Why we need major action at the Climate Change meet in Doha


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9:30 am - November 27th 2012

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by Philip Pearson

As the UN assembles in Qatar for its 18th annual climate change conference, a new UN report warns of a 14 billion tonne “emissions gap” in 2020 between “business as usual” and the emissions level needed to hold the increase of global temperatures below the 2°C target.

14 billions tonnes is more than China’s carbon emissions in 2010 (11 billion tonnes). This week, too, the UK government publishes its long-awaited Energy Bill, but without a “decarbonisation target” for 2030, despite the Energy Secretary’s best efforts.

And so this message from a member of the trade union delegation in Qatar perhaps hits the spot: “Qatar is really a climate nightmare – worse than imagined. Malls with ice skating, gondolas (Venice-style), and the slogan from the Qatari hosts: “Shop til you drop – spend your all-day leisure time shopping and socialising with multi-national shoppers in the malls.”

Last week, too, the World Meterological Organisation reported a new high of 390 parts of CO2 per million in 2011 – the green line, below:

GHG 4

Meanwhile, a new World Bank-commissioned report warns the world is on track to a “4°C world” marked by extreme heat-waves and life-threatening sea level rise. Adverse effects of global warming are “tilted against many of the world’s poorest regions” and likely to undermine development efforts and goals.

The largest increase in poverty because of climate change is likely to occur in Africa, with Bangladesh and Mexico also projected to see substantial.

In Qatar, the trade union delegation is calling for:

» A second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in December 2012.

» Real commitments from Governments to close the “2020 gigatonne gap, which must mean the US and Canada get on board.

» A new legally binding agreement applicable to all and to be finalised and in force by 2015.

» A commitment to Just Transition measures on green jobs, a place at the table for trade unions, and trade union rights of the kind largely denied by the Qatari Government.

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Reader comments


What will be the environmental consequences of this Labour lord’s idea does everyone think? – http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/mobileweb/2012/11/26/lord-gilbert-neutron-bomb_n_2190607.html

The Labour lord needs to learn some physics. Neutron bomb is the very sort of weapon that does *not* work for this intended purpose, as it is designed to wipe out an army and then allow another force to occupy the area soon afterwards. What he wants is either another type of thermonuclear weapon that leaves an area inhabitable for a long time, or perhaps chemical weapons of mass distraction.

He does get some international coverage, though.

3. Man on Clapham Omnibus

I think the usual process is to look at the problem , do as little as you can to fix it or hope it goes away. Look at it again ,do as little as you can to fix it or hope no one notices . Numerous times, whether it be taking decisive action to curb infectious diseases or as in the ash dye-back debacle our betters procrastinate or bury urgently needed action only to face huge costs burdens later down the line.

The problem with messing up the atmosphere is those cost burdens are insurmountable and technology unavailable and thus will only be met by a adjustments to nature in accordance with the principals of natural laws. That assumes the atmosphere will reach an equilibrium which is low enough temperature wise to support life.Most of the reports talk about up to 6 degrees this century but no one seems to talk about the next.

So why will Doah be any different. The short answer is it wont. Add to all the above the competition between countries plus the irresistible urge for some like Canada, who pulled out of Kyoto, to plough on regardless and in spite of the science leads one to conclude that we are doomed.

I had read somewhere that migration would be required but since that would involve black people moving to white countries en mass that is really not going to happen.So I guess we will see a few of them starving to death for a while before state TV gets bored and moves on the something a little more parochial.

“A commitment to Just Transition measures on green jobs, a place at the table for trade unions, and trade union rights of the kind largely denied by the Qatari Government.”

Trade Unionist in call for more money and power for trade unions shocker!

1.The climate has always been changing.

2.That said, the evidence strongly (but not unquestionably) suggests that the climate is changing as a result of human agency.

3.If, as is likely, the climate is changing in response to human agency, then the effects are largely unpredictable.

4. Given that the effects of climate change are largely unknown, why are we committing huge resources to wind power – a highly variable power source at the best of times (though this can be offset by importing electricity from geo-thermal Iceland, nuclear France, etc) but one particularly vulnerable to changing and unpredictable weather patterns???

5. Wind as a power source is not reliable or secure.

6. Man on Clapham Omnibus

5. TONE

‘Given that the effects of climate change are largely unknown’

I think this comes down to how well we can predict. Given you are an empiricist I can understand your logic ie we will have to wait before we we know what the effects are.

The down side of your epistemological approach is however self defeating because if one of the effects may be death and if the lead time between cause and effect is several decades, you have effectively condemned all or part of the planet to death.

Because of the association with Co2, its seems a perfectly reasonable approach to concentrate our attention on Co2 free ways of generating power . The notion that somehow alternatives will not attract large subsidies I think is unreasonable.

