Citizen Action Monitor

Our chances of avoiding climate crisis are slim to none, says leading climate scientist

Kevin Anderson explains why wealthy countries must be carbon free by 2035 or many people will die.

No 1980 Posted by fw, June 11, 2017

Kevin Anderson

“What we see is the carbon dioxide emissions have gone up…. and we know we have a carbon budget of total carbon dioxide we put in the atmosphere for 2°C…. And because we have a set carbon budget, if they continue to rise then we all have to have much more stringent mitigation later. So, what we put in the atmosphere now has to be taken out later on…. That means the mitigation rates will be much higher, so we’ll have to make, you know, already it’s going to be very difficult for us to reduce our emissions in line with 2°C. But if we don’t do something now, it becomes much more difficult. And very soon we will completely lose any opportunity for 2°C…. That’s a huge request. But, again, I think it’s just about viable. This gives us only then an outside chance of 2°C. So, this is an enormous challenge beyond anything that is currently being countenanced by any country…. No county is doing what’s required at the moment – anywhere near for 2°C. The rhetoric is very loud. We hear this all the time, but the action is very weak.”Kevin Anderson

Speaking of carbon budgets, particularly in the context of their crucial implications for government planning and policy making, a search of Team Trudeau’s major 85-page policy document, The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, reveals that the term “carbon budget” does not appear even once in the report. Nada. Zero. What should this omission tell Canadians about the quality of Ottawa’s climate change planning?  

In a 6:35-minute video explanation of carbon budgets and carbon emissions pathways, Kevin Anderson, visiting Professor in Climate Change Leadership at Uppsala University, Sweden, explains the crucial relationship between carbon budgets and our CO2 emission reduction options. Anderson’s conclusion is stunning:

“We now are left with only an outside chance of holding to 2°C. As I said before, that would already mean many people will die around the planet. So, this is not a safe threshold.”   

Below is an embedded You Tube video of Anderson’s informal analysis in his office, followed by my transcript, featuring added subheadings, text highlighting, and a hyperlink. As he talked, Anderson referred to graphs and text on his laptop. Although the quality was not the best, I have copied and pasted his computer charts in the transcript.

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Carbon Budgets and Emissions Pathways, by Kevin Anderson, Uppsala University and Future Learn, Sweden, Published on Apr 22, 2017

TRANSCRIPT

Cumulative CO2 emissions in the atmosphere keep going up

What we see is the carbon dioxide emissions have gone up. And over time – this is 1990 to 2050 – and we know we have a carbon budget of total carbon dioxide we put in the atmosphere for 2°C.

And that carbon budget relates to this area here underneath the pathway, the emissions pathway, that we’re currently heading up. And we keep on going up and up.

Emissions must come down if we are to meet the 2°C global warming target

But we need to come down if we’re going to hold to 2°C. And if we fail to do anything in the near term – and, of course, that’s what most of us are doing, we are failing to really address climate change seriously – and our emissions at the global level will continue to rise.

The longer cumulative emissions continue to rise, the harder it will be to get emissions down later

And because we have a set carbon budget, if they continue to rise then we all have to have much more stringent mitigation later. So, what we put in the atmosphere now has to be taken out later on. We have to reduce our emissions later on. That means the mitigation rates will be much higher, so we’ll have to make, you know, already it’s going to be very difficult for us to reduce our emissions in line with 2°C. But if we don’t do something now, it becomes much more difficult. And very soon we will completely lose any opportunity for 2°C.

Before the Paris targets of 2°C and 1.5°C were set, we were heading for a devastating 4- to 5-degree temperature rise

Before Paris, we were aiming – this sort of pathway – we were heading for to a 4- to 5-degree temperature rise, which would have, as the International Energy Agency has said, “devastating consequences for the planet.” This is effectively a different planet; it does not look like the world that we live in, if we ended up going here. And this would be within this century, within the lives of our children today.

UN Climate Pledges would have taken us to 3- to 4-degrees in temperature rise, Paris commits us to 2°C

 

And the [UN climate] pledges take us to about a 3- to 4-degrees in temperature rise. But we have committed to 2°C. And you can see here the big difference between the pathways that we would need to follow.

Anderson insists we need rapid and deep cuts in energy demand to stay within the 2°C threshold

My argument has been for a long time that we need to have very rapid and deep cuts in energy demand if we are going to be able to stay within the 2°C, or, indeed, the 1.5°C thresholds, but I’ll come back to that later.

