“When I look at this [CO2] data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of 6 degrees Celsius, which would have devastating consequences for the planet.” Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist
That’s one of the favourite quotes by Professor Kevin Anderson of Manchester University and the Tyndall Centre (personal website here) who, like James Hansen in the US and John Schellnhuber in Germany, is a leading climate scientist who speaks plainly about the dangers of global warming and the situation we’re in. Much of his important work seems to have been done with Alice Bows, now Bows-Larkin. In this piece I’ll refer to “he” or “they” depending on my perception of the source.
Their basic point is that no real progress has been made since the Rio Summit in 1992 from which international action flowed through the agency of the UNFCCC and the IPCC. Policy makers in nations with ostensible targets seriously fudge the game so that economic growth is not inconvenienced.
Another favourite quote of theirs is:
“… dangerous climate change can only be avoided if economic growth is exchanged, at least temporarily [until low carbon energy supply is widespread], for a period of planned austerity within Annex 1 nations…” – Anderson and Bows, 2011
I’ll proceed by stating their main summary points in turn followed by a brief explanation.
A four degree plus future should be avoided at all costs
They think we could be headed for 4°C by 2070 and 6°C by 2100. It matters little whether we end up with 4, 5 or 6°C. None of them is compatible with organised life as we know it. For example, at low latitudes maize yields will be reduced by up to 40% and rice by 30%.
We can’t mitigate for 3°C as beyond 2°C the climate will be inherently unstable and beyond of human control.
Policy makers are in a muddle about the 2°C target.
The problem is that the Copehagen goal was state in terms of 2°C, but not refined in terms of the degree of probability of reaching 2°C. Thus they find that in carbon budget terms the UK target of 80% by 2050 has a 67% chance of exceeding 2°C, that is, only a 37% chance of staying within it.
The language of the Copenhagen Accord is:
“To hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius, and take action to meet this objective consistent with science and on the basis of equity” [emphasis added].
A reasonable interpretation is that we should aim at a low to very low chance of exceeding 2°C, that is in IPCC language around 1-10%.
In order to achieve this aim the UK’s allowable carbon budget would have to be halved.
Stabilising at 2°C is still possible, but only just.
In Anderson and Bows, 2011 they say:
2°C now represents a threshold, not between acceptable and dangerous climate change, but between dangerous and ‘extremely dangerous’ climate change
Their own recommended schedule has 37% chance (upper limit 50%) of exceeding 2°C, and is quite stringent. It varies a bit through the various documents, but in the Tyndall slides, slide 101 they suggest a 10% reduction in Annexe 1 (rich) countries to achieve a 40% reduction from 1990 levels by 2018, 70% by 2024 and 90% by 3030.
Developing countries are allowed to peak in 2025 and reduce by 7% pa thereafter.
Reductions in emissions of greater than 3 to 4% are incompatible with economic growth
Anderson and Bows-Larkin made a presentation to the recent Warsaw UNFCCC climate conference containing the above assertion. There were objections, but Anderson claims such objections are spurious, being based on nothing more than uninformed opinion. Mind you, he points out that the statement itself is one of opinion, albeit the almost universally held opinion of climate-oriented economists.
He points out that if you want emissions reductions of 6% along with say 3% growth, then the reduction of carbon intensity of the economy must be 9%.
Anderson does say that he believes we can have an increase in human well-being with negative economic growth if we employ new thinking about the economy. He launches into this in the talk to unionists.
Climate mitigation is about changing consumption, mainly by the few rather than the many.
He makes two points here. Firstly, there is too much momentum in the supply side to achieve the necessary reductions. The move must come from the demand side, leading to redundant supply infrastructure.
Secondly, he guestimates that 40 to 60% of emissions are created by 1 to 5% of the planet’s 7 billion people. The guilty carbon polluters include:
- climate scientists
- climate journalists and pontificators
- OECD (and other) academics
- anyone who gets on a plane once a year
- all ministers (and civil servants?)
- anyone earning £30K pa or more.
I think that last one equates with about $A54K which is about the median wage here in Oz.
Carbon prices can’t deliver the 2°C target
This piece is worth a read.
His twitter interlocutors
contend that the radical (non-marginal) rates of mitigation necessary for 2°C (i.e. around 10% p.a.) are best delivered through market-based instruments (MBIs) – where a price is placed on each tonne of carbon dioxide emitted.
By contrast, I hold that such an approach is doomed to failure and is a dangerous distraction from a comprehensive regulatory and standard based framework (within which price mechanisms may play a niche role).
Anderson says that MBIs are designed for marginal rates of change, whereas radical rates of change are required. He’s searched the economics texts and can find nothing to support the notion that MBIs can handle radical change.
Back in 1992 at the time of the Earth Summit MBIs may have worked.
Now, in 2013, we in high-emitting (post-) industrial nations face a very different prospect. Our ongoing and collective carbon profligacy has squandered any opportunity for the ‘evolutionary change’ afforded by our earlier (and larger) 2°C carbon budget. Today, after two decades of bluff and lies, the remaining 2°C budget demands revolutionary change to the political and economic hegemony. And if that’s too challenging to countenance we should be honest and reject 2°C as either too onerous an endeavour, or acknowledge that we lack the courage to try.
The hegemony of the dominant political and economic paradigm must be broken. So…
New thinking is required.
They sometimes to end with this quote:
“at every level the greatest obstacle to transforming the world is that we lack the clarity and imagination to conceive that it could be different” – Robert Unger
Anderson and Bows-Larkin are giving climate mitigation a red hot go at the Tyndall Centre. They are less ambitious than Hansen et al, but arguably struggling more directly with the real world issues. Obviously there is a major disagreement about the efficacy of carbon pricing, where I think they should be taken very seriously.
Recently the Tyndall Centre organised The Radical Emission Reduction Conference: 10-11 December 2013 to further practical approaches. Monitoring Anderson’s personal site should be worthwhile.
They base their thinking on the carbon budget approach which I outlined in the second part of this post.
This article based on the IPCC report suggests that we will blow our carbon budget in 22 years. For a safe climate Hansen et al suggest, make that 10.
The following graph illustrates what’s at stake:
The top line is not business as usual, it’s the trajectory of emissions that reflects mitigation actions and promises undertaken under the Copenhagen Accord. It’s what concerned Fatih Birol. In carbon budget terms, the area under the graph determines the quantum of emissions remaining in the atmosphere and hence the eventual temperature. Eliminating the area between the two lines is Anderson and Bows-Larkin’s attempt to put clothes on the emperor.
Hansen et al want global reductions of 6% pa if we start now, but 20% if the peak in 2020. I think we need to see the graph line hit zero by 2030 and go negative thereafter. We have nearly 20 years to develop the necessary technologies to draw down carbon safely and efficiently.