Monday 26 October 2009

We have to focus on systems not individuals

Pondering how people confuse climate change solutions with individual puritanism; this is not a problem that lends itself to puritan solutions. Our challenge is to see that the problem is systems design. We are actors within and creatures of a grand system we have built; avoiding buying a SUV is a moral statement worth making for one's own conscience, but not actually a solution in itself - that lies in our contemplation and amendment of the macro settings of our society.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

German government advisor says leading economies have to cut carbon by 100% by 2020

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, chair of an advisory council known by its German acronym, WBGU, is a physicist whose specialty, fittingly, is chaos theory. Speaking to an invitation-only conference at New Mexico's Santa Fe Institute, Schellnhuber divulged the findings of a study so new he had not yet briefed Chancellor Angela Merkel about it.

The WBGU study says the United States must cut emissions 100 percent by 2020--i.e., quit carbon entirely within ten years. Germany, Italy and other industrial nations must do the same by 2025 to 2030. China only has until 2035, and the world as a whole must be carbon-free by 2050.
"I myself was terrified when I saw these numbers," Schellnhuber said. He urges governments to agree in Copenhagen to launch "a Green Apollo Project." Like John Kennedy's pledge to land a man on the moon in ten years, a global Green Apollo Project would aim to put leading economies on a trajectory of zero carbon emissions within ten years. Combined with carbon trading with low-emissions countries, Schellnhuber says, such a "wartime mobilization" might still save us from the worst impacts of climate change.

Interesting recommendations from German Govt climate advisory panel
- Each country ... to produce internationally and objectively verifiable decarbonization road maps, which provide information on the planned national emissions path up to the year 2050. These road maps should be based on the national CO2 budgets as well as on the national emissions reduction potential.
- ... establish a world climate bank, which will be responsible (1) for scrutinizing national decarbonization road maps as to their plausibility and feasibility, and (2) enabling the flexible mechanisms and transfers.

Monday 19 October 2009

WWF Climate Solutions rpt out; gives us 5 yrs to shift low-carbon industries into high growth

Just released our new "Climate Solutions II" rpt for WWF Int, at last!

The report models the global growth rates needed for low-carbon industries if we're to avoid climate tipping points. In particular it shows that we can't afford the current approach of starting with the least-cost mitigation solutions and working our way forward to higher cost solutions as a carbon price gets to a reasonable level.

The modelling suggest we are at a fork in the road: to be able to have a reasonable chance of avoiding tipping points we need the whole range of low-carbon industries to have shifted into high growth phases (25-30% p.a., averaged globally) by 2014. If we don't take this road we will be looking at run-away climate change and the severe economic (and other!) contraction that will come with that.

The timeframe to ramp up low-carbon industries is such that any carbon price improvement from and end-2010 signed Copenhagen agreement is not going to help; it will take some years for stronger price signals to have an appreciable impact on the growth of low-carbon industries, compounded by the fact that strong price signals are not likely to come out of the US for some time.

According to the modelling in the report, to move at scale and at speed to become a low-carbon economy will require investment inflows of roughly a trillion dollars a year, at least for the next decade.

The report provides the macro argument for speed and for scale of action that leads into discussions of the need for larger-scale, policy-engineered solutions than have been considered to date.

Friday 9 October 2009

New British Govt TV advert on climate change

Worth a look!

Three cheers for Norway! (But don't forget the elephant in the room)

Norway has just announced they will cut their emissions 40% on 1990blevels by 2020 - if there's a good Copenhagen agreement. They'll cut them 30% no matter what.

Great move Norway! We need all rich countries to cut much much more than so far agreed, especially recalcitrants like the US, Canada and Australia.

But ... as Greenpeace points out, Norway itself has largely met its reduction targets to date through buying carbon credits from poor countries. Greenpeace is understandably concerned that Norway doesn't simply use its oil wealth to buy its way out of having to take local action; a fair critique we have yet to see answered.

Allowing the meeting of targets with carbon credits is an awkward sort of blessing. It does transfer capital to developing countries where the CO2 reductions are cheapest to achieve, which is great. But unfortunately it's still a wild west in carbon credit land, with too little supervision allowing too many doubtful investments. Of course Norway probably does more than anyone to make sure its credits are solid; and it also has a national carbon tax that is meant to drive
local effort, better than most countries.

But there's a bigger problem, a sort of "elephant in the room".