Personally I think its a shame that reducing power usage isn’t being talked about. When I get dragged around clothes shops I cant fail to marvel at the huge waste of electricity involved in commerce. Same with street lights although as an Astronomer I am slightly biased.

@2 Given Labour’s track record on weapons of mass destruction I suppose it’s only to be expected that a labour lord wouldn’t know his arse from his elbow when it come to nuclear bombs and neutron bombs.

@Man on Clapham Omnibus

> That assumes the atmosphere will reach an equilibrium
> which is low enough temperature wise to support life.

I would say it’s less a question of supporting life and more a question of supporting our civilization in anything like its present form.

> Most of the reports talk about up to 6 degrees this
> century but no one seems to talk about the next.

I would say this is because outcomes are dictated by the point at which we stop pumping CO2 into the atmosphere, and even in worst case scenarios our CO2 emissions are expected to start reducing some time this century, which means post 2100 is not likely to see too much change as a result of human CO2 emissions, which should be at, or near a stable level by then (this says nothing of potential largescale permafrost melt due to higher temperatures, but if we get their, the point is moot anyway). So it’s really what we do in the relative near term that has the biggest impact.

> So why will Doah be any different. The short answer is it
> wont.

I think if you were to add that view to an IPCC report, the accompanying likelihood would say “Virtually certain”. Eventually it will change, because even the short-term economic consequences of business as usual will become unpalatable, but it’s not quite blindingly obvious enough yet (plus of course, some people just can’t admit when they’re wrong, however embarrassingly obvious it gets).

@ TONE

> 3.If, as is likely, the climate is changing in response
> to human agency, then the effects are largely
> unpredictable.

Why would the effects be unpredictable because of human causation?

> … why are we committing huge resources to wind power

Because it scales rapidly and easily, meaning you can add/replace energy resources quite quickly, which is a trait not shared by most other forms of energy. Also, whilst wind power is certainly a major component of any future energy infrastructure, it won’t be the only one.

> Wind as a power source is not reliable or secure.

People massively over-estimate the unreliability of wind power. If you have a well interconnected grid then you can balance energy requirements between active and inactive turbines and maintain good power supplies 24/7.

9. Man on Clapham Omnibus

8. AndyC

I’m not to sure about the lags and leads on this.
Is it your understanding that for a given percentage of Co2
there is a given temperature rise (excluding all other related changes). If so then CO2 doesn’t behave like glass in a greenhouse. Also because we may reduce our (not sure whether you mean global – assume you do) usage something has to take the CO2 out in order for the temperature to come down. The mechanisms to do this are at best slow and some increasingly marginal.Thats quite apart from the other forcings at work.
Why wont this runaway like Venus ?

10. Man on Clapham Omnibus

8 Andy

Errata

for temperature rise please read temperature level.

What is meant by “A new legally binding agreement applicable to all and to be finalised and in force by 2015.”?

Does it mean that the people who sign up for it are legally liable if it fails? Would they go to jail?

Or would we citizens just have to pay a fine to some distant organisation?

12. Man on Clapham Omnibus

8 Andy C

‘Eventually it will change, because even the short-term economic consequences of business as usual will become unpalatable, but it’s not quite blindingly obvious enough yet (plus of course, some people just can’t admit when they’re wrong, however embarrassingly obvious it gets).’

We already have tons of examples of the bad effects of GW but internal political considerations will always outweigh any notions of the common good.A good example of this is Canada and their exploitation of tar sands plus the development of fracking .China and India are two further countries which are looking at their own interests beyond those of the wider community albeit with considerable justification. Generally I would suggest that those countries in the North will be less inclined to change their behaviour since it will be the third world that bears the brunt of change at least initially.

The issue relating to embarrassment is as straightforward. I don’t think it is entirely unconnected with a total lack of scientific representation in Parliament,certainly not in government and I believe that is important. Moreover, the short term interests of politicians whose administrations last for about 5 years a time will inevitably look at short term political solutions. State TV, which once has the responsibility to educate, has largely failed in the area of GW and in the interests of impartiality will represent the views of CC deniers creating further confusion in the minds of the casual viewer. Uderpining this is the lack of scientific thinking,despite the widespread gadetry, in common culture. Modern society is best characterized as Magico-Technological leaving most people disenfranchised from any debate.
Examples abound on this site with many focusing on the implications of the cost of household bills rather than any runaway effects associated with the Earth’s climate.
I think its best summed up when someone referred to Hurricane Sandy as just a little bit of wind!

13. Man on Clapham Omnibus

11. JC

Ultimately it doesnt mean anything. Canada originally signed up to Kyoto ,then pulled out when they realised it would have an impact on their exploitation of tar sands.

@Man on Clapham Omnibus

> Is it your understanding that for a given percentage of
> Co2 there is a given temperature rise (excluding all
> other related changes).

