Citizen Action Monitor

Unless we radically reduce our emissions by 2019, the future will not be one you want to bequeath to your children

redflag 2And we’re on the cusp of leaving it too late; some say it’s already too late

No 918 Posted by fw, November 22, 2013

“Every day that we fail to address climate change then the probabilities of doing anything significant are reduced, or are higher that the levels of climate change increase. But at the moment we still have an outside chance of avoiding what me may classify as dangerous climate change, and therefore is worth trying.”Professor Kevin Anderson

When Professor Anderson warns of the dangerous climate disasters ahead if we do not drastically reduce our carbon emissions in the next five years. I listen. Attentively!

Anderson is the Deputy Director of the prestigious Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, holds a joint chair in Energy and Climate Change at the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering at the University of Manchester, and School of Environmental Sciences at University of East Anglia, and is an honorary lecturer in Environmental Management at the Manchester Business School. He is an adviser to the British Government (as of 2009) on climate change.

In the following 08:30-minute video, Anderson introduces the Radical Emission Reduction Conference that the Tyndall Centre will sponsor on December 10-11, 2013 in London. Academics and practitioners, engineers and economists, policy-makers and civil society will explore evidenced-based opportunities for delivering urgent and deep reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases.

By the way, Canada’s own Naomi Klein will be the keynote speaker, drawing on her recent article, How science is telling us all to revolt, and the research underpinning her forthcoming book.

To access the video and obtain more information about the conference agenda and speakers, click on the following linked title. In addition, Anderson’s video is embedded below, followed by my slightly abridged transcript.

Few will like Anderson’s proposed solution —

  • Over the next five years, those of us living in the developed or rapidly developing nations like China, must radically reduce our carbon emissions. This will buy a window of opportunity to begin the 20-30 year challenge of scaling up the installation of alternative low-carbon technologies such as solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, and biomass.
  • Here’s the kicker — a radical, rapid reduction of carbon emissions won’t happen without slashing our extravagant consumer lifestyles.

Failing the radical reduction of emissions, we risk triggering devastating, catastrophic climate change feedback loops, including the release of methane gas from thawing polar regions. And once unleashed, feedback loops are impossible to stop and there are no adaptation plans robust enough to save us.

Video – Kevin Anderson introduces the Radical Emission Reduction Conference, December 10-11, 2013

YouTube video posted by Manchester Climate Monthly, November 11, 2013


[Note: the interviewer, not identified, is represented by ‘Q’ for Question. The respondent in all cases is Professor Anderson]

Q: What can it [the Radical Emission Reduction Conference] achieve?

My view at the moment is that the science is sufficiently uncertain to give us a window of opportunity. It may well be that it’s too late, but we’ll never know that until it is too late. So at the moment the science is not sufficiently tight to say, “You’ve left it too late for 2, 3, 4, 5 degrees C whatever that is.” What it tells us is that there are ranges of probabilities, and every day that we fail – which we will fail more today and it will be even worse tomorrow – every day that we fail to address climate change then the probabilities of doing anything significant are reduced, or are higher that the levels of climate change increase. But at the moment we still have an outside chance of avoiding what me may classify as dangerous climate change, and therefore is worth trying. We have this conference play out within that.

A lot of people think that the technology can solve the problem for us. And what I mean by that – the supply technologies. We can do a lot with low carbon energy supply. I’m a great fan of energy supply and low carbon technologies, the sort of thing I’ve worked on for lots of my life, and as an engineer I found really quite exciting. But they will take a long time to put in place, not to invent in the first place – we have many of them anyway — but to put them in place will take a long time, as in, probably two to three decades, to significantly shift from the system we have today to a very low carbon emphasis that we’d need to hold to 2 or 3 degrees C.

If we don’t do something about the emissions in the shorter term, well we might as well forget those things anyway. So the question then is – Can we give ourselves this window of opportunity to build the low carbon energy supply network and system? And can we get that opportunity that comes about from reducing that energy demand in the short term whilst we don’t have low carbon supply? So the only way that we can get our carbon emissions down significantly now is to reduce the amount of energy we consume. Because that energy comes from high carbon energy supply systems.