Norway is of course a big oil exporter; it is paying for its carbon credits by pumping out vast volumes of oil and gas that make global warming worse.

That is not the way out of our mess. Scientists point out that, from the sorry atmospheric state we're now in, there's a limited amount of tonnage of carbon we can inject into the atmosphere before we go one step too far and consign ourselves to run-away climate change and an
entirely different planet to try and live on. We have to wind down all fossil fuel emissions, and pronto.

Which makes another Norwegian anomaly all the more striking: their state-owned oil company, Statoil, is an investor in Canada's highly polluting tar sands. Perhaps they're just waiting for Copenhagen to announce that divestment?

Friday 2 October 2009

The need for 2050 by 2020 is now official

*New Analysis Brings Dire Forecast Of 6.3-Degree Temperature Increase*

By Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 25, 2009

Climate researchers now predict the planet will warm by 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century even if the world's leaders fulfill their most ambitious climate pledges, a much faster and broader scale of change than forecast just two years ago, according to a report released Thursday by the United Nations Environment Program.

The new overview of global warming research, aimed at marshaling political support for a new international climate pact by the end of the year, highlights the extent to which recent scientific assessments have outstripped the predictions issued by the Nobel Prize-winning U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007.

Robert Corell, who chairs the Climate Action Initiative and reviewed the UNEP report's scientific findings, said the significant global temperature rise is likely to occur even if industrialized and developed countries enact every climate policy they have proposed at this point. The increase is nearly double what scientists and world policymakers have identified as the upper limit of warming the world can afford in order to avert catastrophic climate change.

"We don't want to go there," said Corell, who collaborated with climate researchers at the Vermont-based Sustainability Institute, Massachusetts-based Ventana Systems and the Massachusetts Institute of technology to do the analysis. The team has revised its estimates since the U.N. report went to press and has posted the most recent figures at

The group took the upper-range targets of nearly 200 nations' climate policies -- including U.S. cuts that would reduce domestic emissions 73 percent from 2005 levels by 2050, along with the European Union's pledge to reduce its emissions 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050 --and found that even under that optimistic scenario, the average global temperature is likely to warm by 6.3 degrees.

World leaders at the July Group of 20 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, pledged in a joint statement that they would adopt policies to prevent global temperature from climbing more than 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit: "We recognize the broad scientific view that the increase in
global average temperature above pre-industrial levels ought not to exceed two degrees C."

Corell, who has shared these findings with the Obama administration as well as climate policymakers in China, noted that global carbon emissions are still rising. "It's accelerating," he said. "We're not going in the right direction."

Achim Steiner, UNEP's executive director, told reporters at the National Press Club on Thursday that the report aims to update the IPCC's 2007 findings to reflect both new physical evidence and a more sophisticated understanding of how Earth systems work.

"With every day that passes, the underlying trends that science has provided is . . . of such a dramatic nature that shying away from a major agreement in Copenhagen will probably be unforgivable if you look back in history at this moment," Steiner said. He noted that since 2000
alone, the average rate of melting at 30 glaciers in nine mountain ranges has doubled compared with the rate during the previous two decades.

"These are not things that are in dispute in terms of data," he said. "They are actually physically measurable."

Other findings include the fact that sea level might rise by as much as six feet by 2100 instead of 1.5 feet, as the IPCC had projected, and the Arctic may experience a sea-ice summer by 2030, rather than by the end of the century.

While the administration is pressing this week for an end to fossil-fuel subsidies as part of the current G-20 summit in Pittsburgh -- and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner told reporters Thursday that world leaders appear open to such a proposal -- activists such as director Bill McKibben said politicians worldwide are not taking aggressive enough steps to address climate change.

"Here's where we are: The political system is not producing at the moment a result which has anything to do with what the science is telling us," said McKibben, whose group aims to reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, well below
the 450 ppm target that leaders of the Group of 20 major nations have embraced.

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), co-sponsor of the House-passed climate bill that researchers included as part of their new temperature analysis, said, "As sobering as this report is, it is not the worst-case scenario. That would be if the world does nothing and allows heat-trapping pollution to continue to spew unchecked into the atmosphere."

Michael MacCracken, one of the scientific reviewers for the IPCC and a contributor to the UNEP report, said that if developed nations cut their emissions by half and the developing countries continued on their current path, or vice versa, the world would still experience a temperature increase of about 2 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050.

"We face a situation where basically everybody has to do everything they can," MacCracken said.