Excluding all other related changes, yes, that’s pretty much right. Basically each molecule of CO2 has the potential to trp a certain amount of infrared emission from the surface and atmosphere, which changes the Earth’s energy balance to a new equilibrium level. Once you set the energy balance at this level, the equilibrium temperature follows from that.

> If so then CO2 doesn’t behave like glass in a greenhouse.

Correct, despite the name, the mechanism by which CO2 traps heat is quite different from that of a greenhouse.

> Also because we may reduce our usage something has to
> take the CO2 out in order for the temperature to come
> down…

Yes, absolutely (and you’re correct, I did mean global). The temperature will continue to rise to the new equilibrium level after all emissions have stopped and atmospheric CO2 peaks, but the equilibrium level will not increase once atmospheric CO2 content peaks (ignoring feedbacks for methane, albedo, etc). That is, if we assume that CO2 will peak at 500ppm, and ignore all feedbacks, the ultimate equilibrium temperature can be determined; if this 500ppm was to remain for say 600 years, the equilibrium temperature would be achieved some time (fairly early) in that period, and then stay there, it would not continue to rise. Hence, it doesn’t run away like Venus without other feedbacks (and for Venus they are very extreme feedbacks).

@Man on Clapham Omnibus

Regarding your post in response to the “political” side of the debate, I can’t say I disagree with any of it, though I’d just emphasise that I’m thinking in terms of immediate costs (rather than potential future costs) such as damage to infrastructure, food scarcity etc (e.g. nothing sees flood defences built like having to relay half of your road network annually).

16. Man on Clapham Omnibus

Andy C

‘Basically each molecule of CO2 has the potential to trap a certain amount of infrared emission from the surface and atmosphere, which changes the Earth’s energy balance to a new equilibrium level’

OK can we take this a step further – so for each (gaseous forcing for want of better words) we will experience corresponding step changes. What about changes to sea absorption, albedo effects etc? Presumably these wont affect the final equilibrium just the rate of temperature change.

Have you got any references/links on how this stuff is worked out?

@Man on Clapham Omnibus

> What about changes to sea absorption, albedo effects etc?
> Presumably these wont affect the final equilibrium…

Ok, I’ll focus on albedo effects to begin with. Changes to albedo *do* change the final equilibrium state.

The equilibrium state can essentially be thought of as the balance between energy received from the Sun and energy returned to space. The rate of energy gain and loss is in an approximately steady state, but if you disturb this steady state by lowering the Earth’s albedo through melting ice for example, then the rate of energy gain exceeds the rate of energy loss (temporarily) because more solar radiation is absorbed by the surface.

This causes the temperature to rise, which in turn increases infrared emission, increasing the rate of energy loss from the surface (I know some people find this concept quite counter-intuitive), which ultimately matches the rate of energy gain (I’ve left out further interactions with the atmosphere for brevity, the end result is the same), restoring the equilibrium (assuming no further disturbance), but at a new, higher temperature.

Of course, this new higher temperature can then melt more ice, how much more depends on the ultimate temperature, but albedo feedback effects are limited by the fact that eventually you melt all the ice, so albedo can’t really get any lower (though no ice at all is a pretty terrible outcome for the eventual equilibrium state).

As for ocean absorption of CO2, the warmer it gets, the less CO2 the ocean can hold. We aren’t at saturation point yet, so increased temperatures don’t immediately lead to the ocean degassing its CO2 stores, but that is a possibility (which also negatively impacts the effect of human emissions, because as the ocean reaches saturation, less of our emissions are absorbed, and so more ends up in the atmosphere).

Obviously there are many other factors involved, but the principles are similar; a certain amount of warming permits stable equilibrium levels to be reached; too much and you risk hitting tipping points where things get very, very bad (but realistically not Venus bad – the atmosphere of which is over 95% CO2 by volume; you’d need the entire ocean store of CO2 to be degassed for that – and I’m not sure that even that would be sufficient, though certainly catastrophic).

> Have you got any references/links on how this stuff is
> worked out?

I do, I’ll put a list together when I have a little more time later.

@Man on Clapham Omnibus

Conveniently, I managed to find a single source that covers the energy balance/albedo information (which also includes a useful map of regional albedo). It is about 18 pages long in terms of actual information content, though you can skip the maths if you just want the general details.

http://www.geo.utexas.edu/courses/387h/Lectures/chap2.pdf

Here are a couple of (much shorter) pieces on the ocean (and other) carbon sinks (the nature link below is open access, but the paper on which it is based is behind a pay wall).

http://www.nature.com/news/earth-s-carbon-sink-downsized-1.11503

http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2012/20120801_esrlcarbonstudy.html

19. Man on Clapham Omnibus

18. AndyC

These look really helpful.Thanks


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  1. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – Why we need major action at the Climate Change meet in Doha http://t.co/6lKGHbjS

  2. Jason Brickley

    Why we need major action at the Climate Change meet in Doha http://t.co/213MYSzH





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