Tag Archives: climate stabilisation

Can we get to 350ppm?

Quiggin says, yes we can.

I can’t comment on his blog, because the Askimet software has got me marked as a pest, and my comments go straight to spam. There is no facility for telling Askimet I’m OK, so there it is, I’m as good as banned. So I’ll make my comments here, which are in any case longer than is form for comments there.

I’d have to say I agree with Fran Bailey’s comment, the analysis seems entirely too optimistic. Continue reading Can we get to 350ppm?

Science shows the need for urgent climate action

In August last year in Climate clippings 181 (Item 5) I linked to a report by Climate Analytics examining the impacts on Australia of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C and 2°C.

For me the crux of the report is this, from a discussion piece at The Conversation:

    The report predicts that half of the world’s identified tipping points – such as the collapse of polar ice sheets and the drying out of the Amazon rainforest – would be crossed under 2C warming, compared with 20% of them at 1.5℃.

If we go to 2℃, we will have a very different climate and there is a good chance we won’t be able to stabilise there. The bad news is that if we just carry on we’ll reach 1.5C by 2024, and 2C by 2036. Continue reading Science shows the need for urgent climate action

Climate clippings 204

1. Antarctic ice melt may have tipped

David Spratt at Climate Code Red has a post surveying recent studies on Antarctic ice sheet melting. I’ll cut to the chase with his update of a recent report from NOAA:

    a revised worst-case sea-level rise scenario of 2.5 metres by 2100, 5.5 metres by 2150 and 9.7 metres by 2200. It says sea level science has “advanced significantly over the last few years, especially (for) land-based ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica under global warming”, and hence the “correspondingly larger range of possible 21st century rise in sea level than previously thought”.

Continue reading Climate clippings 204

Climate clippings 181

1. Solar delivers cheapest electricity ‘ever, anywhere, by any technology’

Half the price of coal!

    In last week’s energy auction, Chile accepted a bid from Spanish developer Solarpack Corp. Tecnologica for 120 megawatts of solar at the stunning price of $29.10 per megawatt-hour (2.91 cents per kilowatt-hour or kwh). This beats the 2.99 cents/kwh bid Dubai received recently for 800 megawatts. For context, the average residential price for electricity in the United States is 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Continue reading Climate clippings 181

Hansen worries that all hell will break loose

Hansen-paper-370x232_250James Hansen worries that “we may be approaching a point of no return, a situation in which our children inherit a climate system undergoing changes that are out of their control, changes that will cause them irreparable harm”. He’s looked at the models, at current observations, and at what happened during the Eemian interglacial 118,000 years ago, and he doesn’t like what he sees.

During the Eemian, when global average temperatures were about 1°C more than now, sea level was about 3-4 metres higher than now for a considerable time. Then about 118,000 years ago, towards the end of the interglacial, it peaked at 6-9 meters, including a rise of 2-3 metres within several decades. A similar sea level rise of several metres now would see the inundation of many of the world’s major cities.

Also there were huge storms at mid-latitudes in the North Atlantic which would make Superstorm Sandy look mild. Hansen thinks that climate change may be entering a phase where similar events could occur this century. Continue reading Hansen worries that all hell will break loose

Saving the planet

At the Paris climate conference a surprise result was for the world to aim to hold “the increase in … temperature to well below 2°C … and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C”.

Fred Pearce in the New Scientist now takes a look at what some are saying needs to be done. Continue reading Saving the planet

Mobilising to effect transformative climate change

There’s a new kid on the block in terms of climate activism – called The Climate Mobilization or TCM for short. Climate Code Red has reprinted a long and wordy post, The transformative power of climate truth. In fact they are dedicated to vigorous and direct action targeted at political candidates and politicians within the US context. Their raison d’etre is best stated on their Pledge to mobilize: Continue reading Mobilising to effect transformative climate change

Climate clippings 136

1. Will Hillary Clinton be too weak on climate change?

Clinton_82a8efb1-4abb-41ab-ab60-22fbbcb08b78-1020x612_500

Campaign chair John Podesta tweeted:

Helping working families succeed, building small businesses, tackling climate change & clean energy. Top of the agenda.