So if we reduce the demand now that gives us a bit of a window of opportunity to put the [low carbon] energy supply in place. That means radical reductions now and then, if you like, a Marshall Plan for putting in place low carbon energy supply. If you ally those two together I think there’s still an outside chance of us avoiding the 2 degrees C, well, at least the 2-3 degrees C classification of dangerous climate change.

I think we’re on the cusp of leaving it too late. But I still think, and my own work here leads to the hypothesis that actually we still have an opportunity on the demand side to give us time and scope to put in low carbon supply. And hence we’ve got the conference. The purpose of the conference is not just to — as academics a joyous event that we’re going on and get on well with each other and enjoy interesting academic papers and discussions. It’s actually, I think, there’s a very serious purpose behind it about trying to lay out what would be the framework that low carbon…so that radical reduction in emissions’ future – when I say the future, it’s about now over the next ten years. So the conference has to be a catalyst for very rapid action. We cannot have this conference and then another conference in three years’ time and another one in five years’ time. This has to be something that starts to trigger significant change in how we might see these sets of issues and how we might act on them.

Q: Traditionally the people who attend these conferences tend not to be the decision makers. They send the office junior or they attend for their presentation that they’re giving and then they run off to another meeting. Have you got decision makers coming to the conference for more than just their presentation?

Initially when we trying to lay out this conference we were thinking about it in terms of the wider array of people that would be able to come along to it. In the end it’s turned out to be more of an academic conference. I think there’s some merit in that. I think this is a conference where we might get some decision makers – and it would be very nice if they were there – but this is actually for a chance to lay out some academic terrain that we can then go to the decision makers with. I think without doing that we would be speaking without having a real solid understanding of what are the sorts of issues, what are the barriers, what are the opportunities to actually bring about radical reductions in energy consumption in the short term.

I think this is a prelude to engagement with the decision makers. It would be nice of some of were along for this event. At the moment I think most of [them], if you tried to engage them with this, would just say this is politically not viable. That’s a language we hear even from academics. But if we can’t start ourselves to question this then I think we’ve got no way to actually engage with the policy makers. And I take the view that actually politics is something that we make — it’s up to us to make it viable. I don’t think there’s a politically unviable future in the sense that it’s up to us to make the politics deliver on what it has to deliver on. And in some respects you can argue if we don’t do something about mitigation, the adaptation from a political point of view looks very challenging as well. So which is the more challenging politics I don’t know. I’d say we’re better off to mitigate first and then reduce the level of adaptation we need to put in place.

Q: Normally I say “Anything else you’d like to say. I suppose I’m going to change that and I’m not going to offer you a bully pulpit. I’m going to ask my tricky question: Five years from now what will we regret not having done between 2013 and 2018?

To know what we would regret I’d have to make some assumptions about what we had and hadn’t done as well. I actually think that the next five years for countries like the UK in the wealthier part, and the principal emitting countries of the world – and in that I also include the people within some of the countries like China, there are 300 million people in China who live lives like those of relatively wealthy ones within the EU – if those of us, the high emitting, principally the high emitting people of the planet – if we have not radically reduced our emissions we will have effectively locked the future into a high carbon future and locked the poor people around the planet, our own children, and most of the other species into a future that will be somewhere between, you know, detrimental – disastrous. It’s hard to know exactly how that will play out – but it’s not a future that you would want to bequeath to your own children let alone other people’s children and to the planet itself. I think we’re on that cusp. The rate of emissions growth is so rapid that if we don’t come off that curve, if five years from now our emissions will be so high that we’re talking about 3-4 degrees C type futures.

And what we might have triggered then are some of these other feedbacks, which we know are there, and quite rightly we’re not including within most of the modelling because not sufficiently well understood. We know they’re there. We know they’ll likely make the situation worse. My big concern is once they start to kick in that they may well take control of what we actually do. There are already some scientists – there’s sufficient uncertainty yet — who argue that we’ve already probably passed that point. But it’s very hard to be precise.

Science is a complex area. We don’t know exactly where we are on this sort of spectrum of climate change. What we know is we’re pointing very much in the wrong direction. Some people think we’ve left it too late, others think we have a few more years. But when they say a few more years, I mean five years is taking up that envelope of opportunity that we have.

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog, Citizen Action Monitor, may contain copyrighted material that may not have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I claim no ownership of such materials. Such material, published without profit, is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues. It is published in accordance with the provisions of the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada ruling and its six principle criteria for evaluating fair dealing.

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