Author Archives: Kevin

About Kevin

Kevin Anderson is professor of energy and climate change in the School of Mechanical, Aeronautical and Civil Engineering at the University of Manchester. He is deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and is research active with recent publications in Royal Society journals and Nature. He engages widely across all tiers of government; from reporting on aviation-related emission to the EU Parliament, advising the Prime Minister’s office on Carbon Trading and having contributed to the development of the UK’s Climate Change Act. With his colleague Alice Bows, Kevin’s work on carbon budgets has been pivotal in revealing the widening gulf between political rhetoric on climate change and the reality of rapidly escalating emissions. His work makes clear that there is now little chance of maintaining the rise in global temperature at below 2°C, despite repeated high-level statements to the contrary. Moreover, Kevin’s research demonstrates how avoiding even a 4°C rise demands a radical reframing of both the climate change agenda and the economic characterisation of contemporary society. Kevin has a decade’s industrial experience, principally in the petrochemical industry. He sits as commissioner on the Welsh Government’s climate change commission and is a director of Greenstone Carbon Management. Kevin is a chartered mechanical engineer and a fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Meltdown: climbers and climate change

An article written for the British Mountaineering Council’s (BMC) quarterly magazine
‘Summit’ (#79. Autumn 2015)

The final published Summit piece is available at: Meltdown (published version, 6MB)
A pdf of the word version is available at: Meltdown (without pictures, 100KB)

Harmless fun
Bathed in the evening sun a climber’s fingers curl reassuringly over a sharp edge on a perfect Kalymnos route. A scrambler inhales the fragrance of rosemary and pine on a limestone ridge overlooking the sparkling Mediterranean. An ice climber swings her axe into the flawless ice offered by Norway’s Rjuken valley. Still further afield similar pleasures are being shared in the high Himalaya, skinning up Greenland’s slopes, bouldering at Bishops, trekking in Peru and placing a slippery cam at Arapiles. 

Whose risk: our E9 or their Category 5?
Teetering on the edge of our wonderful addiction we’re the ones taking the risks to reap the myriad rewards – or are we? What if the real risks are not of our fumbling a clip, the ice dinner plating, or our misreading a snow bridge. But instead are of others having their livelihoods and families ripped apart by stronger typhoons, losing precious crops though the salt ingress of rising sea levels, or the increase abuse of women and children within already stressed communities suffering months of drought.

Surely this can’t have anything to do with our harmless enjoyment of magical moments on rock, snow and ice. But, there’s the rub – it does. And each time we board the pinnacle of gas-guzzling activity and jet off to yet another vertical adventure we disproportionately threaten the very existence of those already struggling to eke out a living in grim conditions. Climate change is an existential problem; it begs fundamental questions about how we lead our lives and what sort of person we are.

… a rock & and hard place
Faced with such profound challenges the route of easiest salvation is to join the raucous chorus decrying the science underpinning climate change. If you think God hid fossils to confuse us about evolution and John Dunne and Ken Wilson are mild mannered ambassadors for our sport – then you have the option of joining Sarah Palin and dismissing climate change as a conspiracy of thousands of scientists hell bent on bringing down Western capitalism.

But for those combining a conscience with recognition that science trumps astrology – then even a basic understanding of climate change leaves us shifting uneasily in our squished easy-jet seat.

So what are the basics?
The greenhouse effect exists and without it the earth’s average temperature would be around 18°C below freezing (great friction on the grit!). Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most important of the long-lived greenhouse gases (i.e. it’s essential for life). The level of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing rapidly and has done so since the start of the industrial revolution, but particularly since the middle of the last century (& too much CO2 is a problem). This increase is being driven by the rapid rise in our use of coal, oil and gas, (we know this because fossil fuel CO2 contains a unique chemical fingerprint). What we also know is that the temperature rise across this century relates to the total amount of carbon dioxide we emit during the century – in other words the carbon budget.

How hot is too hot?
This is not a question science can answer. It can inform the debate, but in the end what is dangerous has to be a decision of civil society delivered through the inevitably messy process of international politics. Here, and I’ll say this only once, the politicians deserve significant credit. This is one area of climate change they haven’t ducked, reaching an international agreement that the global community must “avoid dangerous climate change”, which it defines as maintaining the rise in the “average global surface temperature” to no more than 2°C across the century.

Of course, we don’t live in global averages. A chilly day at Cloggy or a soggy Scafell Pike may benefit from a little warming. But 2°C average is around 6°C at the poles, huge regional changes in rainfall, increased drought and a much more energetic weather system. And whilst us wealthier elites in the climatically more resilient Northern hemisphere think we can ride out 2°C, for poorer and climatically more vulnerable communities 2°C will often prove dangerous and on many occasions deadly. But being poor these folk not only have very few emissions, but also little international clout or big weapons they can point at the unrepentant climbers spewing out yet more carbon in search of the next honey pot sold to us by Climber, Summit, Rock Fax and the like.

Despite the significant humanitarian merits of keeping the temperature rise well below 2°C, our callous failure to heed any warning from the scientific community, has seen our escalating emissions all but blow the accompanying carbon budget. Still worse, as the normally ever so conservative International Energy Agency (IEA) warn, current CO2 “trends are perfectly in line with a 6°C rise by the end of the century … with devastating consequence for the planet”.

But what can we do – surely it’s all about China
Well no! Firstly, nations like the UK have an enormous responsibility for historical emissions – our quality of life was (and still is) built on the back of fossil fuels. Secondly, China, and many of the other poorer nations, have become our de facto manufacturers. Whilst we bask in the glories bestowed on us by Brown & Osborne’s bar and banking economy, our consumer-rich lives are dependent on the factories, power stations and pauper salaries of the Chinese, Bangladeshis, etc. Thirdly, the emissions related to how we live our lives (i.e. including imports and exports) are some 60% higher than those of the average Chinese person – with the typical American almost two times higher still. Finally, the trite argument that the UK is just 2% of global emissions is the recourse of the eloquent fool over the analytically thoughtful. California, Germany, Aviation, Shipping, Beijing and Shanghai are all in the ‘few %’ bracket.  50 x 2% = 100%.  So our 2% matters – not just directly but more importantly as effective mitigation in the UK will help catalyse wider action elsewhere.

Back to us Climbers …
We no longer get to the crag or the occasional alpine trip by cycling, the train, thumbing a lift, or cramming 4 sweaty oiks and their kit into a mini clubman. Now it’s the powerful estate car, the flashy hatchback, Subaru 4WD or the moronic SUV. Worse still, the crag is often now far beyond the local outcrop, it’s a drive to Malham, bagging a quick Munroe, a long weekend in Calpe, a week at Smiths Rocks or a rapid ascent of some Alpine Peak. We take our litter home, the cars have catalytic converters, and we may even fall for the scam of ‘offsetting’ our flight’s emissions. But all this is conscience-salving crap.

A few moments reflection sees our self-delusion dissolve. We’re not custodians of the countryside, we’re not even concerned citizens – we’re simply smash & grab looters, taking what we can from millions of years of evolution and giving nothing back. Worse still, whilst we’re only too willing to embrace the cheap consumerism afforded by globalisation – child exploitation and lax environmental regulations (just check the labels of our rucsacs, thermals & bouldering pants) – we seldom stop to consider the reciprocal globalised impacts of our adventures on the poor and vulnerable. And when we do, it’s through some scheme to help impoverished Nepalese villages build a school, improve their sewage systems or equip a health centre – all trivial and ephemeral compared with the scale of the climate challenge we are superimposing on their already difficult lives. 