Yet she herself has mentioned it only obliquely since announcing that she’s running. From the past we have this:

At the National Clean Energy Summit in September of last year, in her first major domestic policy address since stepping down from the state department, Clinton described global warming as “the most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face as a nation and a world”. Continue reading Climate clippings 136

Climate clippings 130

1. Manicured lawns produce more greenhouse gases than they soak up

Grass_cropped_550

Researchers found:

that a hectare of lawn in Nashville, Tennessee, produced greenhouse gases equivalent to 697 to 2,443kg of carbon dioxide a year. The higher figure is equivalent to a flight more than halfway around the world.

If you use a mulching mower, don’t fertilise, limit cutting and watering, you might tip the balance in favour of the planet. But then your lawn might not be as lush.

2. Risk of extreme climate outcomes

Across the ditch Hot Topic takes a look at a new book by economists Gernot Wagner and Martin Weitzman called Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet. They start with the notion that climate stabilisation forecasts regularly show that there is a 10% chance of warming reaching 6°C or more. Although not talked about much, this is standard fare and can be read off this graph I have posted multiple times:

Stabilisation probabilities_cropped_600

The 10% chance of reaching 6°C comes with greenhouse gases (CO2e) at around 580 ppm. We are currently at 480 ppm.

The whole insurance industry is predicated on probabilities of considerably less than 10%. The authors are suggesting that low probability extreme events should be taken seriously by governments. A 10% chance of climate Armageddon is not particularly low.

Weitzman was on the case back in 2008, when I did a post on him at LP, unfortunately in a gap in the archive. Peter Wood did a submission to the Garnaut Report on the subject. Garnaut, it must be said, looked the other way.

3. Arctic sea ice excitement

There has been some excitement over Arctic sea ice extent. As of now, unless there is a peak in late March, which is possible, the winter maximum is looking like a record low. This picture simplifies the story:

Sea ice Mr 15_cropped_600

It shows 2012 and 2015 ice extent against the 1981-2010 average. In the short term ice can be compacted by storms, or flushed out through Fram Strait. A cold snap can extend the ice with a thin cover. Also, as we see in 2012, winter maximums tell you nothing about summer minimums.

That’s the short story. You can read more here, here, here and here.

4. Greenland melting speeds up

As scientists upgrade their models of ice sheet decay, Greenland has a habit of exceeding their expectations.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Greenland ice loss has increased a phenomenal 632 percent since 2001. (14) This increase is coming from melt, sublimation (ice evaporating directly without melting first), melt penetrating to the bottom of the ice sheet through crevasses and moulins, and from rapidly warming Arctic Ocean waters penetrating beneath floating outlet glaciers, destabilizing these glaciers and increasing their flow.

Massive gorges have been found beneath the ice where rapidly warming seawater has the chance to circulate deep beneath the ice sheet.

A large aquifer has been found under the ice above sea level.

Soot forms on the ice from as far away as Siberia. As the ice sublimates, that is evaporates directly into the air, the soot remains to further decrease reflectivity.

2015_0305greenland1_550

The knowns and the known unknowns add up to a pretty grim picture.

5. EU progress on renewables

Commendable progress is being made on renewable energy in Europe.

Renewables contribute 26% of EU electricity, 17% of heating and cooling and 5% of transport, … It’s generally thought to be easier to decarbonise the electricity sector than heating or transport, where oil and gas continue to dominate.

This chart refers to electricity:

EU_renewables-electricity-production-2013_599x393

Apart from hydro, wind (light blue) easily eclipses solar (yellow).

When heating and transport are included, renewables comprise 20% of all energy, and the composition changes dramatically:

EU_renewables-primary-production-2013_599x393

An old technology, renewable wood, easily dominates through selective forestry.

In recent times energy usage has fallen, with the EU now using as much energy as it did in 1990.

The UK is the biggest laggard in meeting individual country targets. Four countries, Sweden, Estonia, Lithuania and Bulgaria, are ahead of target.

