Carbon Capture & Sequestration

We’re not building clean energy fast enough to avoid catastrophic #ClimateChange #StopAdani #auspol

At this rate, it’s going to take nearly 400 years to transform the energy system

Here are the real reasons we’re not building clean energy anywhere near fast enough.

James Temple

Fifteen years ago, Ken Caldeira, a senior scientist at the Carnegie Institution, calculated that the world would need to add about a nuclear power plant’s worth of clean-energy capacity every day between 2000 and 2050 to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Recently, he did a quick calculation to see how we’re doing.

Not well.

Instead of the roughly 1,100 megawatts of carbon-free energy per day likely needed to prevent temperatures from rising more than 2 ˚C, as the 2003 Science paper by Caldeira and his colleagues found, we are adding around 151 megawatts.

That’s only enough to power roughly 125,000 homes.

At that rate, substantially transforming the energy system would take, not the next three decades, but nearly the next four centuries.

In the meantime, temperatures would soar, melting ice caps, sinking cities, and unleashing devastating heat waves around the globe (see “The year climate change began to spin out of control”).

Caldeira stresses that other factors are likely to significantly shorten that time frame (in particular, electrifying heat production, which accounts for a more than half of global energy consumption, will significantly alter demand). But he says it’s clear we’re overhauling the energy system about an order of magnitude too slowly, underscoring a point that few truly appreciate: It’s not that we aren’t building clean energy fast enough to address the challenge of climate change.

It’s that—even after decades of warnings, policy debates, and clean-energy campaigns—the world has barely even begun to confront the problem.

The UN’s climate change body asserts that the world needs to cut as much as 70 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions by midcentury to have any chance of avoiding 2 ˚C of warming. But carbon pollution has continued to rise, ticking up 2 percent last year.

So what’s the holdup?

Beyond the vexing combination of economic, political, and technical challenges is the basic problem of overwhelming scale. There is a massive amount that needs to be built, which will suck up an immense quantity of manpower, money, and materials.

For starters, global energy consumption is likely to soar by around 30 percent in the next few decades as developing economies expand. (China alone needs to add the equivalent of the entire US power sector by 2040, according to the International Energy Agency.) To cut emissions fast enough and keep up with growth, the world will need to develop 10 to 30 terawatts of clean-energy capacity by 2050.

On the high end that would mean constructing the equivalent of around 30,000 nuclear power plants—or producing and installing 120 billion 250-watt solar panels.

Energy overhaul

There’s simply little financial incentive for the energy industry to build at that scale and speed while it has tens of trillions of dollars of sunk costs in the existing system.

“If you pay a billion dollars for a gigawatt of coal, you’re not going to be happy if you have to retire it in 10 years,” says Steven Davis, an associate professor in the Department of Earth System Science at the University of California, Irvine.

It’s somewhere between difficult and impossible to see how any of that will change until there are strong enough government policies or big enough technology breakthroughs to override the economics.

A quantum leap

In late February, I sat in Daniel Schrag’s office at the Harvard University Center for the Environment. His big yellow Chinook, Mickey, lay down next to my feet.

Schrag was one of President Barack Obama’s top climate advisors. As a geologist who has closely studied climate variability and warming periods in the ancient past, he has a special appreciation for how dramatically things can change.

Sitting next to me with his laptop, he opened a report he had recently coauthored assessing the risks of climate change.

It highlights the many technical strides that will be required to overhaul the energy system, including better carbon capture, biofuels, and storage.

The study also notes that the United States adds roughly 10 gigawatts of new energy generation capacity per year.

That includes all types, natural gas as well as solar and wind. But even at that rate, it would take more than 100 years to rebuild the existing electricity grid, to say nothing of the far larger one required in the decades to come.

“Is it possible to accelerate by a factor of 20?” he asks. “Yeah, but I don’t think people understand what that is, in terms of steel and glass and cement.”

Climate observers and commentators have used various historical parallels to illustrate the scale of the task, including the Manhattan Project and the moon mission. But for Schrag, the analogy that really speaks to the dimensions and urgency of the problem is World War II, when the United States nationalized parts of the steel, coal, and railroad industries.

The government forced automakers to halt car production in order to churn out airplanes, tanks, and jeeps.

The good news here is that if you direct an entire economy at a task, big things can happen fast. But how do you inspire a war mentality in peacetime, when the enemy is invisible and moving in slow motion?

“It’s a quantum leap from where we are today,” Schrag says.

The time delay

The fact that the really devastating consequences of climate change won’t come for decades complicates the issue in important ways. Even for people who care about the problem in the abstract, it doesn’t rate high among their immediate concerns.

As a consequence, they aren’t inclined to pay much, or change their lifestyle, to actually address it. In recent years, Americans were willing to increase their electricity bill by a median amount of only $5 a month even if that “solved,” not eased, global warming, down from $10 15 years earlier, according to a series of surveys by MIT and Harvard.

It’s conceivable that climate change will someday alter that mind-set as the mounting toll of wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, extinctions, and sea-level rise finally forces the world to grapple with the problem.

But that will be too late.

Carbon dioxide works on a time delay.

It takes about 10 years to achieve its full warming effect, and it stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years.

After we’ve tipped into the danger zone, eliminating carbon dioxide emissions doesn’t decrease the effects; it can only prevent them from getting worse.

Whatever level of climate change we allow to unfold is locked in for millennia, unless we develop technologies to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere on a massive scale (or try our luck with geoengineering).

This also means there’s likely to be a huge trade-off between what we would have to pay to fix the energy system and what it would cost to deal with the resulting disasters if we don’t. Various estimates find that cutting emissions will shrink the global economy by a few percentage points a year, but unmitigated warming could slash worldwide GDP more than 20 percent by the end of the century, if not far more.

In the money

Arguably the most crucial step to accelerate energy development is enacting strong government policies.

Many economists believe the most powerful tool would be a price on carbon, imposed through either a direct tax or a cap-and-trade program. As the price of producing energy from fossil fuels grows, this would create bigger incentives to replace those plants with clean energy (see “Surge of carbon pricing proposals coming in the new year”).

“If we’re going to make any progress on greenhouse gases, we’ll have to either pay the implicit or explicit costs of carbon,” says Severin Borenstein, an energy economist at the University of California, Berkeley.

But it has to be a big price, far higher than the $15 per ton it cost to acquire allowances in California’s cap-and-trade program late last year. Borenstein says a carbon fee approaching $40 a ton “just blows coal out of the market entirely and starts to put wind and solar very much into the money,” at least when you average costs across the lifetime of the plants.

Others think the price should be higher still. But it’s very hard to see how any tax even approaching that figure could pass in the United States, or many other nations, anytime soon.

The other major policy option would be caps that force utilities and companies to keep greenhouse emissions below a certain level, ideally one that decreases over time. This regulations-based approach is not considered as economically efficient as a carbon price, but it has the benefit of being much more politically palatable. American voters hate taxes but are perfectly comfortable with air pollution rules, says Stephen Ansolabehere, a professor of government at Harvard University.

Fundamental technical limitations will also increase the cost and complexity of shifting to clean energy. Our fastest-growing carbon-free sources, solar and wind farms, don’t supply power when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. So as they provide a larger portion of the grid’s electricity, we’ll also need long-range transmission lines that can balance out peaks and valleys across states, or massive amounts of very expensive energy storage, or both (see “Relying on renewables alone significantly inflates the cost of overhauling energy”).

The upshot is that we’re eventually going to need to either supplement wind and solar with many more nuclear reactors, fossil-fuel plants with carbon capture and other low-emissions sources, or pay far more to build out a much larger system of transmission, storage and renewable generation, says Jesse Jenkins, a researcher with the MIT Energy Initiative. In all cases, we’re still likely to need significant technical advances that drive down costs.

All of this, by the way, only addresses the challenge of overhauling the electricity sector, which currently represents less than 20 percent of total energy consumption. It will provide a far greater portion as we electrify things like vehicles and heating, which means we’ll eventually need to develop an electrical system several times larger than today’s.

But that still leaves the “really difficult parts of the global energy system” to deal with, says Davis of UC Irvine. That includes aviation, long-distance hauling, and the cement and steel industries, which produce carbon dioxide in the manufacturing process itself. To clean up these huge sectors of the economy, we’re going to need better carbon capture and storage tools, as well as cheaper biofuels or energy storage, he says.

