not the best organization to deal with a complex sociological issue like this?

Maybe others need to do this. Perhaps the scientists do not have to be so disinterestedly apolitical and non sociological? Perhaps a "wicked problem" requires "wicked experts"? I don't mean that sociologists are wicked, any more than the problem is. But that they are used to working with intractable, intangible, knotty messy real life situations and trying to find a way through them. Wicked experts in the sense that they know how to deal with the science of working with wicked problems.

I was very impressed myself by the approach of IPBES earlier this year. Now those are people who would thoroughly understand the issues of deadline-ism, and of wicked and tame problems on a sociological level.

It was not just a science study. It was also a study in social sciences. Their conclusion was that not only that we can do it. It was far stronger than that. They said that it makes economic, personal and political sense to do it. This social sciences element was very unusual for such a report. 58% of their 350 authors were natural scientists, but 33% were social scientists, and 9% interdisciplinary scientists. The social sciences part of it is also rigorous and worked out.

They worked out that we need transformative changes, to save species, promote a circular economy, and most of all, to stop perverse agricultural subsidies that are working against preservation of biodiversity, but also do not make economic or social sense either but are preserved because of a political inertia that those who benefit by them do not want to see them abandoned.

This was a very politically charged message. Yet, this message survived in the summary for policy makers, which they remarked on, as the governments did not have to sign this off.

They talk about a need for a transformative change But this transformative change doesn’t mean some new global political system or economic or social system. Rather it is a new approach that encourages diversity and a variety of methods and solutions at all levels. Here I am paraphrasing D4 and D5 of the summary for policy makers.

For instance, the transformations will work differently in developing and developed countries. Any transformation like that has its uncertainties and complexities, but the risks can be reduced through approaches from government that are “integrative, informed and adaptive”.

It needs to be based on recognizing that different cultures have different values, economic conditions, power imbalances and vested interests. It involves learning from experience, and a combination of precautionary measures and using existing and emerging knowledge. Private - public partnerships are an important part of it too.

Also a key to all this is to recognize the knowledge, innovations, and practices, institutions and values of indigenous people and local communities.

Also to recognize land tenure of local people, free, prior and informed consent for access and resource rights, and improved collaboration including equitable sharing of benefits and co-management where local people are involved in management of their resources.

For an overview summary of the approaches for sustainability and the actions and pathways that can achieve them, see their Table SPM.1 “Possible actions and pathways to achieve transformative change” in the summary for policy makers.

This is such a different approach from the IPCC. Different but complimentary. One of their main points is the need to address climate change to help protect nature services and biodiversity.

They could look carefully at the social effects of deadline-ism, both negative and positive, and how to avoid the likely downfalls of it.

For more about the IPBES report and their solution involving a high percentage of sociologists and economists:

I wrote that based on the summary for policy makers and the press conference. The draft chapters are now available online.

Many things we can all do

For the anxious, if you've read this and found it helped, do share with your friends who may be scared too. Next time you see a scary story "We are all doomed" instead of just clicking and sharing it with all your friends, try checking it out. We have set up our Doomsday Debunked group on Facebook so you can come to us to ask for help.

For good reliable reporting on climate change, you can try Carbon Brief. I've read many good articles from them. For positive eco news to brighten up your day, and remind yourself that good things as well as bad are happening in the world, try this website:

Scientists also may like to join our group to help the scared people with their anxieties about climate and many other topics.

If you are a journalist - please consider reporting that swims against the stream here. We do not have to keep reinforcing the deadline-ism. Maybe there are other ways to report on this that will also engage the public, and get people interested, without scaring your readers?

Also to try to give the scientists themselves a voice. For instance often there's a video stream of the conference, or summary key points from co-chairs. Do consider embedding these in your reports for the benefit of your readers who want to hear what the scientists themselves said, directly.

For climate scientists, please consider speaking up a bit more with blog posts and with contributions to sites like "The Conversation" like Myles Allen's one

Why protesters should be wary of ‘12 years to climate breakdown’ rhetoric

It is for the IPCC to decide if they want to speak up about the misleading use of the 12 years deadline. I think it's unlikely myself because of their strong commitment to political neutrality but I do also think the authors of this paper have outlined significant issues from keeping silent.

However the IPBES approach is so different that I think they could speak up. Perhaps when they release the full report later this year they could comment on this, and even do a social analysis of the issues of false deadline-ism and the misleading summaries of their own report, the FAO report etc?

Or maybe we need a new body altogether, an independent organization to help with major issues and confusions in climate science and biodiversity reporting?

What do you think? How can we solve this? Do say in the comments area. Also do comment if you see any mistakes, omissions, or some additional information that you think may interest readers of this article.

This article was originally posted in my Quora blog "Debunking Doomsday" as:

Doomsday Debunked

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