Tag Archives: emissions stabilisation

CO2 is scrambling our brains, but will it kill us all?

Ootz’s recent comment raised the question:

    should we be seriously looking at what the safe levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are for human beings?

That was in the context of an informed comment that we have not seen CO2 levels above 320 ppm for 27 million years, which predates hominid evolution. Studies indicate that 600 ppm globally, which is where we could be by 2050, might just render us extinct.

To jump to the chase, we don’t really know what the full effects of elevated CO2 will be, or indeed what they are now. However, indications are that as CO2 rises, our brains will work less well and we will become more limp and sluggish. A bit like a frog in a pot of water gradually being heated. Continue reading CO2 is scrambling our brains, but will it kill us all?

Are the Chinese doing their share on climate change?

Donald Trump in announcing that the USA will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement made a big fuss about the Chinese being able to increase their emissions, and that this was unfair to the US economy.

So what are the Chinese doing, and is it enough? Continue reading Are the Chinese doing their share on climate change?

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

Recalculating the climate maths

Start stopping now, is the short answer. No new coal mines, oil wells or gas fields, and start decommissioning existing ones now. “Managed decline” is the new imperative.

    A new study released by Oil Change International, in partnership with 14 organizations from around the world, scientifically grounds the growing movement to keep carbon in the ground by revealing the need to stop all new fossil fuel infrastructure and industry expansion. It focuses on the potential carbon emissions from developed reserves – where the wells are already drilled, the pits dug, and the pipelines, processing facilities, railways, and export terminals constructed.

Continue reading Recalculating the climate maths

Bloomberg’s New energy outlook, 2016

In Climate clippings 175, Item 4, I made reference to the Bloomberg New energy outlook, 2016 report which identifies eight “massive” shifts coming soon to power markets. In this post I’d like to take a closer look.

The summary sentence tells us that “coal and gas will begin their terminal decline in less than a decade”. Frequently the title of an article and the summary lead-in sentence are not written by the authors. In this case the “terminal decline” of coal and gas is more than a little misleading. Continue reading Bloomberg’s New energy outlook, 2016

Quiggin on climate risk

John Quiggin has a post Climate change and catastrophe wherein he links to his article in The Economist Why the Paris conference may not be enough. I know from the WordPress software that people are slack in following links, so I’ll try to give a sense of what he said. Continue reading Quiggin on climate risk

Coal renaissance, as scientists meet and the faithful examine their conscience

French President Francois Hollande did not turn up to give the opening address at a major climate science conference in Paris recently, being otherwise occupied with questions concerning Grexit. Had he been there he may have been able to explain why France has restored subsidies to the French companies building coal-fired power stations in other countries.

As the matter stands, we are told, a coal renaissance is underway which will deliver a 4°C world, or warmer. Continue reading Coal renaissance, as scientists meet and the faithful examine their conscience

Emissions reduction auctions: Dodgy Bros or the best thing since sliced bread


When I heard Greg Hunt spruiking the first auction under the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) last week, he sounded like a used car salesman. He has form on cherry picking statistics and imaginative accounting, so it’s best to ignore what he said and look to other sources (please note, there is other commentary in the link, including from Tim Flannery).

In the broad we need 236 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions reduction to meet a 5% target. The Government has just spent $660 million (25.9%) of the $2.55 billion fund to purchase 47 million tonnes (19.9%) of abatement. Continue reading Emissions reduction auctions: Dodgy Bros or the best thing since sliced bread

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:


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:


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.

Assessing dangerous climate change

Seventeen high-profile academics with expertise across the climate research spectrum, from atmospheric science, earth science and environmental science, to economics, global change and public health led by James Hansen, now at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, have published a paper Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature which demands attention.

The bottom line is that “aiming for the 2°C pathway would be foolhardy” because it “would have consequences that can be described as disastrous”. The authors believe that humanity and nature, the modern world as we know it, is adapted to the Holocene climate that has existed more than 10,000 years. Departing from this climate by more than 1°C would have intrinsically harmful effects. At 2°C these effects become unacceptably severe. Moreover we enter a zone where further feedbacks, such as ice sheet response, methane release and vegetation change, are likely to push the climate towards further warming, of probably at least 3°C.

James Hansen and Pushker Kharecha have done a summary with discussion here, then there’s Joe Romm at Climate Progress, Tim Radford at Climate Code Red, Damian Pattinson, Editorial Director, PLOS ONE, at Huff Post and John Rennie with links to further material at PLOS Blogs. My partial summary is below. Continue reading Assessing dangerous climate change

Climate Change Authority review

BernieLast month the Climate Change Authority published a Draft Report of its Targets and Progress Review, which is to be completed by February 2014.

Submissions to the Draft Report must be lodged on this webpage by 29 November 2013.

The full draft report (all 265 pages) is downloadable from the first link above. Unfortunately I don’t have time to read all of it, so I’ve reproduced below the summary of the Executive Summary provided by the Authority, with some slight enhancements.

This Review can inform upcoming decisions on international commitments, guide long-term investment decision-making and inform the design of the Government’s Direct Action Plan.

The Authority’s views are grounded in science which says the world needs a long-term limit on emissions to stay below 2 degrees of warming and reduce risks of dangerous climate change. Australia also needs to take a long term view of emissions and set a 2050 emissions budget.

The Authority has also considered international action on climate change which shows a clear trend towards more ambitious action, although all countries need to do more.

The Authority has considered the economic implications of stronger targets and has concluded that it is possible to move to stronger targets at relatively small cost to the economy. The Authority’s draft recommendations seek to balance short term clarity and stability with longer term flexibility by recommending a single 2020 target and a trajectory range to 2030.

The Authority considers a 5 per cent target for 2020 to be inadequate because the Government’s [own] conditions [for moving beyond 5 per cent appear to have been met] and the pace of international action justifies us going further. [It] is inconsistent with action towards the 2 degrees goal and more ambitious targets might now be easier to achieve than earlier thought.

The Authority presents two targets for 2020 – 15 per cent and 25 per cent, with different trajectory ranges to 2030 [35 to 50 per cent and 40 to 50 per cent respectively].

Compared with 25 per cent, 15 per cent would require faster reductions later, and would use up more of the [carbon] budget sooner. [It] would place us in the middle of the pack on climate change action and would cost slightly less in the short term.

Australia can use international emissions reductions to help meet its target. While we have many domestic opportunities to reduce emissions, allowing international emissions reductions to be part of the mix can help lower costs. The Government should consider allowing the use of international emissions reductions to go beyond 5 per cent.

The Authority seeks feedback on this Draft report to inform its deliberations on final recommendations.

Clearly the Abbott Government will take no notice of the Review. In fact they have specifically reneged on the extended 5 to 25% range which had been bipartisan policy since 2009. Continue reading Climate Change Authority review