Ok – we get the story – so what can we do?
Let’s keep it simple. From a climate change perspective there are three principal opportunities for us to make a difference. The first is to radically reduce our use of energy. Identify our big-ticket CO2 activities, then reduce how often we do them and find alternatives. Curtail how often we fly; drive less; share vehicles; buy efficient cars; and use trains & buses. From experience I can say this is not always easy – but it is doable and in some respects gets easier with time.

I’ve avoided hurtling off the end of a runway for 11 years, substituting with trains to France, Italy and Spain and driving slowly around Europe in my campervan. OK, Kalymnos is a challenge and returning to Thailand will have to wait for my retirement. But Sicily’s San Vito lo Capo is a fun train ride away & offers wonderful climbing

The second is to make a noise about the low-carbon changes we’re pioneering. In isolation the impacts of our individual emissions are relatively small. But become a vociferous ambassador demonstrating change and our actions have the real potential to catalyse a wider low-carbon ethos/movement. So in whatever way works for each of us, engage constructively with our climbing buddies, whether down the wall, at the crag, in our club newsletters, by emailing manufacturers and commenting in climbing magazines. Let’s make our voices heard!

The third is to facilitate rather than obstruct indigenous and very low carbon energy. In the longer term we need to transition all our energy system to zero carbon emissions. Few climbers have the wherewithal to build their own large power stations, but we can all become a voice countering the Luddite status quo. Fossil fuels have had their century and we need now to think differently. Decentralised (e.g. local solar) complementing centralised energy (e.g. large wind farms, Severn barrage, etc.); adjusting demand to match some inevitable increase in the intermittency of supply; increased electrification (remember just 20% of the energy we consume is electricity – the rest is principally oil and gas). So let’s be a strong and cogent voice arguing for this essential transition – rather offering silent support for the status quo or whingeing about localised aesthetics whilst turning a blind eye to the devastation of Australian open-cast mines, Canadian tar sands and Qatar’s gas.

The game’s up
In 2015 we can no longer plead ignorance – deep down we know that our pretence of environmental stewardship is up. Scattering a few BMC pebbles underneath worn boulders, taking the tram to the airport and buying ethical clothing do not compensate for the ecosystem destruction and human misery our hobby (for that’s what it is) imposes on others. But it doesn’t have to be like this.

Today’s climbers are typically wealthy and erudite. We have time and influence – at least collectively. We can still enjoy our hobby, but we can do so much more in tune with the evolutionary processes of nature and without destroying the very fabric of others’ lives. So let us be a beacon of hope, an ambassador of fundamental change. Let us lead by example. For your next climbing, walking or skiing trip, stop and think before you go plane crazy.

Kevin is a keen climber, most regularly found on the back wall of Hobson Moor Quarry (Hobby to its friends) and Glossop bouldering wall once the Winter weather sets in.

Duality in climate science

A commentary published in Nature Geoscience (online Oct. 2015)

Brief Abstract:
The commentary demonstrates the endemic bias prevalent amongst many of those developing emission scenarios to severely underplay the scale of the 2°C mitigation challenge. In several important respects the modelling community is self-censoring its research to conform to the dominant political and economic paradigm. Moreover, there is a widespread reluctance of many within the climate change community to speak out against unsupported assertions that an evolution of ‘business as usual’ is compatible with the IPCC’s 2°C carbon budgets. With specific reference to energy, this analysis concludes that even a slim chance of “keeping below” a 2°C rise, now demands a revolution in how we both consume and produce energy. Such a rapid and deep transition will have profound implications for the framing of contemporary society and is far removed from the rhetoric of green growth that increasingly dominates the climate change agenda.

DOI:10.1038/ngeo2559  http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/ngeo2559.html

The commentary should also be available to all, including non-subscribers, via http://rdcu.be/eoQY (this may not download onto phones, iPads, etc.) 
An open access and pre-edit pdf is available at: On the duality of climate scientists – pre-edit version of a submission to Nature – 2015 This pre-edit version is also copied below.

 

***** 

On the duality of climate scientists:
… how integrated assessment models are hard-wired to deliver politically palatable outcomes

The value of science is undermined when we adopt questionable assumptions and fine-tune our analysis to conform to dominant political and economic sensibilities. The pervasive inclusion of speculative negative emission technologies to deliver politically palatable 2°C mitigation is but one such example. Society needs scientists to make transparent and reasoned assumptions, however uncomfortable the subsequent conclusions may be for the politics of the day.

June’s UNFCCC Bonn Conference reiterated the headline ‘conclusions’ of November’s IPCC Synthesis Report, which itself was heralded as delivering clear messages to policy makers. As the Financial Times1 noted, meeting the 2°C dangerous limitwould “only cause an annual 0.06 percentage point cut in … economic growth”, a small cost that would, according to the UK’s Guardian, rise by less than 50% even if emissions reductions were delayed to 20302. In similar optimistic vein, The US Associated Press3 and Hindustan Times4 reported that maintaining “the temperature rise below a level that many consider dangerous” may require emissions from fossil fuels “to drop to zero”, but not before “the end of this century”. The Sydney Morning Herald5 concluded that staying below 2°C would require “a fairly strong level of action on greenhouse gas emissionswith, ChinaDaily6 reporting that in delivering the requisite action the solutions are many and allow for continued economic and human development.”

Based on such reports it is easy to be left with the impression that the shift away from fossil fuels needs to be much more an evolutionary transition than an immediate revolution in how we use and produce energy. Moreover, it could be suggested that delaying action until 2030 would give more time for considered reflection of the options, yet still only have a very marginal impact on economic growth (i.e. less than a 0.1 percentage point cut) – not a bad exchange perhaps?

In stark contrast, this commentary concludes that the carbon budgets needed for a reasonable probability of avoiding the 2°C characterisation of dangerous climate change demand profound and immediate changes to the consumption and production of energy. The IPCC’s own 1,000 GtCO2 carbon budget for a “likely” chance of 2°C, requires global reductions in emissions from energy of at least 10% p.a. by 2025, with complete cessation of all carbon dioxide emissions from the energy system by 2050. 

Diluting the message
Whilst the endeavours of the IPCC, since its inception in 1988, are to be welcomed, I have grave reservations as to how the implications of their analysis are being reported. This is not solely the failure of incisive journalism, but is also the outcome of repeated and questionable commentary from some experts engaged in the IPCC process. Even the press release7 for the IPCC’s Synthesis report provided an optimistic spin, with the then IPCC chair stating thatTo keep a good chance of staying below 2ºC, and at manageable costs, our emissions should drop by 40 to 70 percent globally between 2010 and 2050, falling to zero or below by 2100[emphasis added]. Moreover, the Co-Chair of the IPCC’s section on reducing emissions made the all-important comment that mitigation costs would be so low that global economic growth would not be strongly affected– echoing the conclusion of the recent and influential report from The New Climate Economy8. 

But does the IPCC’s own analysis support the upbeat rhetoric of evolution as opposed to the more challenging and fundamental language of revolution?

Certainly such evolutionary conclusions are forthcoming from many highly complex integrated assessment models (IAMs) – whereby an understanding of prices, markets and human behaviour is brought together with the physics of climate change to generate ‘policy-relevant’ and cost-optimised emission scenarios. These typically offer highly optimistic futures through a combination of very early peaks in global emissions and a belief that negative emission technologies will prove practically and economically viable in removing CO2 from the atmosphere (hence the reference to or belowzero emissions in Pachauri’s earlier statement).