These kinds of big technical achievements tend to require significant and sustained government support. But much like carbon taxes or emissions caps, a huge increase in federal research and development funding is highly unlikely in the current political climate.

Give up?

So should we just give up?

There is no magic bullet or obvious path here. All we can do is pull hard on the levers that seem to work best.

Environmental and clean-energy interest groups need to make climate change a higher priority, tying it to practical issues that citizens and politicians do care about, like clean air, security, and jobs. Investors or philanthropists need to be willing to make longer-term bets on early-stage energy technologies. Scientists and technologists need to focus their efforts on the most badly needed tools. And lawmakers need to push through policy changes to provide incentives, or mandates, for energy companies to change.

The hard reality, however, is that the world very likely won’t be able to accomplish what’s called for by midcentury. Schrag says that keeping temperature increases below 2 ˚C is already “a pipe dream,” adding that we’ll be lucky to prevent 4 ˚C of warming this century.

That means we’re likely to pay a very steep toll in lost lives, suffering, and environmental devastation (see “Hot and violent”).

But the imperative doesn’t end if warming tips past 2 ˚C. It only makes it more urgent to do everything we can to contain the looming threats, limit the damage, and shift to a sustainable system as fast as possible.

“If you miss 2050,” Schrag says, “you still have 2060, 2070, and 2080.”

Press link for more: Technology Review


Fierce debate over monster coal mine #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol

It would be one of the biggest mines on the planet, occupying an area nearly three times larger than Paris, where world leaders hammered out a landmark agreement to combat climate change in late 2015.

If the A$16.5bn (£10bn; $12.5bn) project goes ahead in Queensland’s Galilee Basin – and latest indications are that it will – the coal produced there will emit more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year than entire countries such as Kuwait and Chile, claim its opponents.

Delayed for six years by a stream of legal challenges and environmental impact assessments, the so-called Carmichael mine – to be developed and operated by the Indian mining giant Adani – has polarised Australians.

Supporters, who include local communities, the federal and Queensland governments, and, naturally, the resources industry, insist that it will bring jobs and prosperity to a depressed region of Queensland.

Critics, on the other hand, among them environmentalists and climate scientists, warn that the 60m tonnes of coal to be dug up annually from Carmichael’s 45km (28-mile) pits will exacerbate global warming and threaten the already ailing Great Barrier Reef .

They also say Australia is out of step with international moves to decrease reliance on fossil fuels, in line with the Paris agreement to limit average temperature rises to “well below” two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

India itself recently forecast that 57% of its electricity would come from renewable sources by 2027. Britain plans to close all its coal-fired plants by 2025 , while Canada aims to do so by 2030 .

In Australia, by contrast, the conservative government is talking up “clean coal” – a commodity most experts consider a pipe dream – and attacking renewable energy as unreliable and expensive. It has also ruled out any kind of emissions trading scheme.

Does coal have a place?

Already the world’s biggest exporter of thermal coal (the type used to generate electricity), Australia is now eyeing new markets in Asia.

In collaboration with Japan, which manufactures power stations, it is “actively encouraging developing countries such as Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to build new coal-fired generators so we can sell coal to them”, Richard Denniss, chief economist at the Australia Institute, a progressive think-tank, told the BBC.

With its long gestation and massive scale – six open-cut and up to three underground mines sprawling across 250sq km of arid landscape, with the entire operation engulfing almost twice that area – Carmichael has become a flashpoint for pro- and anti-coal forces.

Adani has already spent A$1.3bn on the Carmichael mine project

The former contend that its coal will provide millions of Indians with cheap, reliable electricity, lifting them out of “energy poverty”. Royalties from the mine will also give a much-needed boost to the Queensland government’s finances.

The latter see it as a symbol of Australia’s reluctance to commit to the radical action which scientists say is required to prevent dangerous levels of warming.

Frank Jotzo, director of the Australian National University’s Centre for Climate Economics and Policy, warns: “The opening up of new mining areas like the Galilee Basin is fundamentally incompatible with the global goal of well below two degrees.”

Like others, Prof Jotzo is unconvinced by arguments to the contrary. For instance, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – who has called coal “a very important part… of the global energy mix and likely to remain that way for a very long time” – has said that developing Carmichael would not push up global supply.

Mr Turnbull has also said that, far from reducing global emissions, calling a halt to Australian coal exports could actually increase them, since the likes of India would import dirtier coal from elsewhere.

‘Clean’ coal argument

According to the Australia Institute, the quality of coal in the Galilee Basin – an area bigger than the United Kingdom – is among Australia’s poorest. (“Dirty” coal has a lower energy content, meaning more of it has to be burnt.)

The federal Environment and Energy Minister, Josh Frydenberg, claims there is a “moral case” for Australia to supply coal to developing nations.

Protesters opposed to the mine rally in December

Others point to the serious health costs of pollution caused by burning coal, and to forecasts that climate change will hit the world’s poorest hardest. Critics also say solar energy could power remote Indian villages more easily and cheaply.

Until relatively recently, some were predicting that Adani would walk away from the Galilee, frustrated by funding difficulties, the lengthy environmental assessments and the court actions, one of which concerned the mine’s impact on the yakka skink, an endangered reptile.

One by one, though, the company has cleared the regulatory hurdles, albeit with 190 state and 36 federal conditions now attached to the project.

Last December came the high-profile announcement that the last major element had been approved: a rail line to transport coal from the mine, 400km inland, to the export terminal, near the Great Barrier Reef.

An Adani spokesman notes that the company has already spent A$1.3bn on the project, including more than A$100m on legal fees – “without putting one shovel in the ground”. Those figures, he says, “show the company’s commitment”.

Lately, opposition has focused on news that the federal government is considering giving Adani a cheap A$1bn loan to build the rail link – infrastructure which some fear could become a “stranded [obsolete] asset”.

Getty Images

Adani founder Gautam Adani (left) with Australia’s then Trade Minister Andrew Robb and Rio Tinto’s ex-CEO Sam Walsh in 2015

Prof Jotzo told the BBC: “It’s questionable whether this mine will still be a viable proposition in two decades’ time, whereas infrastructure such as a rail line or port expansion [also planned by Adani] would have a lifetime of 50 to 100 years.”

With construction of the mine expected to begin by late 2017 – assuming final legal appeals, including one by a local indigenous landowners’ group, are rejected – activists are gearing up for a campaign of mass protests.

One of the biggest issues galvanising opponents is the potential impact on the Great Barrier Reef, both indirectly through intensifying climate change, and directly through dredging of the seafloor to expand port facilities and increasing shipping across the reef.

As for jobs, Adani’s own economist has admitted in court that, rather than creating 10,000 positions, as the company has promised, the mine will employ fewer than 1,500 people.

Press link for more: BBC.COM

Revolution needed! #ClimateChange #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani

Revolution needed in climate change fight

The world will need sweeping changes over the next 20 years ranging from energy use to food production to achieve climate goals set by almost 200 nations, the new heads of a top environmental think-tank say.

Both said “revolutions” were needed to tackle climate change, such as capturing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants that burn fossil fuels or by reforming agriculture, where meat production and fertilisers are big sources of greenhouse gases.

Developed nations should set an example, such as Germany where Chancellor Angela Merkel is under pressure to end the use of coal in power generation.

“When Germany is not in a position to phase out coal can we expect that Poland or Indonesia or Vietnam or Turkey … can phase out coal?”

Ottmar Edenhofer, new co-director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, told Reuters.

Edenhofer, formerly the institute’s chief economist, and new co-director Johan Rockstrom, a Swedish scientist, said governments were far from achieving the core goal in the 2015 Paris Agreement of limiting a rise in global average temperatures to “well below” two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times.

“We have just literally 20 years to either succeed or fail” in the goals of getting the planet on a more sustainable path, Rockstrom said in a joint telephone interview.

The University of Pennsylvania rated the Potsdam Institute as the world’s top environment policy think-tank this month.

The institute plans to exploit more data to try to grasp under-appreciated long-term harm from natural disasters linked to climate change such as floods, droughts or storms.

Poor families in developing nations often focus, for instance, on rebuilding their homes after a natural disaster but sometimes stopped sending their children to school even after reconstruction, Edenhofer said.

Rockstrom and Edenhofer were named by the institute on Friday to succeed Hans Joachim Schellnhuber in October.