Wind has the momentum in the US with forecasts that it could supply 35% of electricity by 2050, or even as much as 41%. Within 10 years wind could be cheaper than existing coal.

6. 90% of Australian coal plants ‘at risk’ of being stranded assets

Oxford University’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment has compiled a Stranded Assets Programme report.

It is food for thought for Australia, then, that the Oxford report has declared it owner of “by far” the most carbon-intensive sub-critical fleet in the world (followed by India and Indonesia), with a whopping 90 per cent of its total 29GW of coal-fired generation capacity coming from 23 subcritical plants.

From The Guardian:

Coal currently provides 40% of the world’s electricity and three-quarters of this is produced by the most-polluting, least-efficient and oldest “sub-critical” coal-fired power stations. The International Energy Agency calculates that one in four of these sub-critical plants must close within five years, if the world’s governments are to keep their pledge to limit global warming to 2C.

Help is at hand, according to a group of Queensland engineers.

The Callide Oxyfuel Project is one of just a few low-emission coal projects in the world, and demonstrates how carbon capture technology can be retrofitted to existing power stations.

The technique has been on trial at CS Energy’s Callide A coal-fired power station at Biloela, in a project worth $245 million.

They reckon they’ve done it on a 30-megawatt plant and now need to scale it up. Predictably, not everyone agrees it’s worthwhile.

7. CO2 emissions flat in 2014

Global energy-related CO2 emissions flatlined last year, according to the IEA.

Following an announcement earlier this week that China’s CO2 emissions fell 2 percent in 2014, the IEA is crediting 2014’s progress to China using more solar, wind and hydropower while burning less coal. Western Europe’s focus on sustainable growth, energy efficiency and renewables has shown that emissions from energy consumption can fall even as economies grow globally, according to the IEA.

Global CO2 emissions stalled or fell in the early 1980s, 1992 and 2009, each time correlating with a faltering global economy. In 2014, the economy grew 3 percent worldwide.

The story is about energy efficiency as well as growth of renewables. Cheaper fossil fuels could lead to a resumption of fossil fuel growth in 2015, however.

Carbon pricing: a dangerous distraction?

It is almost axiomatic to say that the mitigation necessary for 2°C limit to warming is best delivered through market-based instruments (MBIs) – where a price is placed on each tonne of carbon dioxide emitted.

Dissenter-in-chief is Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester and deputy director of the Tyndall Centre, the UK’s leading academic climate change research organisation:

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).

Crucial in making this judgement is the notion that the mitigation rates are not marginal. We don’t need to knock off just one or two percent of emissions each year. We need, says Anderson, a whopping 10% per annum.

That seems extraordinary, but I’ll repeat here three graphs I’ve used before. They all come from 2009, the last two from The Copenhagen Diagnosis.

First we have Hans Joachim Schellnhuber’s estimate of the reductions needed using the ‘budget approach’, whereby the budget of permissible emissions is divided between countries on a per capita basis, and then the stabilisation path plotted given their existing per capita emissions levels:

2C trajectories Schellnhuber

Anderson variously says the ‘we’ need to reduce emissions by 80 to 90% by 2030 and to zero soon thereafter. I think he is referring to the UK, which would have a similar stabilisation path to Germany. Note that Schellnhuber is basing these trajectories on only a 67% chance of keeping warming within the 2°C limit.

In the second graph the stabilisation path for the whole world is calculated, given different peaking dates:

Copenhagen diagnosis Fig 22 n

That shows a 9% per annum reduction required to reach zero about 2040 with peaking in 2020. In those terms Anderson’s 10% figure is in the ball park.

The third graph shows how the trajectories could be varied if countries were grouped into three categories, roughly advanced industrial countries, developing countries and in the middle newly industrialising countries. Carbon trading between them is assumed:

Budget approach with emissions trading_cropped_600

This too is a dangerous distraction. While rational it assumes that China, India and the US will commit themselves to definite reduction paths through international agreement. It’s simply not politically feasible.