‘Geo-engineering’ as systemic bias
The analysis within this Commentary makes no allowance for carbon budgets being increased through the adoption of ‘geo-engineering’ technologies, specifically those delivering so-called negative emissions. Such technologies are ubiquitous in 2°C scenarios9,10, despite their remaining at little more than the conceptual stage of development. However, whilst speculative negative emissions are de rigueur, similarly imprecise Earth system processes (but with the potential to reduce the available budgets) are seldom included in quantitative scenarios. The relative importance of negative emissions and Earth-system processes for the size of the available carbon budget varies across the spectrum of temperatures being considered. Yet until both can be adequately and robustly quantified their widespread inclusion within quantitative emissions pathways should be avoided. A small suite of 2°C scenarios may, of course, assume the successful uptake of negative emissions (or further positive feedbacks), but such scenarios should be in the minority and not dominate the outputs from across the IAM community.

As it stands, the expedient and ubiquitous use of speculative negative emissions to expand the available 2°C carbon budgets, implies a deeply entrenched and systemic bias in favour of delivering politically palatable rather than scientifically balanced emission scenarios. Nowhere is this more evident than in the IPCC’s scenario database11. Of the 113 scenarios with a “likely” chance (66% or better) of 2°C (with 3 removed due to incomplete data), 107 (95%) assume the successful and large-scale uptake of negative emission technologies. The remaining 6 scenarios all adopt a global emissions peak of around 2010. Extending the probability to a 50% chance of 2°C paints a similar picture. Of the additional 287 scenarios, 237 (83%) include negative emissions, with all the remaining scenarios assuming the successful implementation of a stringent and global mitigation regime in 2010.

In plain language, the complete set of 400 IPCC scenarios for a 50% or better chance of 2°C assume either an ability to travel back in time or the successful and large-scale uptake of speculative negative emission technologies. A significant proportion of the scenarios are dependent on both ‘time travel and geo-engineering’.

An arithmetic sense check
With IAM outputs typically clustering around evolutionary rather than revolutionary rates of change, there is clearly merit in undertaking some basic arithmetic to sense-check the model outputs, the consequent framing of policies, and the timeframes for delivering deep cuts in emissions. Building on the concept of carbon budgets12-14 the following steps summarise a sequence of reasoning and transparent assumptions that suggest a profoundly different challenge to that dominating the current discourse on climate change.

1) From the Copenhagen Accord12 in 2009 to the New York Climate Summit in 2014 political leaders have repeatedly reaffirmed their commitment to take the necessary action, informed by science15,16to “hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius”15.

2) The IPCC’s Synthesis Report reiterates their previous conclusion that Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond17.

3) The Report proposes a headline carbon budget of 1,000 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (1000 GtCO2) for the period 2011 to 2100 and for a 66% chance, or better, of remaining below a 2°C rise18.

4) Energy-only CO2 between 2011and 2014 inclusive has totalled around 140GtCO2.

5) To apportion the remaining 860 billion tonnes between the principal sources of CO2 emissions, i.e. energy, deforestation, and cement (process only), it is necessary to understand their relevant contexts. In a world genuinely committed to not exceeding the 2°C budget, it is reasonable to assume there exists a concerted effort to reduce emissions across all three emission sources.

6) Against this backdrop, deforestation and land use change emissions for 2011-2100 are based on RCP4.519, the IPCC’s most ambitious deforestation pathway to exclude net-negative land use emissions. The total deforestation budget is therefore taken as ~60GtCO2.

7) Turning to cement, whilst energy-related emissions are included here in total energy CO2, the substantial process emissions are not and so need to be considered separately. Industrialisation throughout poorer nations and the construction of low-carbon infrastructures within industrialised nations will continue to drive rapid growth in the process emissions from cement production (current ~7% p.a.20). An aggressive uptake of lower-carbon alternatives (including CCS) and more prudent use of cement could reduce some of this early growth,21,22 but in the longer term, such emissions will need to be eliminated. Provisional and highly optimistic analysis building on recent process emission trends,20,23 suggests such emissions could be constrained to around 150 GtCO2 from 2011 to their eradication later in the century.

8) Consequently, the remaining budget for energy-only emissions, for the period 2015 to 2100 and for a “likely” chance of staying below 2°C, is ~650 GtCO2.

9) The political and physical inertia of the existing system will likely see emissions continue to rise until ~2020. Assuming there is an unparalleled agreement at Paris and energy-only emissions of CO2 reach a 2020 peak of ~37 GtCO2, a little under 180 GtCO2 will have been emitted between the start of 2015 and 2020, leaving a post 2020 budget of ~470 GtCO2.

10) This would demand a dramatic reversal of current trends in energy consumption and emissions growth. Global mitigation rates would need to rapidly ratchet up to around 10% p.a. by 2025 and continue at such a rate to the virtual elimination of CO2 from the energy system by 2050. 

Unpalatable repercussions
Applying simple arithmetic to the headline data within the IPCC’s Synthesis Report raises fundamental questions as to the realism of both the content and the tone of much of the reporting that followed its publication. Moreover, the failure of the scientific community to vociferously counter the portrayal of the findings as challenging but incremental suggests vested interests and the economic hegemony may be preventing scientific openness and freedom of expression.

The carbon budgets aligned with international commitments to stay below the 2°C characterization of dangerous climate change demand profound and immediate changes to how energy is both used and produced. The IPCC’s headline budget of 1,000 GtCO2, even with highly optimistic assumptions on curtailing deforestation and cement emissions, requires global reductions in energy-CO2 of at least 10% p.a. from 2025, transitioning rapidly to zero emissions by 2050. The severity of such cuts would likely exclude carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a dominant post-2050 technology. Only if the life cycle carbon emissions of CCS could be reduced by an order of magnitude from those postulated for an efficiently operating gas-CCS plant (typically around 80g CO2 per kWh24), could fossil fuels play any significant role post-2050.

Delivering on such a 2°C emission pathway cannot be reconciled with the repeated and high-level claims that in transitioning to a low-carbon energy system “global economic growth would not be strongly affected7. Certainly it would be inappropriate to sacrifice improvements in the welfare of the global poor, including those within wealthier nations, for the sake of reducing carbon emissions. But this only puts greater pressure still on the relatively small proportion of the globe’s population with higher emissions. The strains that such 2°C mitigation puts on the framing of our lifestyles cannot be massaged away through incremental escapism. With a growing economy of 3% p.a. the reduction in carbon intensity of global GDP would need to be nearer 13% p.a.; higher still for wealthier industrialised nations, and higher yet again for those individuals with well above average carbon footprints (whether in industrial or industrialising nations). 

Conclusions
The IPCC’s synthesis report and the scientific framing of the mitigation challenge in terms of carbon budgets was an important step forward. Despite this, there remains an almost global-scale cognitive dissonance with regards to acknowledging the quantitative implications of the analysis, including by many of those contributing to its development. We simply are not prepared to accept the revolutionary implications of our own findings, and even when we do we are reluctant to voice such thoughts openly. Instead, my long-standing engagement with many scientific colleagues, leaves me in no doubt that whilst they work diligently, often against a backdrop of organised scepticism, many are ultimately choosing to censor their own research.