Press link for more: SBS.COM.AU

Seven Climate Change Myths #Auspol #qldpol #StopAdani

Seven climate change myths put about by big oil companies | CityMetric

Since the start of this year, major players within the fossil fuel industry – “big oil” – have made some big announcements regarding climate change.

BP revealed plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by acquiring additional renewable energy companies.

Royal Dutch Shell defended its $1-$2bn green energy annual budget.

Even ExxonMobil, until recently relatively dismissive of the basic science behind climate change, included a section dedicated to reducing emissions in its yearly outlook for energy report.

But this idea of a “green” oil company producing “clean” fossil fuels is one that I would call a dangerous myth.

Such myths obscure the irreconcilability between burning fossil fuels and environmental protection – yet they continue to be perpetuated to the detriment of our planet.

Myth 1: Climate change can be solved with the same thinking that created it

Measures put in place now to address climate change must be sustainable in the long run.

A hasty, sticking plaster approach based on quick fixes and repurposed ideas will not suffice.

Yet this is precisely what some fossil fuel companies intend to do.

To address climate change, major oil and gas companies are mostly doing what they have historically excelled at – more technology, more efficiency, and producing more fossil fuels.

But like the irresponsible gambler that cannot stop doubling down during a losing streak, the industry’s bet on more, more, more only means more ecological destruction.

Irrespective of how efficient fossil fuel production becomes, that the industry’s core product can be 100 per cent environmentally sustainable is an illusion.

A potential glimmer of hope is carbon capture and storage (CCS), a process that sucks carbon out of the air and sends it back underground. But despite being praised by big oil as a silver bullet solution for climate change, CCS is yet another sticking plaster approach.

Even CCS advocates suggest that it cannot currently be employed on a global, mass scale.

Myth 2: Climate change won’t spell the end of the fossil fuel industry

According to a recent report, climate change is one factor among several that has resulted in the end of big oil’s golden years – a time when oil was plenty, money quick, and the men at the top celebrated as cowboy capitalists.

Now, to ensure we do not surpass the dangerous 2°C threshold, we must realise that there is simply no place for “producers” of fossil fuels.

After all, as scientists, financial experts, and activists have warned, if we want to avoid dangerous climate change, the proven reserves of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies cannot be consumed.

Myth 3: Renewables investment means oil companies are seriously tackling climate change

Compared to overall capital expenditures, oil companies renewables’ investment is a miniscule drop in the barrel.

Even then, as companies such as BP have demonstrated before, they will divest from renewables as soon as market conditions change.

Big oil companies’ green investments only produce tiny reductions in their overall greenhouse gas emissions.

BP calls these effects “real sustainable reductions” – but they accounted for only 0.3 per cent of their total emissions reductions in 2016, 0.1 per cent in 2015, 0.1 per cent in 2014, and so on.

Myth 4: Hard climate regulation is not an option

One of the oil industry’s biggest fears regarding climate change is regulation.

It is of such importance that BP recently hinted at big oil’s exodus from the EU if climate regulation took effect.

Let’s be clear, we are talking about “command-and-control” regulation here, such as pollution limits, and not business-friendly tools such as carbon pricing or market-based quota systems.

There are many commercial reasons why the fossil fuel industry would prefer the latter over the former.

Notably, regulation may result in a direct impact on the bottom line of fossil fuel companies given incurred costs. But climate regulation is – in combination with market-based mechanisms – required to address climate change.

This is a widely accepted proposition advocated by mainstream economists, NGOs and most governments.

Myth 5: Without cheap fossil fuels, the developing world will stop

Total’s ex-CEO, the late Christoph de Margerie, once remarked: “Without access to energy, there is no development.” Although this is probably true, that this energy must come from fossil fuels is not. Consider, for example, how for 300 days last year Costa Rica relied entirely on renewable energy for its electricity needs.

Even China, the world’s biggest polluter, is simultaneously the biggest investor in domestic renewables projects.

As the World Bank has highlighted, in contrast to big oil’s claims about producing more fossil fuels to end poverty, the sad truth is that by burning even the current fossil fuel stockpile, climate change will place millions of people back into poverty.

The UN concurs, signalling that climate change will result in reduced crop yields, more waterborne diseases, higher food prices and greater civil unrest in developing parts of the world.

Myth 6: Big oil must be involved in climate policy-making

Fossil fuel companies insist that their involvement in climate policy-making is necessary, so much so that they have become part of the wallpaper at international environmental conferences.

This neglects that fossil fuels are, in fact, a pretty large part of the problem. Big oil attends international environmental conferences for two reasons: lobbying and self-promotion.

Some UN organisations already recognise the risk of corporations hijacking the policy-making process. The World Health Organisation, for instance, forbids the tobacco industry from attending its conferences.

The UN’s climate change arm, the UNFCCC, should take note.

Myth 7: Nature can and must be “tamed” to address climate change

If you mess with mother nature, she bites back. As scientists reiterate, natural systems are complex, unpredictable, and even hostile when disrupted.

Climate change is a prime example. Small changes in the chemical makeup of the atmosphere may have drastic implications for Earth’s inhabitants.

Fossil fuel companies reject that natural systems are fragile – as evidenced by their expansive operations in ecologically vulnerable areas such as the Arctic. The “wild” aspect of nature is considered something to be controlled and dominated. This myth merely serves as a way to boost egos. As independent scientist James Lovelock wrote, “The idea that humans are yet intelligent enough to serve as stewards of the Earth is among the most hubristic ever.”

George Ferns, Lecturer in Management, Employment and Organisation, Cardiff University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

U.N. Draft report on staying below 1.5C global warming.

11 takeaways from the draft UN report on a 1.5C global warming limit

Megan Darby

Climate Home News

Under the Paris Agreement, governments worldwide agreed to hold global warming “well below 2°C” and to aim for 1.5°C.

The inclusion of that second, tougher, goal was a victory for small island states and other countries on the front line of climate change. It was an acknowledgement of fears that higher temperature rise posed an unacceptable threat to their futures.

But the vast bulk of research and analysis prior to 2015 centred on the 2°C threshold, a more established international target. What would it take to bend the curve to 1.5°C?

Enter the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The climate science body agreed to produce a special report on 1.5C, summarising all the available evidence.

Climate Home News has obtained an early version of the five-chapter report, which is due to be finalised in September.

The IPCC stressed it was a work in progress and may change substantially. It is open for review by experts and governments, and may incorporate further studies published by 15 May. Read the draft summary for policymakers in full here.

What is clear from the content so far, though, is there is not much time left. Here are the main takeaways.

1. We’re close to the line

The world has already warmed 1C since pre-industrial times. At the current rate, we will pass 1.5C in the 2040s.

Definitions are important here. This is based on a 30-year average global temperature, centred on the year in question, compared to 1850-1900.

Parts of the world, for shorter periods of time, are almost certain to exceed 1.5C warming sooner than that. The UK Met Office sees a one in 10 chance the global average will flicker over 1.5C within five years.

2. 1.5C is risky

The fingerprints of climate change are already visible on extreme weather events, sea level rise and related impacts on ecosystems and human society. Each notch of warming brings more disruption.

At 1.5C, tropical reefs are at “high risk” of no longer being dominated by corals. The Arctic could become nearly ice-free in September. There will be “fundamental changes in ocean chemistry” that could take millennia to reverse.

3. 2C is riskier

The next half-degree ramps up the risk of flood, drought, water scarcity and intense tropical storms. There are knock-on effects: reduced crop yields, species extinction and transmission of infectious diseases like malaria. And these pressures multiply the threat of hunger, migration and conflict.

An extra 10cm of sea level rise is predicted this century with 2C compared to 1.5C. It also raises the risk of Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets collapsing over the long term, dooming future generations to multi-metre sea level rise.

4. Poor and coastal communities will be hit hardest

Vulnerable communities are already experiencing threats from climate change. At both 1.5C and 2C these effects scale up. When crops fail, smallhold farmers may lose their livelihoods and be compelled to leave their homes, while the urban poor suffer from food price spikes.

Fishing communities may see their catches dwindle. Coastal settlements are particularly exposed to storm surges and flooding.

5. “Rapid and deep” emissions cuts are needed…

Meeting the 1.5C goal is a huge ask. It implies cutting greenhouse gases faster than ever before across all sectors of the economy.

With the exception of recent upheaval in electricity supplies, the rate of change required “has no documented historic precedents”.

These shifts “require more planning, coordination and disruptive innovation across actors and scales of governance than the spontaneous or coincidental changes observed in the past”. They won’t happen by chance.

