The basic message of the IPCC report is that we need to act now before 2040, to avoid more expensive mitigation measures in the last 60 years of the century. The worst effects are for 2100. And that if we aim for 1.5°C, it is far better than 2 °C.
All countries worldwide except the US (which is withdrawing) have committed to pledges already. their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC’’s),. The idea of the Paris agreement is that these contributions are voluntary, and they ramp up on their pledges year on year. The next meeting is on December 2nd to 14th in Poland, and this new IPCC report will surely be an influence on their decisions and increased pledges.
Worldwide, the US IS THE ONLY COUNTRY THAT PLANS TO WITHDRAW and it will do that at the end of Trump's first presidency. All other countries worldwide have joined the agreement. The US may rejoin with a new president at any time after that, or Trump may change his mind. Within the US then many cities, states, companies and individuals are doing a lot too. Major cities around the world have committed to build only zero carbon buildings by 2030 and to make existing buildings zero carbon by 2050. In the US that includes New York City and San Francisco:
In the US, states can impose their own stricter emissions targets on power generation, vehicle emisssion, new buildings and so on. California for instance, which by its self would represent the world's sixth largest economy, if it was a separate country, is strongly commited to the Paris agreement. The United States climate alliance accounts for 16 states, as well as the territory of Puerto Rico committed to upholding the Paris agreement within their borders.
Some countries are well within what is required to stay within 1.5 C and are leading the way. Costa Rica plans to be carbon neutral by 2021. Sweden is committed to carbon neutrality by 2045. Bhutan is already carbon negative (though it may run into issues staying carbon negative as it industrializes). And the small South American country of Suriname is hugely carbon negative
- Visit the World's Only Carbon-Negative Country - though not actually true, see next entry.
- and the Climate Action Tracker (independent group of experts) say "While Bhutan aims to remain carbon neutral due to its carbon sinks, we note a concern that projected increasing energy and industry emissions could bring Bhutan into a difficult position for its long-term low-carbon transition, risking a breakdown of its carbon neutrality."
- Heard Of This Small But Hugely Carbon Negative Country? Suriname In Amazonian Rain Forest - From Today's Talanoa Story Dialogs
- it's not as well known as Bhutan but its 541,638 people absorbs 16 tons per year per capita, offsetting the equivalent of emissions of 1.7 million more people. It is at risk of flooding which could cause 80% of its population to have to retreat inland from the coasts to the forests and use forest resources starting in 2028, and its INDCi is mainly to do with making sure it continues its high carbon negative role by avoiding that and also moving towards more use of renewables (most of its electricity already comes from hydro-electric schemes).
- Sweden Plans to Be Carbon Neutral by 2045
- Costa Rica to ban fossil fuels and become world's first decarbonised society
The new report is saying that other countries should also aim for rapid emissions reductions, sooner rather than later. It’s especially challenging for countries that are rapidly industrializing from a mainly rural economy. China and India are ramping up use of renewables, China especially committed to peak its CO2 emissions by 2030. That should be enough for a 2°C scenario, but how easy it is to achieve 1.5°C depends a lot on what China can do in the next decade or so, as one of the peak CO2 emitters.
China has vast reserves of coal - but is also one of the countries with vast potential for renewables from solar, wind and hydro. The key to its climate change strategy is to ramp up on renewables, which it is doing, and discourage building new coal fired plants. It's achieved remarkable successes so far, 341 GW of hydropower, 1463 GW of wind and 130 GW of solar PV. In each of those figures it leads the world. See this summary. For photos of some of the amazing Chinese solar farm installtions:
One Chinese company decided to have a little fun with its Panda solar farms, this one is a 50 Megawatt installation:
"The question is, what comes next? If the recent overall downward trend in China’s coal use continues for the next few years, it is plausible that overall CO2 emissions peaked in 2017. In this case, total Chinese GHG emissions would be likely to only show a very slight increase in the period between 2015–2030 and will essentially plateau at close to 12.0 GtCO2e/year. If, however, coal consumption does not continue to decline, and instead stalls at today’s levels, and no additional policies are introduced to limit other, non-CO2 gases, China’s total GHG emissions could continue to rise until at least 2030."
There was a slight rise in coal consumption in China in 2017. But this seems to be no more than stock piling for the future.
"However, the slight rise in coal consumption is not expected to last given China’s continued economic reforms and energy transition. This means there is little chance for sustained coal growth.
"Xu Zhaoyuan, head of the research office at the State Council Development Research Centre’s Industrial Economy Research Department, says the 0.4% uptick is a short-lived fluctuation, predicting that coal demand will decline in coming years, and the peak in coal consumption in 2013 will not be exceeded.
"Growth in coal consumption is not sustainable because much of the coal has been stocked in anticipation of further price hikes, and actual coal use could have been less, according to Yuan Jiahai.