Explicit and quantitative carbon budgets provide a firm foundation on which policy makers and civil society can build a genuinely low-carbon society. But the job of scientists remains pivotal. It is incumbent on our community to be vigilant in guiding the policy process within the climate goals established by civil society; to draw attention to inconsistencies, misunderstandings and deliberate abuse of the scientific research. It is not our job to be politically expedient with our analysis or to curry favour with our funders. Whether our conclusions are liked or not is irrelevant. As we massage the assumptions of our analysis to fit within today’s political and economic hegemony, so we do society a grave disservice – one for which the repercussions will be irreversible.

References 

1. Clark, P. Financial Times (2 November 2014). http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/26d0edc6-628e-11e4-9838-00144feabdc0.html – axzz3KxE5mP6Q

2.  Carrington, D. The Guardian  (2 November 2014). http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/nov/02/rapid-carbon-emission-cuts-severe-impactclimate-change-ipcc-report

3. UN climate panel says emissions need to drop to zero this century to keep warming in check (Associated Press, 2 November 2014). http://www.foxnews.com/world/2014/11/02/un-climate-panel-says-emissions-need-to-drop-to-zero-thiscentury-to-keep/

4. Hindustan Times. UN climate report offers stark warnings. Copenhagen.  (Taken from Associated Press,  3 November 2014). http://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/un-climate-report-offers-stark-warnings-hope/article1-1281867.aspx

5. Miller, N. The Sydney Morning Herald  (4 November 2014). http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/ipcc-report-little-time-left-to-act-on-climate-change-20141103-11g2er.html.

6. Jing, F. ChinaDaily: Europe (3 November 2014). http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/2014-11/03/content_18854403.htm

7. Concluding instalment of the Fifth Assessment Report. (IPCC Press Release)  (2 November 2014).

8. Better Growth Better Climate synthesis report. (The New Climate Economy2014). http://newclimateeconomy.report.

9. Fuss, S. et al. Betting on negative emissions. Nature. 4. 850-853 (2014)

10. UNEP 2014. The Emissions Gap Report 2014. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Nairobi

11. IPCC AR5 Working Group III. (2014) Mitigation of Climate Change (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).

12. Anderson, K. et al. From long-term targets to cumulative emission pathways; reframing the climate policy debate. Energy Policy 36. 3714–3722. (2008)

13. Anderson, K. & Bows, A. Beyond dangerous climate change. Phil. Trans. Royal Soc. A 369, 20–44 (2011).  doi:10.1098/rsta.2010.0290

14. Frame, D. et al. Cumulative emissions and climate policy. Nature Geosci. 7, 692–693 (2014).

15. Report of the Conference of the Parties; fifteenth session; Copenhagen, 7 to 19 December 2009.

16. President Barroso. The L’Aquila summit; European Commission, MEMO/09/332; 10/07/2009 http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-09-332_en.htm 

17. IPCC AR5 Synthesis Report (2014); Topic 2.1. p56 and SPM 2.1. p.8.

18. IPCC AR5 Synthesis Report (2014); Table 2.2. p.64

19. RCP online database. IIASA, (2015). http://www.iiasa.ac.at/web/home/research/researchPrograms/TransitionstoNewTechnologies/RCP.en.html

20. Andrew. R. Global Carbon Project (http://www.globalcarbonproject.org) Private communication (Nov. 2014)

21. International Energy Agency (IEA). Cement Technology Road Map. (2009). https://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/Cement.pdf

22. International Energy Agency (IEA). Energy Technology Perspectives. (2014)

23. West. K. International Energy Agency. Cement Road Map (2009) and Energy Technology Perspective (2014). Private communication (Feb.2015)

24. Hammond, G. et al. The energy and environmental implications of UK more electric transition pathways. Energy Policy 52 ,103–116 (2013).dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2012.08.071

Acknowledgements:

  • Cicero (Oslo): Glen Peters and Robbie Andrew for guidance, respectively, with the IPCC scenario database and global cement emissions
  • IEA (Paris): Kira West information related to IEA cement scenarios
  • Tyndall Centre (University of Manchester): Maria Sharmina and Jaise Kuriakose on deforestation emissions; Alice Bows-Larkin and John Broderick on carbon budgets. 

Response to DECC Minister’s (Amber Rudd) speech on climate change

The Minister’s speech was given on the 24th July 2015; the full transcript is available at: secretary-of-state-speech-on-climate-change

___________

The Secretary of State’s eloquent speech is long on rhetoric but short on coherence. Let’s be blunt, whilst the Minister has chosen to view her Department’s responsibilities solely through a parochial financial lens – many poor people living in climatically more vulnerable parts of the globe will face the life and death repercussions of her Government’s increasingly weak stance on climate change.

In evoking the legacy of Margaret Thatcher in support of her Government’s position the Minister demonstrates the contortions she and her Department are having to go through to comply with the Chancellor’s austerity diktat. Since Thatcher’s 1990 speech, global emissions of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas, have risen by over 60%. For the UK, consumption-based emissions (including CO2 associated with imports and exports) were up 12% prior to the economic collapse, with the latest post-collapse data still putting UK emissions 1% higher than they were in 1990. All this points towards a future with catastrophic levels of climate change. Only an urgent rejection of the incremental escapism that dominates the UK and international policy arena can now deliver the necessary rates of emission reduction. Yet the Minister’s speech acknowledges no such urgency – instead she chooses to focus on how responding to climate change dovetails with the Chancellor’s drive for short-term financial growth.

The Minister closes with an assertion that the 2°C goal remains an imperative for her Government. Yet her own policies are premised on the UK’s receiving a hugely inequitable share of the global 2°C carbon budget, alongside the large-scale uptake of highly speculative negative emission technologies sometime in the far distant future.

Behind the eloquence of the Minister’s rhetoric lurks a UK Government’s position on climate change increasingly informed by a muddled blend of policy machinations and Dr Strangelove technologies, rather than by rigorous analysis. Ultimately there is something deeply concerning about the most vulnerable communities’ being forced to pay the cost of the ineptitude of the banks and the spinelessness of the legislature. Yet it is exactly this approach that informs the scientifically illiterate basis of the Minister’s speech.

Why a UK shale gas industry is incompatible with the 2°C framing of dangerous climate change

This piece is a  response to Professor Robert Mair’s Royal Society science policy blog, Hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in the UK – an opportunity to shape a constructive way forward” (In Verba, 26th Jan)

(The analysis underpinning this response has been developed with my colleague Dr John Broderick)

Professor Mair’s Royal Society post suggests that the development of a UK shale gas industry is compatible with the UK’s climate change targets. I suggest this conclusion is premised on a partial and overly simplistic interpretation of the UK’s muddled climate change obligations. In brief:

Shale gas within domestic carbon budgets
The development of a UK shale gas industry may be compatible with the UK’s domestic carbon budgets – just. These budgets are however premised on a high probability of exceeding the 2°C threshold between acceptable and dangerous climate change and on a highly inequitable allocation of the global carbon budget to the UK. Even under such lax conditions (and hence a larger UK carbon budget) there is a significant risk that a new and large-scale UK shale gas infrastructure could become a stranded asset within a decade or so of major shale gas extraction.

Shale gas within 2°C carbon budgets
The development of a UK shale gas industry is incompatible with UK’s equitable share of the IPCC’s carbon budget for a “likely” chance of not exceeding the 2°C obligation. This remains the case even if shale gas can be combined with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. The CO2 emissions from gas-CCS are anticipated to be five to fifteen times greater per kWh of electricity generated than are the emissions from either renewables or nuclear. Add to this the timeframe for developing a mature UK shale gas industry and, even with CCS, shale gas can have no appreciable role in the UK’s energy mix. 

