Getting China Wrong

It’s been a long time since Copenhagen.

A few weeks after it ended, chatting to a friend about some stupid comments I’d overhead during that long last night, he said that “everyone gets a pass for anything they said during the first week.” The first week after Copenhagen is what he meant — a time of exhaustion and near despair in international climate circles.

I bring this up because some of the stupid things that were said during that first week are still with us. There were plenty of them, of course, but this post doesn’t pretend to be comprehensive. It’s just about China.

Copenhagen, of course, was not a success. But it did change the game, in particular by establishing a framework in which both northern and southern countries can step forward to “pledge” to mitigation actions of various kinds. As they do, scientists and institutes around the world are tabulating the pledges, normalizing them, calculating their implied aggregate impact on global temperature, and — inevitably — drawing conclusions about which countries are doing their “fair share” and which are free riding on the efforts of others. Continue reading “Getting China Wrong”

Adaptation costs have been radically underestimated

This shouldn’t be news. We should have known this all along.

Actually, many of us did. Particularly those of us who do not steer our stars by the pragmatism of the moment. And those of us in the more vulnerable parts of the world.

The small island states come particularly to mind, as does Africa, the unlucky continent where the full impacts of climate-induced desertification will be felt first. In such places as these, the various estimates of “adaptation costs” (as if all impacts could be “adapted” to at any price) have long been regarded with skepticism, if not contempt.

This includes the UNFCCC’s own official 2007 estimates, embedded in the UNFCCC Secretariat’s INVESTMENT AND FINANCIAL FLOWS TO ADDRESS CLIMATE (2007, see table IX-65. And see as well its 2008 update), which though it long contained the highest authoritative adaptation cost estimates (rising to $49 to $171 billion per year in 2030) still turned out to be low-balling the problem. Continue reading “Adaptation costs have been radically underestimated”

The Remaining Emissions Budget

On April 30th, Nature finally published something \we’ve wanted to see for a long, long time – a peer-reviewed paper that integrates the latest science towards the very pragmatic goal of defining a entirely citable, global emergency emissions reduction trajectory. The paper is called Greenhouse-gas emission targets for limiting global warming to 2C (download it here) and it’s written by a team led by Malte Meinshausen, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, which has in recent years been the source for much of best scientific work on precautionary emissions trajectories. Also on the author’s list is William Hare (better known in as Bill Hare, particularly within the climate movement) – both Bill and Malte have long been key members of the Greenpeace International climate team.

What Meinshausen et. al. have done is define a comprehensive probabilistic framework which calculates the total amount of CO2 that can be emitted between 2000 and 2050, relative to any given chance of meeting, but not overshooting, a particular temperature target. If you’re interested in high chance of meeting a safe target – or at least the most widely supported of plausibly manageable targets – which would hold the global average temperature increase to 2C above pre-industrial levels target, that budget is extremely small. More precisely, the 2C target corresponds to total 2000-50 emissions of about 1000 Gigatons of CO2, a number to be compared to the approximately 300 Gt that were emitted between 2000 and the end of 2008. (At which point the annual emissions rate was about 36 Gt CO2 per year). Continue reading “The Remaining Emissions Budget”

A Peak on the Horizon

There are essentially two paths forward from here, both of them passing through Copenhagen and then heading on to a global peak and, subsequently, a rapid decline in greenhouse-gas emissions. The first, an extremely dangerous business-as-usual path, is one in which we fail to act, decisively and in time, and thus commit ourselves to disruptive, frightening, and extremely expensive near-future adjustments. Continue reading “A Peak on the Horizon”

Climate Code Red: The case for emergency action

We raved about Climate Code Red when it first came out as a report, and we’re not going to stop now that it’s a book. And the fact that the book is hard to get in the US doesn’t make much difference. Get a friend in Australia to send it to you! Or go to the book site and try your best. Here’s what we said about the original report:

David Spratt and Philip Sutton, the two Australian climate analysts behind this report, insist that we’ve already crossed the line, and that the problem now is to engineer an emergency global mobilization and to “cool the earth” as quickly as humanly possible. Their argument, alas, is not a rhetorical one that will be easy to deny. In fact, it’s for the most part quite measured. It’s certainly strongly rooted in the science (much of which has come out since the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report) and almost entirely free of gratuitous political spin. Continue reading “Climate Code Red: The case for emergency action”

Toward a Defensible Climate Realism

There is change coming to Washington. The question is if it will bechange enough, and when it will arrive. And right now, well let’s just say that reasonable men and women can differ about the demands of climate realism, and its relationship to the logic of Beltway politics. As opposed to, say, the science. Or the demands of justice.

Which is why we wrote [this brief essay]. Continue reading “Toward a Defensible Climate Realism”

First, the Bad News

Optimism, they all tell us, is a precondition of effective political action. And they are no doubt quite correct. Despair, after all, hardly motivates sustained political engagement. Drinking, more like it.

Optimism, unfortunately, is a problem, for enviros in particular but in fact for anyone determined to look, hard and critically, at the truth of our predicament. Few of us are able to consistently follow Antonio Gramsci’s advice, to combine “pessimism of the intellect” with “optimism of the will.” Most of the time, it seems more like a choice between one and the other. Or, even worse, a choice between paralyzing pessimism and idiot, right-wing confidence.

We, for our part, still believe that realism (the real thing, not the ersatz neo-con variety) is the best ground for an honest optimism, and in that spirit we’d like to start off this issue of Climate Equity Observer with an effort to look reality in the eye. Continue reading “First, the Bad News”

The London Guardian Draws Conclusions

If the WMO press release is too understated for your taste, try the articles that George Monbiot and John Vidal have been publishing in the Guardian recently. Particularly notable are:

* Monbiot’s Shadow of Extinction which presents evidence that the great Permian extinction may have been caused by a mere 6C degrees of climate change. (July 1st)

* Vidal’s Global Warming may be Speeding Up, which evocatively argues that this summer’s global drought/heatwave could indicate that the warming has already begun to accelerate. (Aug 6th)

* Monbiot’s With Eyes Wide Shut, which reviews some of the more terrifying of the recent science, and suggests that we are, perhaps, living in a dream. (Aug 12th) All three of these articles cite a recent workshop where top atmospheric scientists, including Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen and Bert Bolin, former chairman of the IPCC, concluded that the masking effect that aerosols are having on the warming could be far greater than previously thought, and that, therefore, the IPCC’s estimate of the “high end” danger could turn out to be far too low. For more on this, see First, the Bad News in the current issue of Climate Equity Observer.