"He predicts that coal demand and total energy consumption in China will not see the same strong growth as 2017. “We are looking at primary energy consumption around 1.5% for the years to come. The kind of growth we saw in 2017 will not be repeated,” said Yuan."
The worst case scenario is that the world gets 4.5 °C hotter by 2100. The Paris climate change agreement pledges so far will reduce the rise to between 2.6 and 4 °C . They have to do a lot more even to get down to 2°C. However, the idea is to rapidly ramp up to more ambitious pledges year on year. The aim of 2°C is within reach, so long as they keep increasing their commitments year on year.
However, the IPCC report is saying they should aim for 1.5°C not 2°C because 2°C is very expensive long term and damaging to ecosystems and in other ways. This is much more of a challenge because with business as usual we’ll soon reach the point where it is hard to stay within 1.5°C. We are already at around 1°C above pre-industrial, a level we reached for the first time in 2017, the hottest year ever.
The thing is that we emit so much per year at present, that to have a chance of success we have to reduce emissions rapidly before 2030, faster than governments were expecting. An alterantive is to do carbon capture and storage in a big way post 2030. They recommend the first solution, big reductions before 2030, as the best answer because overshoot followed by carbon recapture causes more damage to ecosystems.
For instance, at 2°C, more than 99% of all coral reefs will be gone at 2 C. Yields of some major world crops like maize will start to go down. There would be many more heat waves and extreme weather events. It is not about human extinction though. Nor is it about the world becoming too hot for humans, or not being able to breathe, or not being able to feed everyone, or a sixth mass extinction.
Rather, it is about preventing hardship, climate refugees, health issues from the heat, harm to the most vulnerable ecosystems, and about acting now to avoid long term damage and much more expensive solutions later on.
The report is summarized here: Summary for Policy Makers.
The other sections, FAQ, and the detailed report are here: IPCC - SR15
They say that countries have to significantly ramp up their CO2 reductions before 2030, and if they don't, it involves large scale carbon dioxide reduction. That’s the BECCS, this idea of growing vast forests, burning the trees for energy and then storing the CO2 that’s produced when the wood is burnt. It’s one of the easiest ways to take CO2 out of the atmosphere.
This shows five illustrative pathways that would achieve the goal. The acronyms are:
- Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) - i.e. grow trees and other rapidly growing plants to burn as fuel and then store the CO2.
- Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) - taken up by improvements in land use and conservation, forestry etc.
They differ mainly in how quickly the CO2 emission reductions kick in. If they are done quickly we don’t need to do much carbon capture (the yellow BECCS). While if the reductions are delayed even by a decade, then far more has to be captured later on.
P3 is the middle of the road one,
A middle-of-the-road scenario in which societal as well as technological development follows historical patterns. Emissions reductions are mainly achieved by changing the way in which energy and products are produced, and to a lesser degree by reductions in demand.
- the first has a rapid reduction in CO2 emissions before 2030.
This table shows how corals are amongst the most sensitive of all ecosystems:
Corals are particularly vulnerable because they are so sensitive to minute changes in temperature. The growing acidity of the oceans is also a factor as well as the increase in tropical storms but it's mainly the temperature issue. They are used to tropical conditions, with almost unvarying temperatures year round. Interestingly, corals are adjusted to quite a wide range of temperatures, several degrees, but manylocal corals can't withstand more than a fraction of a degree increase in temperature before they die out. This shows that if the change was slow enough then they could adapt. Some in the Red Sea especially are pre-adapted to higher temperatures due to a historical accident, and some individual species in the great barrier reef can withstand a temperature increase, but most especially of the branching corals that contribute so much to the reefs biodiversity can't withsand much of a change. This does give possibilties for mitigation by moving corals from warmer coral reefs but it's not easy to regenerate a whole reef like tht in a short time. For more details see the second half of my:
Sometimes in the geological past, corals have gone extinct and our seas had only sponges, for long millions of years at a time. You get sponge reefs instead of corals. With 2 C we are haded towards an ocean chemistry that has sponge reefs instead of coral reefs. But it is still a diverse ecology just different. Also, of course it would take ages for sponge reeefs to grow to take place of all the coral reefs. With 1.5 C we remain within the ocean chemistry that permits some coral reefs.
This doesn't mean that life is going to go extinct in the sea or anything like that. There are numerous ecosystems there and many will be much less affected by climate change. Corals are unusual because the whole ocean will become a bit too acidic for them. There is no where for them to migrate to. In most cases animals, insects and short lived plants can migrate, though it’s more of a challenge for trees.
For instance, as the sea rises, mangroves near the sea can’t survive but that’s just because they have to grow further up the sea shore. We are not headed for a world without mangroves, but a world with the mangroves further back from the previous shore, with many of the current mangroves dying.
