No 638 Posted by fw, December 21, 2012
“The opportunity to limit the rise in average global temperatures this century to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial levels — corresponding to a CO2 atmospheric concentration of 450 ppm — has pretty much slipped away.” —Sir Robert Watson, climate scientist
In a packed hall at the American Geophysical Union’s 2012 conference in San Francisco, British climate scientist Sir Robert Watson pulled few punches in his address titled: A World Where the Atmospheric Concentration of Carbon Dioxide Exceeds 450 ppm. Watson is skeptical about our prospects in the near term: “The only way to get to a 2 degree world is to de-carbonize immediately, and I see no political signs we’re doing this …. We need moral leadership and political will, and they are in short supply.”
Below is writer Bruce Lieberman’s account of Watson’s talk. Alternatively, read Bruce’s original piece by clicking on the following linked title.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA, Dec. 5, 2012 — Renowned British climate scientist Sir Robert Watson pulled few punches today during a talk about the warmer world humans will face in coming decades.
Watson, who was IPCC chair from 1997 to 2002, all but dismissed the possibility of keeping the rise in average global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — a temperature rise that corresponds to an atmospheric concentration of CO2 of 450 parts per million. It now stands at about 390 ppm.
“Fundamentally, we are not on a path toward a 2 degree world,” Watson told a packed hall at Moscone Center for a talk entitled: A World Where the Atmospheric Concentration of Carbon Dioxide Exceeds 450 ppm.
If the international community wanted a world in which the rise in average global temperatures this century peaked at 2 degrees C above pre-Industrial levels, CO2 emissions in the developed world should have peaked in 2010, Watson said. Globally, they would need to peak by 2014.
Instead, CO2 emissions in 2010 were up 5.9 percent relative to 2009 — and that was in the midst of an economic downturn for most industrialized countries. Total carbon emissions as well as carbon intensity (often described as the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of a nation’s GDP) have gone up.
“It’s totally clear we’re changing the composition of the atmosphere …” [but] “politicians have not listened to the scientific message,” Watson said.
Average global temperatures could rise 2 to 7 degrees C by the end of the century, driving a litany of environmental changes, Watson said. Already, the climate of the 2020s and 2030s is locked in, or as Watson put it, “pre-ordained.” “Therefore, we must adapt,” he said.
In a quick moving lecture, Watson outlined several challenges the world will confront. Among them:
The challenge of lowering greenhouse gas emissions won’t merely require a shift away from carbon intensive fuels and industry, Watson continued. Methane emissions from ruminants and rice production must be lowered, deforestation addressed and agricultural practices reformed.
Coal remains the dominant single source of energy worldwide, but natural gas — while extracted by controversial “fracking” techniques — could reduce the global dependence on coal. Still, Watson said, “it’s not a solution; it may (only) buy us a bit of time.”
Developed nations also have to come to grips with their carbon footprint — and an accounting that includes “embedded carbon” generated by their consumption of goods produced in carbon-intensive nations such as China.
While listing the familiar steps needed to decarbonize the world economy — a shift away from carbon intensive fuels, higher fuel efficiency, the development of renewables and nuclear power, placing a price on carbon through emissions trading or taxation, and mobilizing behavioral change — Watson appeared skeptical about the prospects, at least in the near term.
“The only way to get to a 2 degree world is to de-carbonize immediately, and I see no political signs we’re doing this …. We need moral leadership and political will, and they are in short supply.”
Bruce Lieberman is a freelance writer covering science and environmental topics. He has more than 20 years experience in the news business.
OF NOTE: ExxonMobil asked the Bush White House to request Watson be replaced as IPCC chair: In April 2002 the United States pressed for and won his replacement by Rajendra Pachauri as IPCC chair. According to New Scientist, “The oil industry seems to be behind the move.” The industry campaign to oust Watson had begun days after George W. Bush’s inauguration in January 2001, with a memo to the White House from Randy Randol of oil giant ExxonMobil asking “Can Watson be replaced now at the request of the US?” Source: Wikipedia