6. …and negative emissions…

At the same time, carbon dioxide needs to be sucked out of the atmosphere. It gets little attention from politicians or policymakers, yet every single pathway to 1.5C relies on this to some extent.

Depending on the scenario, 380-1130 gigatonnes of CO2 should be removed. Firstly, this is to cancel out the leftover emissions after everything that can be cut has been cut. Secondly, it makes up for overshooting the emissions limits that would keep temperatures below 1.5C.

The more emissions cuts are delayed, the more rests on negative emissions technology, which could be problematic.

7. …and luck

All of these models are probabilistic: assumptions about population, the economy, climate dynamics, policies and technologies go in and the likely impact on temperatures comes out. Some uncertainties are beyond human control.

Scenarios that give a 66% chance of holding temperature rise below 1.5C throughout this century are “already out of reach”, according to the draft summary.

That leaves a narrow path to walk to stay within the 1.5C threshold, or the prospect of overshooting and using negative emissions to restore the balance by 2100.

8. It’s all about the overshoot

As global warming outpaces efforts to curb it, models increasingly rely on “overshoot” to keep international targets within reach. That goes for 2C as well as 1.5C.

The bigger the overshoot – and scenarios in this report reach up to 1.9C before returning to 1.5C by 2100 – the more drastic action is needed to correct it.

And while temperature rise may be reversible, some impacts are not. An ice sheet cannot un-collapse or an extinct species be brought back to life.

9. Radical action has trade-offs

Scaling up negative emissions in line with the 1.5C goal may clash with efforts to end hunger.

The main two measures relied on to remove CO2 from the air are increasing forest cover and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (Beccs).

The latter, which involves burning wood or other plant matter to generate electricity and pumping the emissions underground, is particularly controversial. Both require large amounts of land, potentially conflicting with food production.

“There is a high chance that the levels of CO2 removal implied in the scenarios might not be feasible due the required scale and speed of deployment required and trade-offs with sustainable development objectives,” the draft states.

The report does not make a judgement on which poses a greater threat to global food supply: bioenergy demand or 2C warming.

10. Beware techno-fixes

The draft takes a sceptical line on solar geoengineering, a prospective technology to cool the planet by reflecting heat into space.

Ethical implications, governance issues and public resistance could make it “economically, socially and institutionally infeasible”.

11. Prepare for social change

As much as any technology, 1.5C depends on people changing their behaviour.

That means the rich eating less meat, using energy sparingly and forgoing private cars. And it means tackling institutional barriers to action like public attitudes, lack of resources or special interests.

Source: Climate Home News.

U.N. ‘very high risk’ planet will warm beyond 1.5C #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani #ClimateChange

Leaked U.N. climate report sees ‘very high risk’ the planet will warm beyond key limit

Chris Mooney

A draft United Nations climate science report contains dire news about the warming of the planet, suggesting it will likely cross the key marker of 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, of temperature rise in the 2040s, and that this will be exceedingly difficult to avoid.

Temperatures could subsequently cool down if carbon dioxide is somehow removed from the air later in the century, the document notes.

But that prospect is questionable at the massive scales that would be required, it observes.

The 31-page draft, a summary of a much-anticipated report on the 1.5 degrees Celsius target expected to be finalized in October, was published by the website ClimateHome on Tuesday, which said the document had been “publicly available on the US federal register over the past month.”

Last month, several news outlets including Reuters quoted from the draft but did not publish it in full.

The 1.5 C target is crucial to small island nations worried about rising seas, and other nations particularly vulnerable to warming, and was explicitly included in the Paris climate agreement as the more ambitious of two climate goals, the other being 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

The draft document states that there is a “very high risk” of the planet warming more than 1.5 degrees above the temperature seen in the mid- to late 19th century.

Maintaining the planet’s temperature entirely below that level throughout the present century, without even briefly exceeding it, is likely to be “already out of reach,” it finds.

Jonathan Lynn, spokesman for the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is producing the study, cautioned that the draft is a work in progress.

The text is highly likely to change between this draft and the final approved summary for policymakers,” he said.

Duke University climate expert Drew Shindell, who is listed as one of the drafting authors of the document, also noted that the draft summary was a very early version of the full report.

“It’s much rougher and much more preliminary than even the underlying document,” he said.

Although worrying, the conclusion will not be surprising to those who have followed a growing body of research on just what it would take to stop warming short of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The planet has already warmed by 1 degree Celsius or more.

In some places, the report notes, the temperature increase has already exceeded 1.5 degrees Celsius.

In general, warming is more intense over land than over the oceans and is already particularly intense in the Arctic.

The document finds that a warming of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) would pose substantially larger risks in many respects than 1.5 degrees C — but it also finds that some severe risks will be present at 1.5 degrees, too.

A serious risk is already emerging to highly sensitive marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, the document states, and 1.5 C may already be too much for them. Reefs “are at risk that at 1.5 C and at 2C they will no longer be dominated by corals,” the draft report notes.

The chance that Greenland or the West Antarctic ice sheet will tip toward irreversible retreat is present at both 1.5C and 2C, the study finds — but at 2C, the likelihood of commitment to major sea level rise grows larger.

What’s most striking is the radical nature and rapidity of the changes that would be required to somehow preserve a world below 1.5 degrees.

The document finds that the world has only 12 to 16 years worth of greenhouse gas emissions left, from the start of 2016, if it wants a better than even chance of holding warming below 1.5 degrees.

Two of those years have already elapsed, as of this writing.

A third will have nearly elapsed by the time the draft report is finalized and released in October. (In December in Poland, it will feed into a broader United Nations deliberation about the adequacy of countries current promises to cut emissions.)

And once this “carbon budget” for 1.5 degrees Celsius is used up, emissions would have to plunge to zero to preserve the 1.5 degree goal — something that would almost certainly never happen, as it would sharply impair the world economy.

Since such rapid and severe cuts aren’t likely, the report notes that it’s virtually unavoidable that the planet will “overshoot” 1.5 degrees Celsius.

To cool the Earth down afterward and avoid staying at dangerously high temperatures for long, it would then be necessary to remove carbon dioxide from the air at a massive scale — but that, too, is highly problematic.

Carbon removal scenarios generally involve reforesting large amounts of land, or growing trees or other plants on that land and using it for energy, and storing the resulting carbon dioxide emissions underground.

But “increased biomass production and use has the potential to increase pressure on land and water resources, food production, biodiversity, and to affect air quality,” the draft notes. “Therefore, the scale and speed of implementation assumed in some 1.5C pathways may be challenging.”

“Avoiding a 1.5C warming would be very, very difficult without a significant overshoot,” said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer, noting that he was commenting solely on the state of the science itself, rather than the leaked document. “Such a warming would cause increased bleaching and perhaps destruction of living coral reefs at some locations although at other places, reefs would probably survive a warming closer to 2C.”

“Some of the high level messages I think come as no surprise, in that we are not on track anywhere near towards 1.5 C, and getting there would require enormous changes,” added Shindell, noting that he was not speaking as an author of the draft report or on behalf of the IPCC, but simply as a scientist with expertise in the matter. “That basic conclusion, I think it’s OK to say that it’s not a surprise to anybody.

Any climate scientist would have told you that even without the report.”

The document’s leak has become a standard affair for major United Nations climate science reports, because they are seen by so many reviewers.

In 2013, a leaked draft of part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fifth assessment report helped lend credence to the questionable idea that global warming had slowed down or “paused,” based on a brief passage suggesting that the rate of warming had declined somewhat between 1998 and 2012. The final draft addressed the issue with more nuance, largely undermining the notion of any significant slowdown.

The authors have until May 15 to include any new published material in the report. Still, it’s unlikely to change the fundamental conclusion that there is too little time to avert 1.5 C degrees of warming — barring some massive technological intervention.

“There is … no documented precedent for the geographical and economic scale of the energy, land, urban and industrial transitions implicit in pathways consistent with a 1.5C warmer world,” the draft report notes.

Press link for more: Chicago Tribune

If we build every coal plant that’s planned, we’re doomed. #auspol #qldpol #ClimateChange #StopAdani

If the world builds every coal plant that’s planned, climate change goals are doomed, scientists say

The coal power plant in Jaenschwalde, Germany, on Saturday. (Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters)

The much-heralded demise of the coal industry may be overstated, a new scientific analysis asserts — finding that if all planned plants were constructed, the world would have little chance of meeting its climate change goals.