Please note:
The MacKay and Stone shale gas report for DECC, referred to in the Royal Society post, includes the following important conclusion:

If a country brings any additional fossil fuel reserve into production, then in the absence of strong climate policies, we believe it is likely that this production would increase cumulative emissions in the long run. This increase would work against global efforts on climate change.

In relation to the carbon budgets for a “likely” chance of 2°C, it is abundantly clear that there is a complete “absence of strong climate policies”. Consequently, over and above all the detailed discussion in the the Mackay and Stone report, their statement can only be interpreted as concluding that a signficant UK shale gas indutry is incompatible with the UK’s commitment to maintaining temperatures below 2°C (i.e. fitting within the IPCC’s budgets for a likley chance of 2°C).

This challenging statement is reinforeced in Andrew Alpin’s (Professor of Unconventional Petroleum) measured response to the EAC report on fracking.

“The development of new fossil fuel resources such as shale gas is broadly incompatible with the UK’s stated commitment to major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.  However, any moratorium on shale gas exploration must go hand-in-hand with an equally strong commitment to reducing imports of coal, oil and gas.  Given that fossil fuels dominate current energy consumption, this also implies a massive increase in nuclear and renewables, which will be both challenging and expensive.”

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The notes below provide a little more detail to the above headline statements 

A pivotal point to consider before passing any judgment on whether or not UK shale gas is compatible with UK’s climate change obligations is to recognise that the UK holds two very different positions on its mitigation responsibilities – with very different carbon budgets.

UK’s weak domestic carbon budget (high chance of exceeding 2°C)
The UK’s domestic position under the Climate Change Act, is for a 63% of exceeding 2°C; global emissions reaching a peak between 2016 and 2020, including for China, with the rest of the poorer nations reaching a peak collectively just a few years later. Moreover, it assumes that the wealthier industrialised nations take no responsibility for international emissions from deforestation – despite most having already deforested their own nations. Similarly the process emissions from producing cement for poorer nations to construct the infrastructure necessary for their industrialisation are also neglected – despite the UK (and other wealthier nations) already having established infrastructures. Furthermore, the UK’s domestic targets are premised on highly optimistic assumptions about the cumulative emissions budget of non-greenhouse gas emissions from food. If all this is considered reasonable, then there is a small and probably short-lived opportunity for UK shale gas development. However, even with such highly partisan assumptions, by the time significant shale gas reserves are developed (assuming they exist) there is a real risk that the accompanying infrastructure could rapidly become a stranded asset – even under the UK’s weak (i.e. not 2°C) domestic carbon budgets. 

UK’s domestic carbon budget for a “likely” chance of staying below 2°C
By contrast, taking the previous and current Prime Ministers at their word, then the UK’s international climate change commitment is framed by the UK making its equitable contribution to staying below a 2°C rise (explicit in agreements from the Copenhagen Accord to the Camp David Declaration). Consequently, the UK’s domestic targets, premised as they are on both a very inequitable distribution of emissions and a 63% of exceeding 2°C, are not only incompatible with, but are indeed far weaker than, our international obligations.

Borrowing from the IPCC’s taxonomy of ‘likelihoods’ the language of the agreements to which the UK is a signatory relate to, at most, a 10% chance of exceeding 2°C (with a carbon budget approximately half of that for a 63% chance of exceeding 2°C). However, given where we are in 2015, both our earlier [1] and ongoing analysis typically adopts a much laxer probability of between 66% and 50% chance of staying below 2°C (concluding that this is now the best that can be achieved). We assume a global peak in emissions soon after 2020, with poorer nations, on average, peaking by 2025 and with deforestation and cement emissions accounted for as a global overhead. Our work argues that, though challenging, these assumptions are much more appropriate than the unsupportable starting point of the Government’s analysis. Allying our assumptions with the PM’s express commitment on 2°C (i.e. a more equitable division of the IPCC’s budgets for 66%-50% of staying below 2°C) delivers an uncompromising and unambiguous conclusion. There is no emissions space for shale gas in the UK’s national carbon budgets and emission pathways – and consequently, the only appropriate place for shale gas remains in the ground.

[1] Anderson, K., and Bows., A., 2011, Beyond dangerous climate change: emission pathways for a new world, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, 369, 20-44, DOI:10.1098/rsta.2010.0290

 The arguments outlined in this response are similar to those developed in a previous letter to the Prime Minister on the appropriate EU 2030 level of emission reductions (for a 2°C framing of climate change); Letter to the PM on how the 2 degrees Celsius target demands an 80% cut in EU emissions by 2030

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For further commentary on shale gas, see:

Fracking – a price worth paying?
A debate between Prof. Paul Younger and I on the arguments for and against fracking in the UK

Response to the House of Lords shale gas report 
A response arguing that the Lords report chose eloquence over analysis when addressing issues of climate change

Tyndall submission to the House of Lords select committee on economic affairs
pp.498-504

UK commitments on climate change incompatible with a national shale gas industry
A brief comment on the recent Total Oil announcement of its plans to invest in UK shale & the PM’s and Energy Minister’s responses.

Tyndall submission to the Energy and Climate Change committee.
October 2012

UK unveils Office of unconventional gas & oil – another nail in the climate change coffin
A quick response to the inception of the government’s Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil

Shale gas: an updated assessment of the environmental & climate change impacts 
A  more detailed account of the climate change issues is given in chapter 3

Has US shale gas reduced CO2 emissions?
A report suggesting shale gas is likely to add to global fossil fuel reserves and not be a substitute for coal.

Shale gas and avoiding dangerous climate change
A slide show on shale gas recently presented at a Chatham House shale gas summit and later at an ‘all party parliamentary group on unconventional oil and gas’ seminar (in the House of Commons)

 

Jan 2015. Evidence to the House of Lords on the resilience of the electricity grid to a changing climate

Video/YouTube: Anderson gives evidence on the ‘resilience of the UK’s Electricity network to a changing climate’, both in terms of low carbon energy supply and changes in energy demand.

The evidence is based, in part, on the research project Resilient Electricity Networks for Great Britain (RESNET); a collaboration between Manchester and Newcastle Universities and the National Grid. Amongst others, the House of Lords committee included reputable scientists, for example Martin Rees and Robert Winston, renown climate sceptic and previous Chair of Northern Rock, Mat Ridley, and climate sceptic/denier William Wade.

Enthusiasm over small fall in EU emissions masks underlying apathy on 2°C

“Delivering on 2020 climate goals shows that Europe is ready to step up its act. And better, still: it shows that the EU is delivering substantial cuts. The policies work.
                                                                                                                       Connie Hedegaard [1]
                                                                                                     EU Climate Action Commissioner

The above is Connie Hedegaard’s response to the Commission and European Environment Agency’s Progress Report on climate action, in which, “according to latest estimates, EU greenhouse gas emissions in 2013 fell by 1.8% compared to 2012 and reached the lowest levels since 1990. So not only is the EU well on track to reach the 2020 target, it is also well on track to overachieve it.”[1] 

Below is my alternative take on the same announcement.

In the context of international commitments to stay below the 2°C characterisation of dangerous climate change, hand wringing or fist waving over irrelevant 2020 targets is all part of the fog that continues to thwart any meaningful action on climate change. The consumption-based emissions (i.e. where emissions associated with imports and exports are considered) of the EU 28 were 2% higher in 2008 than in 1990[1]. By 2013 emissions had marginally reduced to 4% lower than 1990 – but not as a consequence of judicious climate change strategies, but rather the financial fallout of the bankers’ reckless greed – egged on by complicit governments and pliant regulation.