I think Anderson is in the right ball park. His argument is that MBIs work fine when the reductions required are marginal. If you crank them up to get the result required a very high price will result. The rich will pay and continue to pollute while the poor will be devastated.

Anderson doesn’t discuss compensation, as was built into the Australian scheme, but pricing and compensation on the scale required is probably not politically feasible.

Anderson favours a regulatory or standards-based approach and gives these examples:

  • Strict energy/emission standards for appliances with a clear long-term market signal of the amount by which the standards would annually tighten; e.g. 100gCO2/km for all new cars commencing 2015 and reducing at 10% each year through to 2030
  • Strict energy supply standards; e.g. for electricity 350gCO2/kWh as the mean emissions level of a suppliers’ portfolio of power stations; tightened at ~10% p.a.
  • A programme of rolling out stringent energy/emission standards for industry equipment
  • Stringent minimum efficiency standards for all properties for sale or rent
  • World leading low-energy standards for all new-build houses, offices etc.
  • Moratorium on airport expansion
  • Technological and operational standards for shipping operating in UK waters
  • A suite of iterative mechanisms to counter, or at least alleviate, issues of rebound; this may include price mechanisms, progressive metering tariffs, etc.
  • Revisit the viability of Personal Carbon Trading as a mechanism for improving societal engagement in non-marginal change
  • Appoint a senior minister with the principal responsibility for maintaining an equitable transition to a low-carbon society

Taking the first two, rather than standards for appliances, I would focus on making stationary electricity supply renewable as an urgent task through direct action. Other than that all the ideas are grist to the mill, but I like John Wiseman’s approach as outlined in the post Climate change: reconnecting politics with reality which concentrates on the necessary political and institutional actions to be taken. After a priministerial announcement he recommends:

Then we would need an Australian Climate Solutions Act which set up the targets, the structures and the priority actions. Principal amongst these would be an Australian Climate Solutions Taskforce chaired by the Prime Minister and drawing from state and local governments, business, trade unions and community organisations.

Then we would need six key action plans.

First, an Australian Renewable Energy Plan to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy within 10 years.

Second, an Australian Economic Electrification Plan with initial priorities including a modal shift in passenger and freight transport from road to rail; the rapid replacement of fossil fuel based cars with electric vehicles; and the full electrification of household and industry heating and cooling.

Third, an Australian Energy Efficiency Plan that identifies the regulatory, planning, educational and financial initiatives that could achieve the overall goal of a rapid transition to a zero waste economy.

Fourth, an Australian Sustainable Consumption Strategy.

Fifth, an Australian Sustainable Agriculture and Forestry Plan designed to reduce land-based emissions and increase carbon sequestration.

Finally, state and local governments, community sector and business organisations would collaborate to develop and implement a comprehensive, long-term Australian Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience Plan.

I applaud the priority Wiseman gives to an Australian Renewable Energy Plan to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy within 10 years.

Carbon pricing similar to the Australian scheme may be one of a suite of actions to send a message and raise funds, but climate action on the scale now required compels us to address the issues much more directly. Overall my aim for the planet would be to reduce atmospheric CO2 to 350 ppm by 2050, for a safe climate. Well, as safe as it ever gets.

Two degrees

Carbon Brief has compiled a series of three posts on the so-called 2°C ‘guardrail’ used in global warming discourse:

This post will pick out some of the highlights, but is not a substitute for reading the posts.

The history of two degrees

To me there have been four critical events:

  • From 1975 Yale economics professor William Nordhaus suggested that warming of more than two degrees would push the climate beyond the limits humans were familiar with.
  • In 1990 a team of researchers from the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) attempted to define what constituted dangerous climate change. They suggested two degrees.
  • In 1996 the European Council of environment ministers declared that “global average temperatures should not exceed 2 degrees above pre-industrial level”.
  • At the Conference of Parties of the UNFCCC in Cancun in 2010 governments committed to “hold the increase in global average temperature below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.”

Notably the SEI in 1990 was nuanced and cautious:

Based on scientific understanding at the time, SEI suggested that to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, a limit should be set at two degrees. But, the report warned, the higher the temperature rise, the bigger the risks from climate change.