The new study, by Ottmar Edenhofer of the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change in Berlin, and three colleagues, finds that nations including Turkey, Vietnam and Indonesia could increase their emissions from coal dramatically between now and 2030, based on current plans.

In combination with already existing infrastructure, these planned or in-construction plants, if run for a standard plant lifetime, could burn up much of the remaining carbon budget for holding Earth’s temperature increase below two degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the research concludes.

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“The main message is that when we continue with the existing coal fired power plants, and build the new ones, we are closing the door to the 2 degree target,” Edenhofer said.

The research was published in Environmental Research Letters, with co-authors from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the Technical University of Berlin.

The study is based on a concept of “lock-in” or “committed” emissions: Once a coal plant is completed and put into service, the thinking goes, it’s likely to operate for long time to justify the cost of the investment.

And based on an analysis of global coal plans, the research finds that five countries — India, China, Turkey, Vietnam and Indonesia — are home to “nearly three quarters (73 percent) of the global coal-fired capacity that is currently under construction or planned.” Vietnam, if plans are carried forward, could see 948 percent growth in coal emissions, the research asserts, by 2030.

But even as this is happening, the study notes that we have only about 700 billion tons of carbon dioxide that can still be emitted, after the year 2016, to preserve good odds of holding the temperature increase below two degrees Celsius.

Existing coal plants and other infrastructure are capable of consuming 500 billion tons on their own, assuming we use them until they are worn out.

New coal plants that are underway or planned, meanwhile, could consume another 150 billion tons, the research finds, during their lifetimes.

That pretty much accounts for the two degrees Celsius budget right there.

Here’s a figure from the study showing these calculations:

And if we want to hold warming to just 1.5 degrees Celsius … well. The numbers suggest there’s not much chance of that happening, even with the existing infrastructure alone.

“There is a real risk that the inertia of fossil fuel infrastructure will drag us past where we want to be,” said Steven Davis, an energy researcher at the University of California at Irvine, in a comment on the study.

“However, the retirement of power plants is ultimately an economic decision, and one that gets easier as non-fossil energy sources get cheaper,” Davis added. “And of all coal plants proposed in recent years, only about half have historically been built, and that fraction has been trending down in key places like China and India.”

That highlights the key challenge with the study — it’s one thing to say that coal plants are planned, and quite another to say that they will be completed and used throughout their full potential lifetimes.

The research is based on a database by CoalSwarm, a project of the Earth Island Institute, which carefully tracks coal plants in varying stages of completion across the globe, in collaboration with Greenpeace and the Sierra Club.

The group makes is clear that it opposes the new coal plants that it is tracking.

Christine Shearer, a researcher with CoalSwarm, said it’s important to bear in mind that not all coal plants are actually completed. “Since we started doing this work, since 2010, only about a third of proposed coal plants ever begin construction or are commissioned,” she said.

“Stranding or divesting from coal power plants is an outcome that is in reach also,” added Peter Erickson, an expert with the Stockholm Environment Institute, who reviewed the study but was not involved with it. “Coal financing and political and social norms around coal are also rapidly changing.”

Edenhofer, the study author, countered that the current building plans are important information.

“This does not mean we are doomed, but these announcements are announcements which should be taken into account very seriously,” he said. “These are not just paper plants, these are real plants.”

It’s important to consider the implications of the new study in terms of equity, experts say.

It’s not fair to say that developing nations should cancel coal plans when major industrialized countries, like Germany and the United States, continue to burn large amounts of coal.

“Higher-income countries have by far the greatest coal power — U.S., Germany, China, Russia, Japan — and so the phaseout in these countries is even more important in the big picture and, also, more equitable,” Erickson said.

Edenhofer doesn’t disagree. He cited Germany as one example of a developed nation set to miss climate targets because it is burning a lot of coal.

“I can see a fairness issue,” Edenhofer said. “But when we want to be fair, this means that we have to support the developing countries in building up a new infrastructure.”

The ultimate conclusion, though, is that operating and future coal plants alike are in tension with the Paris climate agreement and widely accepted climate goals.

“If we don’t stop building coal plants now, we will have four unpalatable options,” said Cameron Hepburn, a researcher at the University of Oxford, in a comment sent by email. “We either (1) shut down coal plants early, (2) retrofit expensive carbon capture technologies, (3) suck even more CO2 out of the atmosphere, potentially at high cost, or (4) burn through the 2 degree C target.”

Press link for more: Washington Post

The Two-Degree Delusion #ClimateChange #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani

The Two-Degree Delusion

The Dangers of an Unrealistic Climate Change Target

February 8, 2018

Global carbon emissions rose again in 2017, disappointing hopes that the previous three years of near zero growth marked an inflection point in the fight against climate change.

Advocates of renewable energy had attributed flat emissions to the falling cost of solar panels.

Energy efficiency devotees had seen in the pause proof that economic activity had been decoupled from energy consumption.

Advocates of fossil fuel divestment had posited that the carbon bubble had finally burst.

Analysts who had attributed the pause to slower economic growth in a number of parts of the world, especially China, were closer to the truth.

The underlying fundamentals of the energy economy, after all, remained mostly unchanged—there had been no step change in either the energy efficiency of the global economy or the share of energy production that clean energy accounted for. And sure enough, as growth picked up, emissions started to tick back up again as well.

Even during the pause, it was clear that the world wasn’t making much progress toward avoiding significant future climate change.

To significantly alter the trajectory of sea level changes or most other climate impacts in this century or the next, emissions would not just have to peak; they would have to fall precipitously.

Yet what progress the world has made to cut global emissions has been, under even the most generous assumptions, incremental.

But at the latest climate talks in Bonn last fall, diplomats once again ratified a long-standing international target of limiting warming to two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. This despite being unable to commit to much beyond what was already agreed at the Paris meeting two years ago, when negotiators reached a nominal agreement on nonbinding Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, which would result in temperatures surpassing three degrees above preindustrial levels before the end of this century.

Forty years after it was first proposed, the two-degree target continues to maintain a talismanic hold over global efforts to address climate change, despite the fact that virtually all sober analyses conclude that the target is now unobtainable.

Some advocates still insist that with sufficient political will, the target can be met.

Others recognize that although the goal is practically unachievable, it represents an aspiration that might motivate the world to reduce emissions further and faster than it would otherwise.

For still others, the target remains within reach if everyone gets serious about removing carbon from the atmosphere or hacking the atmosphere in order to buy more time.

But it is worth considering the consequences of continuing to pursue a goal that is no longer obtainable.

Some significant level of future climate impact is probably unavoidable.

Sustaining the fiction that the two-degree target remains viable risks leaving the world ill prepared to mitigate or manage the consequences.


My uncle, the Yale University economist William Nordhaus, is widely credited with being the first person to propose that climate policy should strive to limit anthropogenic global warming to two degrees above preindustrial temperatures.

He didn’t arrive at that conclusion through any sort of elaborate climate modeling or cost-benefit analysis.

Rather, he considered the very limited evidence of long-term climate variance available at that time and concluded that a two-degree increase would take global temperatures outside the range experienced by human societies for the previous several thousand years and probably much longer.

The standard was, by his own admission, arbitrary.

In the decades that followed, the international community formalized his target through a series of UN conferences, assessments, and negotiations.

Climate researchers, meanwhile, have backfilled the target with science, some of it compelling.

It does indeed appear that the earth is already hotter than it has been in the last several hundred thousand years, with temperatures likely to rise substantially more through this century and well beyond.

But limiting global temperatures below two degrees provides no guarantee that the world will avoid catastrophe, nor does exceeding that threshold assure it.

No one knows with much precision what the relationship will be between global temperature and the impact of climate change at local and regional levels.

Nor do we have a particularly good handle on the capability of human societies to adapt to those impacts.

Limiting global temperatures below two degrees provides no guarantee that the world will avoid catastrophe, nor does exceeding that threshold assure it.

In reality, most of the climate risks that we understand reasonably well are linear, meaning that lower emissions bring a lower global temperature increase, which in turn brings lower risk.

That is the case for impacts such as sea level rise, agricultural yields, rainfall, and drought.

Stabilizing emissions at 450 atmospheric parts per million brings less risk than stabilizing at 500, 500 brings less risk than 550, and so on.

The world isn’t saved should we limit atmospheric concentrations to 450 parts per million, nor is it lost should concentrations surpass that threshold.