SOME COMMON MSCONCEPTIONS DEBUNKED
They are not talking about mass extinctions. I think their section on species gives an idea of what they are talking about - significant impacts yes, a new mass extinction, no.
Of 105,000 species studied, 6% of insects, 8% of plants and 4% of vertebrates are projected to lose over half of their climatically determined geographic range for global warming of 1.5°C, compared with 18% of insects, 16% of plants and 8% of vertebrates for global warming of 2°C (medium confidence). Impacts associated with other biodiversity-related risks such as forest fires, and the spread of invasive species, are lower at 1.5°C compared to 2°C of global warming (high confidence).
To just mention a few common misconceptions about climate change. There is no risk running out of oxygen:
- Debunked: If we cut down all the forests we will run out of oxygen to breathe - they are not the “lungs of the planet” in any literal sense
Also they are not talking about the Earth getting too hot for humans. With a 7 °C rise which is far higher than is possible with the Paris agreement pledges so far, some parts of the Persian gulf become too hot for humans during occasional heat waves every decade or so. Meanwhile as the Earth warms up, other parts of Earth would become more easily habitable in the far north, areas of Siberia and Canada opening out to crop based agriculture. We don’t need to worry about Earth becoming a second Venus:
The clathrate gun hypothesis is debunked now, they don’t even mention it in the report in their chapter 3.
Permafrost in Siberia can cause a feedback effect, but they say that at 1.5 and 2 C it will not be enough to cause a tipping point, so the effect is small in the near term - and most effects unfold over centuries.Chapter 3
The report also doesn’t mean that we won’t be able to feed everyone. See
- my answer to What is the impact of global warming on agriculture?
- Debunked: Soon we won’t be able to feed everyone because the world population is growing so quickly
Also see John Horgan's essay in Scientific American, commenting on writings by Boisvert:
NOT SAYING THE PARIS AGREEMENT HAS FAILED
The idea always was to have more ambitious targets year on year. The report is saying that this has to be done sooner rather than later - that current targets need to be increased significantly well before 2030. They say this about the situation where countries only increase the scale of emission reductions after 2030:
"D1. … Pathways reflecting these ambitions would not limit global warming to 1.5°C, even if supplemented by very challenging increases in the scale and ambition of emissions reductions after 2030 (high confidence). Avoiding overshoot and reliance on future large-scale deployment of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) can only be achieved if global CO2 emissions start to decline well before 2030"
The report is saying to avoid some of the worse effects they need to act more quickly than was previously thought, well before 2030.
SUGGESTION OF CO2 PRICING
First, to put this in context, this is one option that individual countries can choose to use in the Paris agreement, internally. A fair number of them do. However, it is not like the Montreal agreement. There are no plans for global carbon trading.
The New York Times misleadingly reported the IPCC report as saying that the only way to achieve 1.5 C is is through very high carbon prices. Though this is generally a high quality paper, they do sometimes make major mistakes in their science news. For instance a lead researchers actually tweeted the Snopes article debunking a NY Times article about their Yellowstone research (see No, Yellowstone Is Not Going To Erupt As A Supervolcano Soon. No, It Can’t Destroy Mankind! )
Their article on the IPCC report has a major blooper about carbon prices. This is what they say:
‘For instance, the report says that heavy taxes or prices on carbon dioxide emissions — perhaps as high as $27,000 per ton by 2100 — would be required.
… “A price on carbon is central to prompt mitigation,” the report concludes. It estimates that to be effective, such a price would have to range from $135 to $5,500 per ton of carbon dioxide pollution in 2030, and from $690 to $27,000 per ton by 2100.’
Their figures are not from the summary for policy makers - there is no mention of carbon pricing there at all. I found them in the second paragraph of section 184.108.40.206 of the report (see chapter 2). It does give those figures, but in the paragraph before them, it says
"The price of carbon assessed here is fundamentally different from the concepts of optimal carbon price in a cost-benefit analysis"
So, these figures are not a suggested real world price for CO2 emissions. Rather, they are an estimate of the cost of the CO2 to the economy.
Later on in the same section they discuss use of carbon prices as policy. They suggest that it is best to mix CO2 pricing with other options, with a much lower CO2 price of 7 USD per ton combined with measures to encourage efficiency and renewables. This is their suggestion for the US:
"Likewise, a policy mix encompassing a moderate carbon price (7 USD2010) combined with a ban on new coal-based power plants and dedicated policies addressing renewable electricity generation capacity and electric vehicles reduces efficiency losses compared with an optimal carbon pricing in 2030 "
CLIMATE ACTION WITHIN THE US
One relatively straightforward way the United States climate alliance can do that is through carbon pricing and much of the northeast US is already under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) with a tradeable permit system for electricy generation. Altogether the alliance accounts for 46.46% of U.S. GDP (2016 figures for GDP), and 25.51% of its carbon emissions (using 2014 figures for carbon emissions). Meanwhile, cities, who often have a fair measure of autonomy in the US can make a difference too. They can require or force coal plants to shut down, buy renewable power for their residents, and for the power they use themselves for municipal buildings and establish programs to encourage energy efficiency in buildings. They can also develop transport systems that are more efficient, build bike lanes and so on.