In the quarter of a century since the first IPCC report we have achieved nothing of any significant merit relative to the scale of the climate challenge. All we have to show for our ongoing oratory is a burgeoning industry of bureaucrats, well meaning NGOs, academics and naysayers who collectively have overseen a 60+% rise in global emissions. Even the wealthy EU presided over rising emissions until the financial debacle hit home. Certainly we have a fledgling renewables industry, some public awareness and a press that has jumped on the opportunity to polarise yet another complicated and nuanced debate. A few prominent climate-change advocates and sceptics have done very nicely out of it, as, of course, have a cadre of bankers and financiers who successfully convinced governments that converting carbon into money would enable them to trade the problem away. But whilst a bewildering array of financial instruments and offsetting ‘products’ may have succeeded in lining their pockets, they singularly failed to make any dent in our emissions.

With Paris set to host the next major round of negotiations in December 2015, there is little time to convert a sow’s ear into a silk purse – and the omens are not looking good if the EU’s decision to adopt a leaky 40% target by 2030 is anything to go by.

If we are serious about repeated international commitments to reduce emissions inline with the 2°C obligation (“consistent with science and on the basis of equity”[2]) the EU will need to reduce its emissions by over 80% by 2030 – with the rapid phase out of all fossil fuels soon after [3]. Recourse to increasingly esoteric Ponzi schemes and fervent discussion of annual tweaks in emissions are all just elaborate ruses for inaction. We have collectively bought into the numerology of incremental change, efficient markets, trading and offsetting – and until we break that spell our emission trends will continue their groundhog day.

The music’s stopped playing, the lights have come on and the doors are swinging open – someone has to make the first move. The EU has over two decades of rousing rhetoric on climate change – so perhaps now is the time for it demonstrate courageous leadership and scientifically informed action.

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Notes

[1] http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-14-1202_en.htm

[2] Data from the Global Carbon Atlas

[3] Report of the Conference of the Parties; fifteenth session; Copenhagen, 7 to 19 December 2009. See also: President Barroso on the results of the L’Aquila summit; European Commission, MEMO/09/332; 10/07/2009 http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-09-332_en.htm

[4] The reasoning behind the 80% by 2030 figure was laid out in a recent letter to the UK Prime Minister prior to his attending the European Council meeting at which the 40% target was agreed. The letter built on an earlier version sent to the previous Commission President in the lead up to the Green Paper, ‘A 2030 framework for climate and energy policies’.

 

 

 

Letter to the PM outlining how 2°C demands an 80% cut in EU emissions by 2030

Below is an open letter (22nd Oct. 2014) to both the UK’s Prime Minister and the Secretary of State at the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC). The letter summarises why the IPCC’s carbon budgets for a “likely” chance of not exceeding the international community’s 2°C commitment, requires the EU to reduce the emissions from its energy system by 80% by 2030, with complete decarbonisation just a few years later.

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Open Letter to:

The Prime Minister and Secretary of State at the Department of Energy & Climate Change
22nd October 2014

RE: The EU 2030 decarbonisation target and the framework for climate and energy policies

Dear Prime Minister and Secretary of State,

I wish to state my grave concern about the proposed ‘2030 framework for climate and energy policies’ that is to be finalised at this week’s European Council meeting of heads of state and senior ministers. If the 40% target proposed in the earlier Green Paper [1] is adopted, the EU will be signalling its dismissal of the IPCC’s carbon budgets associated with a 2°C rise in global temperature. It will give priority to politically expediency at the expense of scientific integrity, irrevocably damaging the climate change negotiations in Paris 2015.

My chief concern with the framework relates to the Commission’s assertion that “emissions would need to be reduced by 40% in the EU to be … consistent with the internationally agreed target to limit atmospheric warming to below 2°C”[1]. Whilst such a position may have political traction, it is in direct breach of the EU’s repeated commitment to reduce its emissions “consistent with science and on the basis of equity”[2].

The IPCC’s budgets for a “likely”[3] chance of not exceeding 2°C, accompanied by weak allowances for equity, demand the EU deliver, at least, an 80% reduction in emissions from its energy system by 2030, with full decarbonisation shortly after.

This stark contrast with the Green Paper’s proposed 40% reduction arises from two principal issues.

1) The IPCC’s “likely” carbon budgets The IPCC’s budgets, for a “likely” chance of not exceeding the 2°C target, range from around 600 to 1200 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO2) for the period 2011-2100 [4]. To put this in context, in the four years since 2011 almost 150 billion tonnes have already been emitted; i.e. between a quarter and an eighth of the total carbon budget for the rest of the century. To estimate the budget for energy-only carbon, it is necessary to subtract emissions from deforestation and cement production [5]. Even with stringent control on emissions from these sectors, the remaining carbon budget for energy equates to as few as 5 and at the most 20 years of emissions equivalent to those in 2014 [6].

2) The inclusion of equity when apportioning emissions to regions The EU has acknowledged the need for its emissions to reach a peak and subsequently begin reducing well before those of industrialising and poorer nations. Even today, the carbon intensity of a typical Chinese person’s lifestyle is considerably lower than that of their European counterpart (5.9 tonnes p.a. per person compared with 9.4 for the EU28, rising to 10.1 and 11.4 tonnes for the UK and Germany respectively [7]). Under even the most stringent deal at the Paris 2015 negotiations, it is doubtful that the industrialising and poorer nations will collectively reach a peak in their emissions before 2025. However, if this were to be achieved, and if by the 2030s they deliver mitigation rates similar to those of the wealthier nations, the “likely” carbon budget remaining for the EU, USA etc. demands immediate double-digit mitigation rates [8].

Put simply, the basic arithmetic of: (1) the IPCC’s 2°C carbon budgets; (2) highly optimistic assumptions on deforestation and cement; (3) stringent emissions pathways for industrialising and poorer nations; and (4) the EU’s oft-cited commitment on 2°C; requires the European Council to increase the 2030 target to, at least, an 80% reduction in emissions.

Alternatively, if the Green Paper’s 40% target is adopted, the EU should be honest about why it has chosen to renege on it previous 2°C commitments. Moreover, it should explain the reasoning for judging the challenges of stringent mitigation as more onerous than the increased risk of dangerous repercussions for poorer and climatically more vulnerable communities.

I understand the enormous political difficulties for European heads of state in developing a transparent and evidence-based mitigation agenda. However, the reasons for today’s climate dilemma reside in our prolonged abject failure to set in train an effective programme of mitigation. A quarter of a century on from the IPCC’s first report, the carbon intensity of a typical EU citizen’s lifestyle remains unchanged [7]. I urge you to resist the vested interests calling for continued inaction and instead drive for an ambitious policy framework “consistent with science” and developed on “the basis of equity”. Ultimately, this will be the legacy we bequeath to future generations.