There are a range of potential nonlinear tipping points that could also bring catastrophic climate impacts.

Many climate scientists and advocates argue that the risks associated with triggering these impacts are so great that it is better to take a strict precautionary approach to dramatically cut emissions.

But there are enormous uncertainties about where those tipping points actually are.

The precautionary principle holds equally well at one degree of warming, a threshold that we have already surpassed; one and a half degrees, which we will soon surpass; or, for that matter, three degrees.

Such calculations are further complicated by the substantial lag between when we emit carbon and when we experience the climate impacts of doing so: because of the time lag, and because of the substantial amount of carbon already emitted (atmospheric concentrations of carbon today stand at 407 parts per million, versus 275 prior to the start of the Industrial Revolution), even an extreme precautionary approach that ended all greenhouse gas emissions immediately would not much affect the trajectory of global temperatures or climate impacts until late in this century at the earliest.

Projections of sea level rise, for instance, don’t really diverge in high-emissions versus low-emissions scenarios until late in this century, and even then not by very much.

It is not until modelers project into the twenty-second century that large differences begin to emerge.

The same is true of most other climate impacts, at least as far as we understand them.

Many advocates for climate action suggest that we are already experiencing the impacts of anthropogenic climate change in the form of more extreme weather and natural disasters.

Insofar as this is true—and the effect of climate change on present-day weather disasters is highly contested—there is not much we can do to mitigate it in the coming decades.


Over the last two decades, discussions of climate risk have been strongly influenced by concerns about moral hazard.

The suggestion that human societies might successfully adapt to climate change, the argument goes, risks undermining commitments to cut emissions sufficiently to avoid those risks.

But moral hazard runs the other way as well.

On a planet that is almost certainly going to be much hotter even if the world cuts emissions rapidly, the continuing insistence that human societies might cut emissions rapidly enough to avoid dangerous climate change risks undermining the urgency to adapt.

Adaptation brings difficult tradeoffs that many climate advocates would prefer to ignore.

Individual and societal wealth, infrastructure, mobility, and economic integration are the primary determinants of how vulnerable human societies are to climate disasters.

A natural disaster of the same magnitude will generally bring dramatically greater suffering in a poor country than in a rich one.

For this reason, poor nations will bear the brunt of climate impacts.

But by the same token, the faster those nations develop, the more resilient they will be to climate change.

Development in most parts of the world, however, still entails burning more fossil fuels—in most cases, a lot more.

Most climate advocates have accepted that some form of adaptation will be a necessity for human societies over the course of this century.

But many refuse to acknowledge that much of that adjustment will need to be powered by fossil fuels.

Hard infrastructure—modern housing, transportation networks, and the like—is what makes people resilient to climate and other natural disasters.

That sort of infrastructure requires steel and concrete.

And there are presently few economically viable ways to produce steel or concrete without fossil fuels.

The two-degree threshold, and the various carbon budgets and emissions reduction targets that accompany it, has provided the justification for prohibitions at the World Bank and other international development institutions on finance for fossil fuel development.

Given how much climate change is likely already built into our future owing to past emissions and how long it takes for emissions reductions to mitigate climate impacts, those sorts of policies will almost certainly increase exposure to climate hazards for many people in developing economies.

Wolfgang Rattay / REUTERS Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, French President Emmanuel Macron, COP23 President Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama of Fiji, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pose for a photo during the COP23 UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, November 2017.


Continued devotion to the two-degree target has also undermined carbon-cutting efforts.

In theory, cutting emissions deeply enough by midcentury to limit warming to two degrees would require deploying zero-carbon energy technologies today at a historically unprecedented scale.

That would seem to take important drivers of incremental decarbonization, such as the transition from coal to gas in the United States and many other parts of the world, off the table.

Burning natural gas produces half the carbon per unit of energy produced as burning coal. But it can’t decarbonize the power sector fast enough to hit the two-degree target by 2050.

For this reason, most climate advocates are at best indifferent to natural gas and are more often opposed, even though the switch from coal to natural gas has been the largest source of emissions reductions in the United States for over a decade, as it was in the United Kingdom in the early 1990s.

The two-degree target has also hobbled support for developing better clean energy technologies.

Because next-generation technologies such as advanced nuclear reactors, advanced geothermal, and carbon capture capabilities won’t be ready for large-scale commercialization for at least another decade or two, they will arrive too late to contribute much to two-degree stabilization scenarios.

In turn, many prominent climate advocates have long argued that the only climate action worthy of the name entails deploying zero-carbon technologies that are commercially available today.

Yet there is little reason to think that existing zero-carbon technologies are up to the job.

To be sure, some models do claim that current renewable energy technologies are capable of powering the electrical grid and much beyond.

But strong renewables growth in various parts of the world appears to follow a classic S-curve, with market share on electrical grids stalling at around 20 percent or less of total generation after a period of strong initial adoption, because the value of intermittent sources of energy such as wind and solar declines precipitously as their share of electricity production rises.

For a period of time, in the 1970s and 1980s, conventional nuclear reactors had a better track record. France decarbonized 80 percent of its electrical system with nuclear.

Sweden achieved 50 percent.

But conventional nuclear technology, which requires strong central governments and vertically integrated utilities that build, own, and operate plants, has been swimming against the current of economic liberalization and declining faith in technocratic institutions for decades.

Outside of China and a few other Asian economies, few nations have been able to build large nuclear plants cost-effectively in recent decades.

Such limitations continue to plague power sector decarbonization efforts around the world. But the power sector accounts for only about 20 percent of global primary energy use and turns out to be relatively easy to decarbonize compared with transportation, agriculture, industry, and construction.

There are currently few viable substitutes for fossil fuels in the production of steel, cement, or fertilizer or for powering aviation and heavy transportation.

Longer term, there may be better options, including advanced nuclear reactors that can provide heat for industrial processes, carbon capture technologies that can capture emissions from burning fossil fuels, and low-carbon synthetic fuels that might substitute for diesel and aviation fuels.

But all are decades away from viable application.

The technologies that are needed to cut emissions deeply enough to stabilize emissions at two degrees, in short, will not be ready in time to do so.

As a result, continued devotion to the two-degree threshold has ended up undermining both important incremental pathways to lower emissions and long-term investment in the development and commercialization of technologies that would be necessary to deeply decarbonize the global economy.


Almost 30 years after the UN established the two-degree threshold, over 80 percent of the world’s energy still comes from fossil fuels, a share that has remained largely unchanged since the early 1990s.

Global emissions and atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide continue to rise.

Climate policy, at both international and national levels, has had little impact on their trajectory.

Climate advocates have persistently blamed the failures of climate policy on the corrupting political power of the fossil fuel industry.

Industry-funded “merchants of doubt,” as the historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway originally dubbed them, together with heavy political spending, have stopped climate mitigation efforts in their tracks.

But those claims are U.S.-centric.

Climate skepticism and denial have not found anywhere close to the same level of political traction outside the United States. (and Australia)

Exxon and the Koch brothers have no political franchise in the German Bundestag, the Chinese Central Committee, or most other places outside Washington.

And yet those nations have had no more success cutting emissions than has the United States.

To the contrary, U.S. emissions have fallen faster than those of almost any other major economy over the last decade.

The alternate explanation is rather less dramatic.

Decarbonization is hard.

Fossil fuels continue to bring substantial benefit to most people around the world, despite the significant environmental consequences.

The alternatives have improved, but not sufficiently to displace fossil energy at scales that would be consistent with stabilizing temperatures at the two-degree threshold.

The consequences of failing to do so for human societies are too uncertain or too far off in the future to motivate either a World War II–style mobilization to deploy renewable energy or a global price on carbon high enough to rapidly cut emissions.

At some point over the next 20 years or so, atmospheric concentrations of carbon will almost certainly surpass 450 parts per million, the emissions proxy for avoiding long-term temperature increases of greater than two degrees.

At that point, the only certain path to stay under the target will be either to pull carbon out of the atmosphere at almost unimaginable scales or to alter the chemistry of the atmosphere such that rising greenhouse gas concentrations do not lead to higher temperatures.

Functionally, that moment has already arrived.

Virtually all scenarios consistent with stabilizing global temperatures at plus two degrees, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, explicitly require so-called negative emissions in the latter half of this century.

In recent years, the moral hazard argument used against adaptation has also been used against geoengineering and carbon removal technologies.