An article by for Carbon Brief, by Zeke Hausfather, June 2017, when there were only 12 states with 19% of emissions in the alliance concluded:
"Twelve states representing 19% of total US emissions have joined the new US Climate Alliance and committed to meeting their share of US Paris Agreement targets. Ten additional states accounting for 20% of US emissions have emission mitigation targets in place. Even in states with no targets, there has been a rapid expansion of wind and solar generation driven by falling prices, as well as a shift from coal to lower-carbon natural gas generation."
"While federal action would establish uniform policies nationwide and help combat problems such as carbon leakage, states can and will undertake significant mitigation policies on their own. States can help serve as a laboratory for mitigation policy, with many different strategies developed and tested. The best can be adopted by other states and, potentially, by a future federal administration that more highly prioritises action on climate change."
In another US initiative, more than 2,000 businesses, 280 cities and counties, 345 colleges and universities, 40 cultural institutions, 26 health care groups, 31 faith groups, 10 states, and 9 tribes signed the "We are still In" open letter organized by the Major of New York, Mike Bloomberg, 545 of them have action plans.
And actually several of the big oil corporations have seen the way things are going and are moving towards renewables too. Originally under pressure from their share holders a couple of years back.And now e.g. BP is investing heavily in renewables, for instance wiht Lightsource BP which is a solar power company. It was renamed after a 43% $200 million investment by BP in 2017
THE PREDICTED EFFECTS OF 2°C ARE FOR 2100
Many of the articles suggest that everthing in the report will happen by 2030. Far from it. Though we have to act quickly, before 2030, to stay within 1.5 C - the worst effects happen by 2100, not 2030 or 2040.
The articles that suggest that it would are again misreading the report. Perhaps not surprising - it’s huge and very technical report, and even the summary for policy makers is rather technical and detailed.
That's why they talk about the need for carbon sequestration after 2040. If we overshoot by 2040 then we would need to spend the next 60 years taking large quantities of CO2 out of the atmosphere to compensate, if we want to stay within 1.5 C eventually.
With the Paris agreement, individual countries are free to choose their own targets, and also their own methods of achieving them. But the choice seems to be
- Rapid reduction of CO2 emissions right away (rec0mmended, less effects long term)
- Or, not quite so rapid reductions, and then overshoot and carbon capture
Their report is here, finished except for copy editing: IPCC - SR15
YES, GOVERNMENTS CAN ACT TOGETHER TO PROTECT OUR WORLD!
Governments are capable of acting together with previous successes:
- Protecting the ozone layer, with the Montreal agreement
- Green revolution in the 50s to 70s that saved billions from starvation with new crop varieties and agricultural methods (long ago and many forget about it).
- Eradication of small pox
- Stopping use of DDT for agriculture (continued use for malaria) which was leading to birds losing their eggs because of thin shells,
- Saving the great whales including the blue whale, which might easily be extinct by now otherwise
- Protection of the entire continent of Antarctica from exploitation of its valuable minerals and other resources,
- many marine parks and national parks worldwide.
Our world would be almost unrecognizable without those and other previous and ongoing successes including
- Increasing life span by 10-20 years in half a century (10 years in more developed countries, increase by 20 years in the poorest countries)
- Worldwide increases in literacy
- Reduced child mortality
- Increasing food security year on year
- Increasing access to clean drinking water and water for sanitation to the point where it has become a feasible objective to have clean drinking water for all
Climate change is surely our biggest challenge to date, more so even than the green revolution. But we do have got a track record of succeding at such things once it becomes clear that it really does matter, and has to be done. We can succeed at this too.
This is one of my articles to help people who get scared of false or exaggerated doomsday scenarios. Our aim is to be accurate, not to exaggerate either way. Of course the IPCC report has outlined a major challenge. But let's look at what exactly the report is saying. There are many misleading journalist accounts that have taken sensationalist bits out of context and exaggerated them. This scares many people and I do my best to help by presenting the details in a sober unexaggerated way.
That way we focus on the real issues that need to be dealt with and that we can deal with. Rather than scare people into panic attacks, which are counterproductive and make some people even suicidal.
SEVEN TIPS FOR DEALING WITH DOOMSDAY FEARS
If you are scared: Seven tips for dealing with doomsday fears which also talks about health professionals and how they can help.
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If you are suicidal don’t forget there’s always help a phone call away with the List of suicide crisis lines - Wikipedia