Yours sincerely

Kevin Anderson

Professor of Energy and Climate Change
Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research University of Manchester
PA- Amrita Sidhu, amrita.sidhu@manchester.ac.uk tel: +44(0)161 306 3700

Notes:

[1] Green Paper, A 2030 framework for climate and energy policies. Brussels, 27.3.2013 COM(2013) 169 final

[2] Report of the Conference of the Parties; fifteenth session; Copenhagen, 7 to 19 December 2009. See also: President Barroso on the results of the L’Aquila summit; European Commission, MEMO/09/332; 10/07/2009 http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-09-332_en.htm

[3] This is the language used by the IPCC in the AR5 to provide a qualitative interpretation of quantitative probabilities. It is based on the Guidance Note for Lead Authors of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report on Consistent Treatment of Uncertainties. IPCC Cross-Working Group Meeting on Consistent Treatment of Uncertainties. Jasper Ridge, CA, USA. 6-7 July 2010

[4] IPCC Summary for Policy Makers; Working Group III Table 6.3, p.12. The precise budget range is 630 to 1180 GtCO2

[5] With the surge in construction required to transition to a low-carbon infrastructure alongside ongoing industrialisation within poorer nations, reversing the 6.9% p.a. growth in emissions from cement will be extremely challenging. The assumptions used in this letter rely on deforestation and cement emissions, for the century, totalling 100 and 200GtCO2 respectively. For cement this relates to either: 1) an immediate halving in current growth rates with a transition to zero emissions by 2075; or, 2) a continuation at current rates to 2030 with a transition to zero emissions by 2050.

[6] Once deforestation and cement emissions are included the remaining budget range for energy-only is ~190 to 740GtCO2 for 2015-2100. Emissions for 2014 will be around 37GtCO2, hence the 5 to 20 year estimate. It is important to note that global emissions are currently growing at ~3% p.a., and that there is no prospect of this changing significantly before 2020, by when emissions from energy will be ~42GtCO2.

[7] Calculated from consumption-based inventories where emissions from imports and exports are also included. Territorial and consumption-based data is available for the EU28 region and individual EU nations from the Global Carbon Atlas.

[8] For a detailed account of these conclusions in for Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 nations, see: Anderson K, Bows A. Beyond dangerous climate change: emission pathways for a new world. Phil Trans R Soc A: Math Phys Eng Sci 2011, 369:20–44.

* This letter builds on a previous submission (13.12.2013) to the EU Commission President with regards to the Green Paper A 2030 framework for climate and energy policies. Brussels, 27.3.2013 COM(2013) 169 final 

A response to Victor & Kennel’s commentary “Ditch the 2°C warming goal”

Published in Nature Climate Change. 2nd Oct. 2014

In preparation for an article a broadsheet journalist was writing, I was asked to respond to a series of questions related to Victor and Kennel’s proposition. Below is a tidied up version of the notes I forwarded.

For a more detailed examination of the global climate change framework, see Going beyond two degrees? The risks and opportunities of alternative options – a paper colleagues and I co-authored in 2013 and was subsequently published in Climate Policy.

See also a response on the Real Climate site Limiting global warming to 2 °C – why Victor and Kennel are wrong 

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Is it time to ditch the target of keeping temperature rises to 2ºC?

No. It is time to take the international community’s commitment on 2°C seriously, not “ditch” it just because the necessary changes are proving difficult.

2°C is the best (or perhaps the least worst) proxy we have for a range of impacts that, through the messy process of international negotiations, has been defined as the appropriate threshold between acceptable and dangerous climate change. Though science informed the discussions, delineating between acceptable and dangerous was rightly the responsibility of policy makers and civil society. By contrast, Victor and Kennel’s paper hints at it being the role of scientists to define dangerous, a role they anyway suggest is inevitably “fruitless”. This important misunderstanding of roles undermines the cogency of some of their arguments.

From an energy perspective, the central concern in terms of mitigation is carbon dioxide emissions. Through a suite of transparent assumptions the 2°C target can be readily translated into carbon budgets and emission pathways, languages accessible to policy makers and wider civil society. That the international community has, thus far, chosen not to act is, to a degree, the responsibility of us as scientists and experts failing to be brutally honest about the policy implications of the small and rapidly dwindling 2°C carbon budget. We have run scared of our paymasters and repeatedly adjusted our responses to fit within their particular Zeitgeist. But now, facing the problem of accumulating emissions, the remaining 2°C carbon budget demands changes that beg fundamental questions of the dominant economic and growth paradigm – and woe betide anyone who suggests that physics trumps economics, or more accurately short-term finance. The current political stasis on mitigation, is not therefore an inevitable outcome of the 2°C framing of climate change, but rather stems from the systemic inertia of the current socio-economic worldview.

So whilst 2°C is far from perfect, it is probably the best proxy we have. Complemented with a range of vital signs it offers an appropriate and robust framework meaningful to scientists and, once translated into carbon budgets, understandable by policy makers, the business community and wider civil society.

It is worth emphasising that whilst on aggregate 2°C may have been defined as ‘globally’ acceptable (as distinct from desirable), such rises will undoubtedly have severe repercussions for many poorer and climatically more vulnerable communities.

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Do you agree with Victor & Kennel that 2ºC is now “effectively unachievable”?

Certainly no, but I think it very likely we will choose to fail, but this is a choice – not a fait accompli.

To start, 2°C is not a categorical position; it has to be interpreted terms of probabilities, uncertainties and risks. This is important terrain for scientists and social scientists, quantifying the language, arguments, statements and commitments of policy makers in terms of probabilities and finally carbon budgets. From here on science, engineering and academia can only outline the necessary rates of change and the options for governments, institutions and individuals – they cannot define the ‘correct’ way forward. That said, the remaining 2°C carbon budgets require that whatever the mix of technological, social, policy and economic options, they need to deliver on two fronts. First a deep and almost immediate cut in absolute energy demand (and hence emissions) by those whose energy consumption is far above the average level. Guarding for issues of rebound, this would deliver almost immediate reductions in emissions within wealthy nations and a much-reduced rate of emission growth in poorer countries (delivered through a combination of, behaviours, routines and end-use technologies). Second, implement a Marshall-style construction plan of low/zero carbon energy supply accompanied with high levels of electrification.

Such proposals will inevitably face the usual cackles that they are too costly etc. But we are not short of resources to deliver such timely change only the innovative capacity and courage to think and act differently. The UK, almost overnight, conjured up over £350b to bail out the banks and stimulate the economy – but it has earmarked just £3.8b for its Green investment bank! Finance trumps not only physics but also our and the planets future wellbeing. Again Victor and Kennel’s belief that it is the targets that are at fault is misplaced. As before, the failure to deliver relates much more to political inertia buttressed by powerful vested interests in maintaining the status quo, set against a relatively compliant academia and an indifferent public.

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What do you think of Victor and Kennel’s suggestion of having a suite of ‘vital signs’ instead; including ocean heat content, high latitude temperature and CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere?

I think there is significant merit in including a suite of vital signs alongside a temperature target (2°C by 2100). But these are complementary and not substitutes. In reality this is what is happening anyway. Much of science centres its analyses on more specific impacts and criteria – so formalising vital signs, as the paper suggests, is an approach worthy of serious consideration.

***** 

Are Victor & Kennel right that by mainly measuring our progress on surface temperature risks allowing us to miss the other stresses we are putting on the climate system, e.g. the oceans?

There is certainly a risk of this. But rather than reject the current target, I would suggest a somewhat more inclusive approach, factoring in more specific and geographically well defined criteria – alongside 2°C; this is, in many respect, already occurring.

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Would agreement at the Paris 2015 COP to work towards a new set of ‘vital signs’ as Victor & Kennel suggest, be a good idea or a distraction from the main negotiating efforts on a climate pact?

Again this is a complementary rather than a replacement issue. Whilst I see considerable merit in the vital signs approach, I suggest it is wiser that those developing such proposals do so alongside the 2°C framing. Scientists infighting on the nuanced differences play into the hands of both the sceptics and our natural tendency for procrastination. For Paris (and really well before then) the 2°C framework needs to be quantitatively, robustly and starkly laid out for policy makers to understand; this could certainly be complemented with a suite of vital signs.