“Temperature increases beyond 1.0°C may elicit rapid, unpredictable, and non-linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage,” the report said, suggesting there is nothing necessarily ‘safe’ about a two degree limit. (Emphasis added)

In their view 2°C was not a guardrail where it was safe on one side and dangerous on the other. In my view the notion of a ‘guardrail’ is majorly misleading.

Can we avoid dangerous climate change?

The distilled wisdom is that we have a historical emissions budget of 2,900 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide if we are to have a 66% chance of staying below two degrees. We’ve used up 1,900 of that budget so the remaining budget is 1000 billion tonnes. At current rates we’ll use up that budget in 21 years. Unfortunately emissions are increasing.

If emissions were to peak today they would need to start falling at 5.5% per year from tomorrow, in order to achieve a 66% chance of staying within a two degrees increase. France managed 5% per year for half a decade at the height of its 30-year shift to nuclear, during which it went from one per cent nuclear-powered to 80%. That kind of effort would be required worldwide on average for decades.

Increasingly the assumption is that we need to reach zero net emissions around 2055 to 2070 and then go net negative, using technology that has not yet been developed.

The article canvasses a number of stabilisation strategy scenarios and includes this interesting map of electricity generation change required by 2040 from the International Energy Association’s World Energy Outlook 2014:

energyoutlookmaplogo_600

The message is that the investment in renewables needs to be massive. Coal must reduce in the US, the EU and China, but could increase elsewhere, substantially so in India. Everyone will use more gas.

I would query the role of gas as a transition technology for two reasons. Firstly, I think we need to decarbonise so rapidly that gas would need to be phased out before an adequate return on investment is achieved. Secondly, I’m concerned about its true greenhouse effectiveness, because of fugitive emissions in production, transmission and usage, and because I think the greenhouse impact of methane is underestimated.

It’s no surprise that I would also query the accepted wisdom about the remaining carbon budget. A one third chance of failure is unacceptable, David Spratt points out that if we want a 90% chance of success there is no carbon budget left.

I agree with the article that we should never call “game over” in climate mitigation efforts.

See also my post The UNEP Emissions Gap Report: a failure of ambition.

What happens if we overshoot two degrees?

There is much uncertainty about the specifics, but this mega graphic gives the overall impact of four degrees as against two degrees in four aspects:

ar5globalimpacts_600

The article says that change should be seen as a continuum rather than as a precipice. I’d agree, but I think we should assume that a precipce that we can’t see is there and the chances of meeting up with it increase as the temperature increases. In short, the more warming we have the more we are likely to trigger tipping points that make the climate less stable.

I have a massive query with this statement:

Global temperature has risen 0.85 degrees Celsius since 1880, according to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

We could be due another couple of tenths on top of that as past emissions take a decade or so to reach their full effect warming. Together with current and expected emissions we’re essentially already committed to about one degree of warming, scientists estimate.

The article cites one study that sees warming effects flowing through in about a decade. I suspect that only short-term feedbacks are being considered.

David Spratt’s paper David is the climate already dangerous? says:

And the IPCC (2007) Synthesis report (Table 5.1 on emission scenarios) also shows that for levels of greenhouse gases that have already been achieved (CO2 in the range of 350–400 ppm,CO2e in the range 445–490 ppm) and peaking by 2015, the likely temperature rise is in the range of 2–2.4°C.

I’ll finish with a reminder that the Swedes got it right – two degrees does not mean a safe climate.

See also my The folly of two degrees: Climate Code Red.

The folly of two degrees

Back in 2011 David Spratt took a look at where we were in relation to temperature rise and the Holocene. At 2000 we were at 0.7°C above the pre-industrial temperature. This happens to coincide with the Holocene maximum:

Holocene_thin-blue-line 600

Spratt says James Hansen warns that at 0.7°C the ice sheets start to become unstable, so in terms of sea level rise alone we are entering a danger zone. Since then the temperature has risen ~ 0.15°C.

From this point of view the 2°C guardrail looks hazardous in the extreme. Continue reading The folly of two degrees