The release of the IPCC 5th Assessment Report Synthesis document on Sunday was a useful reminder of the wealth of measurements, observations and science behind the reality of the anthropocene era and the impact it is having on global ecosystems. While some may embrace this material as proof of society’s “wicked ways” and others may contest it on the grounds of conspiracy or hoax, the real job at hand is to find a way of dealing with the challenge that is posed. Within the 100+ pages of text of the longer report, two parts in particular highlight the scope of what needs to be done.
Despite a growing number of climate change mitigation policies, annual GHG emissions grew on average by 1.0 GtCO2eq (2.2%) per year, from 2000 to 2010, compared to 0.4 GtCO2eq (1.3%) per year, from 1970 to 2000. Total anthropogenic GHG emissions from 2000 to 2010 were the highest in human history and reached 49 (±4.5) GtCO2eq yr-1 in 2010.
Within 3.2 and 3.4:
Global mean surface warming is largely determined by cumulative emissions, which are, in turn, linked to emissions over different timescales. Limiting risks across reasons for concern would imply a limit for cumulative emissions of CO2. Such a limit would require that global net emissions of CO2 eventually decrease to zero.
There are multiple mitigation pathways that are likely to limit warming to below 2 °C relative to pre- industrial levels. Limiting warming to 2.5 °C or 3 °C involves similar challenges, but less quickly. These pathways would require substantial emissions reductions over the next few decades, and near zero emissions of CO2 and other long-lived GHGs over by the end of the century.
The IPCC have now fully embraced the cumulative emissions concept and taken it to its logical conclusion; near zero emissions within this century. This wasn’t explicitly mentioned in the 2007 4th Assessment Report, but was only really there by inference in the mitigation scenario charts that extend beyond 2050. Anyway, the reference is very clear this time around.
This represents a formidable task given the other half of the problem statement also shown above; that emissions are rising faster than ever. There is a second uncomfortable truth buried within this paragraph, which is the implication that current mitigation policies aren’t working.
So there we have it in a nutshell;
Emissions are rising faster than ever, current policies to stop this aren’t working, but we need to be at zero in 85 years.
Eighty five years is the lifetime of an individual. It means that someone born today will need to see a radical change in energy production within the course of their life, to the extent that it is constantly changing for all 85 years, not just locally but everywhere in the world. Arguably someone born in England around 1820 saw this as the industrial revolution unfolded and the Victorian era took hold. But someone born in 1930 hasn’t actually seen a fundamental change in the energy system, rather an enormous scaling up of what was starting to become commonplace at the time of their birth.
This is the issue that I explore in my new book and which is tackled in the Shell New Lens Scenarios released last year. Both the scenarios show that this puzzle is solvable, albeit in very different ways and with different policy approaches but with different levels of success. A critical factor in both scenarios is the timing and deployment rates of carbon capture and storage (CCS). The earlier this starts and the faster it scales up, the higher the chance of limiting warming to around 2°C. This is also highlighted in the IPCC Synthesis Report which says in Section 3.4;
Many models could not limit likely warming to below 2 °C over the 21st century relative to pre-industrial levels, if additional mitigation is considerably delayed, or if availability of key technologies, such as bioenergy, CCS, and their combination (BECCS) are limited (high confidence).
CCS is of course dependent on a price for carbon dioxide or in its absence a standard of some description to implement capture and storage. These policies are largely absent today, despite over two decades of effort since the creation of the UNFCCC. There are certainly some major carbon pricing systems in place, but most are delivering only a very weak carbon price signal and none are leading to large scale rollout of CCS or show any signs of doing so in the near future. Rather, the emphasis has been on promoting the use of renewable energy and increasing the efficiency of energy use. Both of these policies will bring about change in the energy system and efficiency measures will almost certainly add value to most, if not all economies, but it is entirely possible that large scale adoption of these measures doesn’t actually cause global CO2 emissions to fall.
The IPCC have also put a cost on this policy failure in Table 3.2, which shows mitigation costs nearly one and a half times greater in a world which does not deploy CCS. This high cost comes about because the only way to resolve the scenario models is to limit economic activity as means of mitigation; CCS rollout prevents that from happening.