Low carbon energy supplies can’t be built fast enough to keep us within the 2°C threshold

Now we need the low carbon energy supply, or zero carbon energy supply, renewables and possible carbon capture and storage and could be nuclear as well. These are all very low carbon forms of energy. We need those as well, but they cannot be built fast enough.

In the short term, we must reduce our energy demand

So, in the short term we need to reduce our energy demand to keep with the 2°C threshold. And I’ll come back to that in a few minutes.

Poor parts of the world would have longer to reduce their emissions

This is a global picture. And we have signed up to commit to this 2°C or 1.5°C on the basis of equity – in other words, the poor parts of the world have longer to do something about this.

It is no longer possible to meet the 1.5°C target

So, let’s go back to the carbon budgets. And let’s quickly talk about 1.5°C. In the next 5 to 8 years, that’s before we get to review the pledges from the different countries of the world, we would have put so much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that no longer will it be possible to hold to 1.5°C temperature rise.

Technologies to suck carbon from the atmosphere remain unproven

The Paris agreement had enshrined within it its own demise in terms of 1.5°C. The only way around that is to assume that these Dr. Strangelove technologies will work in many decades from today, and suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which is a very dangerous assumption, particularly when it was not made explicit within the agreement.

So, 1.5°C is no longer possible because we’re going to put too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over the next few years.

We no longer have a good chance of meeting the 2°C threshold – not even a 50-50% chance

A good chance of 2°C – that has also gone. We no longer have a good chance of 2°C. Even a 50-50 chance of 2°C would require us to think of climate change like we were in a war-type footing.

“Nowhere around the globe is anyone that serious about climate change”

And nowhere around the globe is anyone that serious about climate change. No country is – really no individuals are prepared to see it that seriously yet, even though the science points us very clearly in that direction. So, the 50% chance is also gone.

We are left with an “outside chance” of holding to 2°C – even that will be “hugely challenging”

We now are left with only an outside chance of holding to 2°C. As I said before, that would already mean many people will die around the planet. So, this is not a safe threshold. But it looks to me now like the best we can hope for is to aim for 2°C. Even that will be hugely challenging.

Let’s go back to the carbon budgets again. We have a certain carbon budget – how much carbon we can put in the atmosphere for 2°C, for just an outside chance of 2°C. We can make some estimates about how much emissions the poorer parts of the world are putting in the atmosphere.

Imagine a “What if” scenario – What if poorer countries could peak their emissions by 2025

Let’s imagine the poor parts of the world – that includes China, India, Africa, some South and Central American countries and a few other countries elsewhere. Let’s imagine they could peak their emissions of carbon dioxide by 2025, and then start coming down. That’s about 5 years earlier than is possible for China, and 15 years or so earlier than is possible for India. Talking with some Chinese colleagues, they think that it is a viable still to peak in 2025 if we’re very serious about climate change.

Supposing poor countries could be carbon free by 2050

After that, we start to reduce our emissions. Let’s imagine that by 2035 the poor parts of the world are able to reduce their emissions at 10% a year. That’s about two to three times faster than most economists would tell us is possible with economic growth. So, that is a huge request. That means that by 2050 the poor parts of the world have no more carbon dioxide coming from their energy system. Not just their electricity, and their planes, and their ships, their fridges, their cars – everything.

Then wealthy countries would have to be carbon free within 20 years, i.e. by 2035  

We can work out the carbon budget for that. We have a carbon budget for 2°C and we can say what’s left for the wealthy parts of the world – the UK, the US, the EU, Australia, Japan and so forth. Basically, across the board, wealthier people, wealthier nations, around the world would have to reduce their emissions at about 10% every year. Just think what that means. That means that by 2020 we would have reductions of about 50%, by mid-2020s by about 75%, by 2030 about 90% reduction, and by 2035, at the outside, we’d have to remove all carbon from our energy system. Within 20 years.

That would give us an outside chance of meeting the 2°C target – that’s an enormous challenge

That’s a huge request. But, again, I think it’s just about viable. This gives us only then an outside chance of 2°C. So, this is an enormous challenge beyond anything that is currently being countenanced by any country.

Problem is, no country is even close to doing what is required – all talk and little action

The EU has put a pledge into the Paris agreement for only a 40% reduction, less than half of what would be necessary. No county is doing what’s required at the moment – anywhere near for 2°C. The rhetoric is very loud. We hear this all the time, but the action is very weak.  

SEE ALSO

“The chances of staying to 1.5°C are somewhere between incredibly low and zero” – prof. Kevin Anderson posted November 21, 2016 — “If we deliver on the promises that were made in Paris, then we’re talking about 3 to 4°C temperature rise across the century.”

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