The suggestion that it might be possible to pull sufficient carbon out of the atmosphere to lower global temperatures or, short of that, change the chemical composition of the atmosphere or the oceans such that large temperature increases might be forestalled, the logic goes, risks distracting us from the central task of rapidly decarbonizing the global economy.

Yet no one is seriously proposing embarking on large-scale carbon removal or geoengineering today.

We haven’t really figured out how to do the former, and the latter brings a range of potential risks that we don’t yet fully understand.

Still, such emergency measures may be necessary in the future even with a steep cut in emissions.

As in the case of adaptation, however, the twin fictions that the two-degree limit remains a plausible goal and that dangerous climate change can be avoided should we achieve it allow the moral hazard argument to be marshaled against even sensible calls for serious public research.


At this point, if there is a moral hazard argument to be made, it is against the two-degree threshold, not for it.

Humans are going to live on a significantly hotter planet for many centuries.

The notion that two degrees remains an achievable target risks diverting attention from steps we might take today to better weather the changes that are coming.

Once the world lets go of the unrealistic two-degree target, a range of practical policies comes much more clearly into focus.

We should do all that we can to speed up decarbonization.

Accelerating the coal-to-gas transition and continuing the deployment of today’s renewable energy technologies would incrementally reduce climate risk even if neither is capable of decarbonizing economies at rates consistent with achieving the two-degree target.

At the same time, it is important to support those efforts in ways that don’t lock out technologies that will be necessary to achieve deeper emissions cuts over the longer term.

Continuing subsidies for low-efficiency solar panels, for instance, have shut higher-efficiency solar technologies out of the renewables market.

Cheap gas has rendered many nuclear power plants, which don’t get the same privileged access to electrical grids or direct production subsidies as do wind and solar energy, uneconomical.

At relatively low overall shares of electricity generation, variable sources of power such as wind and solar risk crowding out other zero-carbon options that will be necessary to fully decarbonize power grids. And if deep decarbonization is the objective, much greater public investment will be needed to develop and commercialize clean energy technologies, even though those technologies are unlikely to contribute much to emissions-cutting efforts over the next several decades.

Press link for more: Foreign Affairs

Quantifying our Faustian bargain with fossil fuels #ClimateChange #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani

Our Faustian bargain: the byproduct of burning dirty fossil fuels are short-lived atmospheric aerosols which provide temporary cooling.

by David Spratt

The climate system will heat well past 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C) and perhaps up to 2°C without any further fossil fuel emissions.

That’s the conclusion to be drawn from new research which should also help demystify the rhetoric from the 2015 Paris climate talks of keeping warming to below 1.5°C .

It’s not that 1.5°C isn’t dangerous: in fact, at just 1–1.1°C of warming to date, climate change is already dangerous.

A safe climate would be well below the present level of warming, unless you think it is OK to destroy the Arctic ecosystem, tip West West Antarctic glaciers into a self-accelerating melt, and lose the world’s coral reefs, just for starters.

The new research quantifies the effect of losing the very temporary planetary cooling provided by atmospheric aerosols.

Aerosols (including black-carbon soot, organic carbon, sulphates and nitrates and dust) are very short-lived particles in the atmosphere that have a cooling impact that lasts around a week.

Most of these aerosols are anthropogenic, that is produced by human activity, and most of the anthropogenic aerosols are a byproduct of the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.

Perhaps best known are the polluting sulphates and nitrates from coal-fired power stations, that combine with water molecules in the atmosphere to produce what is popularly known as “acid rain”.

The problem is our “Faustian bargain”: these aerosols are keeping the planet cooler than it would otherwise be, but are coming from burning fossil fuels that pour carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, heating the planet for centuries to come.

The absolutely essential moves to eliminate fossil fuel emissions will also cut the cooling aerosol impact; the net effect will push the planet towards very dangerous warming conditions.

The big question is how much would that warming be?

A number of scientists have estimated the figure at around 0.5°C. Writing in the Huffington Post in late 2015, Prof. Michael E Mann noted:

While greenhouse warming would abate, the cessation of coal burning… would mean a disappearance of the reflective sulphate pollutants (aerosols) produced from the dirty burning of coal.

These pollutants have a regional cooling effect that has offset a substantial fraction of greenhouse warming, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere.

That cooling would soon disappear, adding about 0.5°C to the net warming… So evidently, we don’t have one-third of our total carbon budget left to expend, as implied by the IPCC analysis.

We’ve already expended the vast majority of the budget for remaining under 2°C. And what about 1.5°C stabilization?

We’re already overdrawn.

Now, new research published last week, “Climate Impacts From a Removal of Anthropogenic Aerosol Emissions”, has looked at the aerosols issue in more detail in. The work uses the latest generation of climate models, in which the aerosol-cloud interaction is more sophisticated, and also examines each aerosol component discreetly, rather than lumping them together as some simpler climate models do.  One limitation is that this research utilises four climate models, whereas  big inter-comparison projects are based on around 30, so more work needs to be done on these results.

Bjørn Samset of the University of Oslo and his colleagues used four climate models, which cover a range of climate sensitivities, to see what would happen to the global average temperature if the short-lived greenhouse gases (methane, nitrous oxide etc) were kept at their current level, but CO2 emissions ceased once they have reached a level of 420 parts per million (ppm). (This is 15 ppm above the current level of 405 ppm, or just another five years of emissions at the current rate.)

The result was average warming of 1.35°C over the four models, above a late 19th century baseline. (It has been demonstrated that global average temperatures increase while CO2 is increasing, and then remain approximately constant until the end of the millennium despite zero further emissions.)

They then asked what would happen if all anthropogenic aerosols emissions were to cease. The answer was that “removing aerosols induces a global mean surface heating of 0.5–1.1°C”, with a multi-model mean of 0.7°C. Samset says the vast majority of this net temperature change would be due to sulphate emissions from fossil fuel sources. This is because, in general terms, the other two forms of anthropogenic aerosols — black carbon and organic carbon, which have major contributions from biofuel and other biomass burning — cancel each other out, at roughly 0.1°C each, one cooling and one warming.

In other words, going to zero emissions with CO2 at ~420ppm would result in a warming of around 2°C at equilibrium, if the level of short-lived gases was constant. Not going to zero emissions would be worse in the short term: other recent work shows warming would be 2.2-2.4°C by 2050 if we continue on the current high-emissions path.  And it would be disastrously worse not to go to zero emission very fast, due to the longer-term impacts: continuing on the current high-emissions trajectory would bring warming of 4.1–5°C by 2100.

A new UK Met Office forecast released yesterday on climate conditions for 2018-2022 say that “over the whole five-year period… global average temperature is expected to be between 1.10°C and 1.40°C relative to pre-industrial conditions”, which would likely be warmer than the record-breaking El Nino year in 2016 of 1.14°C. And the Met says there is a 10% chance one of those years will bust through 1.5°C.

So whereas the Paris agreement delays strong action for decades, and serious carbon drawdown till the second half of this century, the brutal fact is that present greenhouse gas levels are such that we will steam past 1.5°C, and are heading to 2°C as a result of what we have already done. And that is why all “1.5°C scenarios” actually “overshoot” to around 2°C before cooling the system by a theoretical, massive-scale carbon drawdown.

It is possible and necessary to reduce the warming impacts of the short-lived gases impacts, which is calculated to be around 0.9°C, of which methane is the largest component. Half the methane emissions are natural, primarily from wetlands. And half are from human activities, the most important sources being extracting and processing fossil fuels (26-32%), livestock (26-28%), and landfills/waste (20-27%).

Stopping the use of fossil fuels would reduce total methane emissions by 15%. Eliminating methane from animal husbandry and rice production would cut methane emissions by 20%. Together this impact would be around 0.3-4°C.

On the other hand, it is expected non-anthropogenic methane emissions from wetlands and the Arctic will increase.

If the planet warms enough, large polar permafrost and/or methane clathrate carbon stores will be mobilised, releasing large amounts of both methane and CO2, and introducing large positive feedbacks to long-term climate change.

In February 2013, scientists using radiometric dating techniques on Russian cave formations to measure melting rates warned that a 1.5ºC global rise in temperature was enough to start a general permafrost melt.

The resilience of natural carbon sinks is deteriorating, and there is also evidence that carbon stores in tropical rainforests are now flipping to become sources of carbon, both CO2 and methane.

So the work by Samset  and his colleagues has added new understanding as to where the climate system is heading, even as we reduce fossil fuel use.

