Can dangerous climate change be avoided? | Brussels Blog

Can dangerous climate change be avoided?

posted by on 19th Mar 2014

I have been given permission to repost Can Global Warming be Limited to Two Degrees originally published on econnexus by its author, Jim Hunt.

February 28, 2014

Can Global Warming be Limited to Two Degrees?

Last week the United Kingdom’s Committee on Climate Change “launched a call for evidence in order to identify relevant published information of the risks and opportunities to the UK from climate change”. Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, last night I attended a talk organised by Transition Exeter entitled “Climate Change Update – The Pathway to Two Degrees Warming” and subtitled “Can Global Warming be Limited to Two Degrees?” The evidence was presented on the night by Dr. Jeff Ridley from the Met Office’s Hadley Centre here in Exeter and consisted of an overview of the results of the UK Government funded AVOID research programme, followed by a question and answer session with the members of Transition Exeter. The brief executive summary of the answer to today’s headline question is :

No – There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell!

By way of explanation, according to one of the glossy brochures Jeff was handing out last night, produced by the Met Office and published by the Department for Energy and Climate Change:

Climate change is happening and climate science from the Met Office and research partners adds to the evidence that early and rapid reductions in emissions are likely required in order to avoid significant impacts.

A UK Government funded initiative, the ground-breaking AVOID research programme, has helped to put the latest scientific knowledge about dangerous climate change into the hands of policymakers.

Funded by UK Government, AVOID saw scientists at the Met Office Hadley Centre working alongside experts in three other leading climate organisations: the Walker Institute at the University of Reading, Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College and Tyndall Centre through the University of East Anglia. Many other national and international collaborators contributed to this vital work through the AVOID network.

The obvious supplementary question to ask at this juncture would seem to be “What use have UK policymakers made of the relevant published information of the risks and opportunities to the UK from climate change that they already possess”. The answer seems to be “Not a lot”! By way of some anecdotal evidence for my hasty assertion, here’s an extract from the ministerial foreword to the UK Government’s previous “Climate Change Risk Assessment Evidence Report“, published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on January 26th 2012:

Climate risks affect all aspects of society. Rising temperatures, rising sea levels, and increasing frequency of extreme events have direct effects on people’s lives, as well as disrupting commodity prices, supply chains, markets, and economies. Building resilience is a long-term investment, but we can start now, particularly for risks where decisions have long-term consequences, for example planning our infrastructure.

The UK is at the forefront of climate science. Whilst the future is highly uncertain, we can use the best scientific evidence available alongside well established risk-based decision approaches to assess risks and decide how to respond.

and here’s an extract from paragraph 3.4 concerning “Buildings and Infrastructure”:

Climate change may have significant implications for the built environment, including buildings and energy, transport, water and ICT infrastructure. Infrastructure assets and buildings are in operation or use for many years, which means that decisions made now about their design and construction will have long-term consequences.

The UK Government and the Devolved Governments have a range of responsibilities for the built environment, including policy for the planning system, building regulations and building control, water and transport infrastructure and flood and coastal erosion risk management. Furthermore, new low carbon infrastructure and the ‘Green Deal’ for homes and businesses will have a crucial role in aiding the transition to a low carbon economy. It will be important to consider climate resilience as part of this process.

According to the Met Office’s AVOID programme overview:

The 2 °C warming limit is achievable with a 50% chance with a peak in emissions in the next few years followed by rapid long-term reductions in emissions.
The later emissions peak, the more likely that techniques to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere will need to be developed and employed to limit warming to 2 °C.

Armed also with recent evidence about the UK Government’s progress in addressing their responsibilities for the built environment and a new low carbon infrastructure you may wish to experiment with the “Predicted Global Temperature Rise” widget on the AVOID programme’s home page. You may wish to ask your local Member of Parliament to do so as well. Here’s one scenario I managed to come up with:

Click for larger image
Click image for larger version.

To summarise briefly, business and politics as usual are predicted to produce a global temperature rise of 4 degrees Celsius by 2100. If global emissions of carbon dioxide and equivalent greenhouse gases were to peak in 2016 and then reduce at 3 per cent per annum thereafter the global temperature rise by 2100 could be reduced to 2 degrees Celsius. As I said in my own executive summary above, the available evidence strongly suggests there’s not a snowball in hell’s chance of that happening.

P.S. A more in depth discussion of these issues has now ensued over on the Arctic Sea Ice Forum:
AVOIDing dangerous climate change. Can Global Warming be Limited to Two Degrees?

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