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By all working towards a 2ºC goal, which many say is now unrealistic, with 3ºC to 4ºC much more realistic, do we risk being unprepared in our adaptation efforts, i.e. not building flood defences to the right height, not planting the right crops that can cope with higher temperatures, etc.

This is an important issue and underpinned my 2007 suggestion that we should “aim for 2°C but plan for 4°C”.

Describing visions of the future as realistic or unrealistic simply misses the point that the future will be radically different from today. Either we’ll make the necessary changes to our energy and agricultural systems and broadly hold to the 2°C carbon budget, or we’ll continue to make hay while the sun shines and witness the increasingly dangerous repercussions of a rapidly changing climate. These will likely play out initially amongst the poor and vulnerable and then later across every level of our own communities. In today’s terms neither delivering radical mitigation nor living with dangerous levels of climate change would commonly be described as realistic. Our ongoing and abject failure to respond to the climate challenge leaves us now facing a radically different future – whatever we do.

My other concern is that in thinking through the impacts and adaptation agenda for a 3°C to 6°C future, we tend to focus narrowly on people like us. Many of the worlds seven billion population are maladapted to the current climate let alone one with increasingly destructive and unpredictable impacts. If we consider we have the moral calibre, wherewithal and sufficient insight to implement a global 4°C adaptation plan for nine or more billion people, surely it would be wise to put similar if not more effort into reducing emissions now, so as to lessen the likelihood of facing such uncertain futures.

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In the end I remain convinced that pulling out all stops to avoid going above 2°C whilst planning infrastructure and institutions etc. for 4°C is the most appropriate policy framework. Vital signs are a potentially important and helpful complement to such an approach; but they are not an alternative.

 

BBC’s programme on Shale Gas remiss in its neglect of climate change

Response to Costing the Earth’s programme: A decade of Fracking
BBC Radio 4; 1st Oct 2014; 21.00hrs.

This is a copy of an email sent to the BBC following Wednesday’s airing of the programme

Presenter Tom Heap noted during the introduction to the programme that he would consider the issue of global warming. However, again the BBC completely missed the more important climate change concerns – focussing instead on localised methane emissions and industry claims that these could be remedied through maintaining well integrity and a schedule of rigorous monitoring.

At no point did the programme address whether shale gas would be a genuine substitute for high carbon coal, and, even if this were to be the case, whether the emissions from Shale Gas (another high-carbon energy source) could be reconciled with the UK’s climate change commitments. These are pivotal issues that academic colleagues and I have raised repeatedly[1], and which the previous Department of Energy and Climate Change’s (DECC) chief scientist emphasised in his report for the government[2]:

If a country brings any additional fossil fuel reserve into production, then in the absence of strong climate policies, we believe it is likely that this production would increase cumulative emissions in the long run. This increase would work against global efforts on climate change.”

Just last week Ban Ki-moon closed the UN climate summit in New York by reaffirming international leaders’ commitment to maintain the global average temperature rise below the 2°C characterisation of dangerous climate change. The past year has seen the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provide clear guidance to policy makers as to what the 2°C threshold represents in terms of available carbon budgets; i.e. the total quantity of carbon dioxide that can be emitted. Against this backdrop, the perfunctory coverage of climate change in the BBC’s Costing the Earth was seriously remiss and highly misleading.

Kind regards
Kevin


[1] For example, in a submission to the Energy and Climate Change Committee, see: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmenergy/writev/isg/m30.htm

[2] Professor David MacKay and Dr Tim Stone. Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions Associated with Shale Gas Extraction and Use. DECC. 9th Sept. 2013 (p.33)

Don’t muddle energy efficiency with reducing emissions!

This is a brief response to Zachary Karabell’s piece for Slate.com entitled “Naomi Klein Is Wrong: Multinational corporations are doing more than governments to halt climate change” (Sept. 30. 2014)

Zachary Karabell’s analysis muddles energy efficiency with absolute reductions in emissions. We are many times more efficient now than we were in 1970 and even more than in 1920 – yet energy consumption and emissions continue their relentless rise. The climate doesn’t give a damn about efficiency, only about emissions. So if companies, governments and individuals, at least the wealthier amongst us, are to make a positive contribution, we need to be delivering absolute reductions in our emissions. And if we are serious about avoiding the 2°C characterisation of dangerous climate change, then those absolute reductions need to be in double figures (i.e. over 10% p.a.). Anything less and we certainly should not be claiming to be moving in the right direction – rather moving in the wrong direction, just at a slower rate. So in that regard, Zachary’s subtitle that “multinational corporations” are doing something to “halt climate change” is categorically wrong. They may be doing something to reduce the rate of increase in climate change – but trying to halt it they are not!

Zachery’s highlighting of Maersk as an example of a company with “sustainability and energy-efficiency central to [its] business model” ignores how history typically demonstrates a divergence between these two goals. Certainly Maersk needs to be congratulated relative to an industry who, even assuming its proposed efficiency measures were implemented in full, is set to triple its emissions by 2050 relative to1990 (or double compared with 2010).[1] Lets be clear about this, Maersk, as the best of a bad bunch, is implementing polices that fall a long way short of anything approaching what would be necessary for a 2°C pathway; but they are in good company. All the other firms noted by Zachary could sail a Maersk ship sideways through the gap between their rhetoric and delivery on climate change.

But it is not all down to the companies. Governments are also failing to implement the umbrella of low-carbon policies within which companies could compete on a level(ish) playing field. At the same time, and not withstanding the recent marches and other good work, civil society demonstrates little appetite for anything other than an ongoing increase in its energy and material consumption – and hence in its emissions.

Zachary’s emphasis on the US reducing its emissions by 10% since 2005 demonstrates our desire to hide, even from ourselves, the real story of an inexorable rise in emissions. In the same way that the climate doesn’t care about efficiency, it doesn’t differentiate between the geographical origin of emissions – they all end up in the atmosphere changing the climate. So it is the carbon-profligacy of our lifestyles that matters, not that we have conveniently exported the emissions to another country. This places a different complexion on the issues.[2]. Between 1990 and 2007 the lifestyles of US citizens had, on average, higher emissions year on year – rising by 34% in seventeen years.[3] The reduction that followed was primarily down to the recession and not the consequence of judicious policies on efficiency and emissions by corporate America or the government. Now, with the US economy picking up, so lifestyle emissions are again showing early signs of returning to growth. There is also no meaningful solace to be gained from the US love affair with shale gas. Whilst it may be good for energy security, in terms of emissions the development of shale gas has gone hand in hand with an increase in the US production of fossil fuels – measured in terms of their carbon emissions (assuming they are combusted).[4]

So I don’t think Zachary’s arguments that “Naomi Klein Is Wrong” stack up. True to say Naomi does not have all the answers – but who does? Set against even a weak 2°C framing of dangerous climate change, she’s not far off the mark. By contrast to suggest, as Zachary does, that Klein’s rhetoric risks obscuring just how much is being done by large companies around the world to reduce their carbon emissions and environmental footprint” implies a misunderstanding of the timeliness of carbon budgets and their implications for evaluating meaningful action. 

However, in the end I think we should studiously avoid setting Zachary’s arguments against Klein’s. When it comes to delivering on our repeated international commitments on climate change we must all solemnly hang our heads in shame, take some time to reflect and then begin anew from where we are today. Meeting our repeated commitments remains an achievable goal – just. But lets not pretend it’s only an incremental step away from where we are today. As Klein rightly notes, “this changes everything.”