If  large-scale methane emissions reduction are difficult due to human system inertia and/or non-anthropogenic increases, or if carbon cycle feedbacks kick in as they now appear to be starting to do in both in the tropics and at the poles, then we are heading past 2°C by mid-century, regardless of whether we continue on a high-emissions path, or on a zero-emissions path that also unravels the aerosol cooling.

It is also possible to deploy carbon drawdown, but this is not yet available at sufficient scale to meet the Paris schema, and research funding has so far been grossly inadequate. (Removing around 150 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere would reduce warming by ~0.1°C.) The storage of atmospheric carbon envisaged in the Paris agreement –– which delays emissions reductions now in favour of high levels of carbon drawdown much later in the century –– is enormous. Some of the world’s leading scientists recently noted that:

The scale of the decarbonisation challenge to meet the Paris Agreement is underplayed in the public arena. It will require precipitous emissions reductions within 40 years and a new carbon sink on the scale of the ocean sink.

Even then, the world is extremely likely to overshoot.

A catastrophic failure of policy, for example, waiting another decade for transformative policy and full commitments to fossil-free economies, will have irreversible and deleterious repercussions for humanity’s remaining time on Earth.

Thus, without solar radiation management (replacing anthropogenic aerosols from fossil fuel use with anthropogenic aerosols spread from planes or fired into the atmosphere) it will be difficult to avoid 2°C no matter what CO2 emissions path we take, and all but impossible not to overshoot 1.5°C by at least a third. It is not yet clear that there is demonstrable clear net environmental benefit from solar radiation management, and we should only do it if that is the case. But in not doing it, we need to be honest about what will be lost and what further tipping points may be crossed.

And all the above figures are based on a late-19th-century baseline, not true pre-industrial which could add ~0.2°C to the figures.

The numbers from Samset et al. are close to those of Xu and Ramanathan, who found that by 2015, the combined effect of CO2 and short-lived climate pollutants impact was 1.9°C, less total aerosol forcing of 0.9°C, resulting in the observed warming of 1°C. It is also close to Baker, Collins et al, who found elimination of aerosols would result in warming of 0.82°C (average across 3 models). And it accords with work published in 2013 by Hansen and others which found that aerosol cooling probably reduced global warming “by about half over the past century”.

The work by Samset et al. also looks at the impact of aerosol removal on rainfall and extreme weather. It finds that precipitation increases 2–4.6%, and extreme weather indices also increase. There is a higher sensitivity of extreme events to aerosol reductions, per degree of surface warming, in particular over the major aerosol emission regions such as China and India.

The problems posed are wickedly exquisite. The former NASA climate science chief James Hansen has long warned that 2°C is a “recipe for disaster”. It is clear that we now face an existential threat to human civilisation as the climate teeters on the edge of passing further system tipping points that would make the task of avoiding that threat tremendously difficult.

This requires an emergency response, where we as a society are actually prepared to say openly and often that the scenarios outlined above are real and alarming, and take action accordingly. In Ireland, a Climate Emergency Measures Bill to be debated this month seeks to ban any new explorations for oil, coal, and gas on Irish territory. The bill was introduced by People before Profit (PBP) Deputy Brid Smith last November, where it successfully passed the first stage. That would be one early step in an emergency approach.

As Alex Steffen has recently written:

The (emissions reduction) curve we’ve been forced onto bends so steeply, that the pace of victory is part of victory itself. Winning slowly is basically the same thing as losing outright. We cannot afford to pursue past strategies, aimed at limited gains towards distant goals. In the face of both triumphant denialism and predatory delay, trying to achieve climate action by doing the same things, the same old ways, means defeat. It guarantees defeat.

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Time to invest in clean energy #ClimateChange @NAIFAustralia #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani

Coalition calls on US insurers to make investments in clean energy

The Investor Agenda recognizes 2020 as a tipping point for taking action to avoid irreparable climate change, in line with the goals of the Paris climate agreement, and focuses on accelerating action in four key areas: investment, corporate engagement, disclosure and advocacy, according to a summary of the initiative.

Seven partner organizations focusing on these areas developed the initiative: Asia Investor Group on Climate Change, CDP, Ceres, Investor Group on Climate Change, Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, Principles for Responsible Investment and UNEP Finance Initiative.

Investors are talking about the need to ramp up clean energy investments to $1 trillion per year, up from the current $330 billion a year, to meet the Paris climate agreement goals, said Mindy Lubber, president of Boston-based investor coalition and sustainability advocacy group Ceres.

“The world has established the financial imperative to act,” she said.

As investors, the insurance industry, under its liability-driven approach, is constrained by fiduciary duties and regulations, according to a report called Climate Change and the Insurance Industry: Taking Action as Risk Managers and Investors published by the Zurich-based Geneva Association and based on interviews with 62 C-level executives at 21 globally active insurers and reinsurers. Insurers are addressing climate change through their risk modeling and pricing, knowledge of preventive measures and innovation in risk transfer solutions, as well as from an operational perspective by reducing their carbon footprints, according to the report.

But there is more the insurance industry can and should be doing, according to Ceres officials. For example, insurers have been showing “modest” improvement in disclosing climate risk management practices, but there is still plenty of room for growth in addressing climate risks and opportunities.

“When we talk about the insurance sector, there is a big difference in whether we’re thinking about U.S. insurance companies versus European,” said Cynthia McHale, director of the insurance program for Ceres. “That divide has been fairly long-standing when it comes to climate, but it’s gotten only more so over the past year.”

Ceres has engaged in discussions with U.S. insurers about investment opportunities in clean energy, she said. “That’s really significant because many insurance companies that we have been speaking with do see the opportunity to invest in renewables as well as energy storage and energy efficiency. Those types of investments tend to fit well with insurance investment criteria – long-term holdings that have reliable cash flows.”

“That being said, we are not seeing U.S. insurers very active at all when it comes to engaging with companies around issues such as greenhouse gas emissions nor are U.S. insurers stepping up on the policy front, either at the federal, state or even local level,” she added. “I think it’s a combination of the U.S. insurance industry being an industry that is very conservative (and) tends to be reticent to be proactive about things that they would see as political or in any way contentious. It’s not a practice of insurance companies to be active, engaged investors. They tend to be passive in their approach.”

Even the spate of major natural disasters affecting insurance company earnings has not led to more action in this area, she said.

“I wish I could say otherwise – that this really was a shakeup for the industry over the past six months with these devastating hurricanes, but truth be told most of the losses from hurricanes Harvey and Irma and Maria were not insured,” she said. “Unfortunately, as destructive and unprecedented as that string of hurricanes was, I don’t think it will have a meaningful, material impact on the position of the U.S. insurance industry when it comes to climate change and the risks associated with that.”

Harvey caused the most insured losses of any catastrophic event in 2017 at $30 billion, followed by Maria at $27 billion and Irma at $23 billion, but the economic losses were far greater: about $100 billion for Harvey, about $65 billion for Maria and about $55 billion for Irma, according to a report by Impact Forecasting, Aon Benfield’s catastrophe model development team.

But major European insurers and reinsurers are acting to address climate risks as both institutional investors and underwriters, Ceres officials say.

For example, in December, AXA Group committed to quadruple its green investment targets to reach €12 billion by 2020, as the company reached its initial €3 billion investment target in 2015.

Laurent Clamagirand, AXA’s group chief investment officer in Paris, said he has discussions with his peers at other insurers to raise awareness about the ability to scale up their green investments and how AXA has done so to show it’s “not an impossible target.”

In addition, AXA pledged to phase out insurance coverage for new coal construction projects and oil sands businesses, which required some difficult conversations with the company’s underwriters about why insuring such projects was not “good for the planet,” he said. He likens it to a health insurer declining to invest in tobacco companies because of the health problems associated with smoking.

“Insuring that business was not the right way to promote the world of 1.5 and 2 degrees,” Mr. Clamagirand said, referring to the goal of limiting the global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels – a goal reaffirmed by the Paris climate agreement, which urged efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

AXA also contributed to the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures and pledged to implement their recommendations in the group’s upcoming annual financial report.

European insurers and reinsurers are “taking a much more visible and public role as leaders,” Ms. McHale said.

The Investor Agenda announcement was made as part of Ceres’ 2018 Investor Summit on Climate Risk, held in New York on Wednesday, and convening 450 investor, business and capital market officials to discuss climate-related investment risks and opportunities.

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