Another way of looking at this is to imagine the actual climate change consequences of delaying CCS rollout, since the likelihood of limiting economic activity is very low. A back calculation from the Shell scenarios implies that every year large scale rollout of CCS is delayed, 1 ppm of atmospheric CO2 is added to eventual stabilisation. This comes about from the cumulative nature of the problem. As such, a 30 year delay means accepting an eventual concentration of CO2 that is some 30 ppm higher than it need be which in turn has consequences for impacts such as sea level rise.
The negotiators now preparing to head to Lima for COP20 and then to Paris a year later may well be poring over the pages of data and dozens of graphs in the 5th Assessment Report, but the message is nevertheless a simple one, although requiring some bold steps.
The IPCC Synthesis Report has not proved sufficiently convincing for the German mining union to accept a cessation of lignite usage. There is likewise no indication that global fossil fuel usage will be curtailed to stabilize the climate.
On page 5 of the report, annual emissions of 49.5 Gt CO2eq are indicated for the year 2010, so that 50 Gt/a. The last curve on page 27 indicates that at least 80% of all GHG consist of CO2. The cumulative CO2 emissions have reached nearly 2,000 Gt, as shown in the second graph of page 31. When a value of 5.000 Gt is attained, the earth will have warmed by about 3 degrees. At a rate of 40 Gt/a, the corresponding increase of 3,000 Gt would be achieved by 2090.
By 2035, however, a one third rise in energy consumption is predicted. Global warming of three degrees above the pre-industrial era can therefore be expected before 2075.
CCS is not suitable for averting climate change. On the contrary, many new coal power plants have been licensed under the unsubstantiated promise that they were “capture ready”. Particular fallacies of such claims have been discussed in the following report: http://www.energypost.eu/ccs-a-pipedream-of-policymakers/
I have testified in German parliament and two German state parliaments against geological CO2 storage and the EU CCS strategy. Kindly contact me for additional information.
It is always interesting what is not put in the IPCC headlines, a Sherlock Holmes “dog that didn’t bark” giveaway so to say. Although this decennium indeed has seen the largest increase in CO2 emissions (completely achieved by China), global temperature, however, did not follow this increase (the “hiatus”). This has led to new published peer reviewed papers that bring down the IPCC transient climate senitivity range of 1-3 degrees to a not so alarming best estimate of 1.33 degrees for CO2 doubling. THe current emission is still below the SRES A1B emission scenario. (Peters et al 2012 Nature Climate Change 3,4–6)
Very good posting, as usual, David. I agree with you that driving adoption of CCS and other technologies, as well as meaningful fuel-switching as a bridge strategy, require a robust price signal. However, I despair that the political milieu that we face will ever facilitate this. The price for EUAs in the EU-ETS are well below what’s necessary to drive CCS; in fact, a recent report from the Commission reported several projects have been scrapped due to inadequate price signals. The prices we’re seeing in California or for RGGI in the US will assuredly not provide such incentives either. We lack the political will to establish a stringent enough cap, and carbon tax strategies wouldn’t alter this equation since we would lack the political will to set them high enough either.
I agree that CCS should play an important role in tackling emissions growth. So it’s good that the IPCC notes the higher costs of mitigation and the lower likelihood of achieving the 2 degree budget without it. Two other comments on the Synthesis Report:
1) While the report is clear about the science, it isn’t about the economics. It does not compare the cost of impacts or of adaptation against economic growth in the way the cost of mitigation is [ie, limiting warming to below 2 degrees C would entail a (median of) 0.06 percentage points annual reduction in global consumption growth]. And the assumption in the baseline of long term growth of 1.6 – 3%, without mitigation, doesn’t seem plausible or consistent with the ‘severe, widespread and irreversible impacts’ of a 4° world.
2) the least satisfying aspect of the report is that global averages disguise the real local impact of the problem. Temperature change in some regions is expected to be much greater than average. Impacts on the poorest sections of all societies and poorest countries will be more significant than average. Even the cost of mitigation is likely to be much higher for some countries (the fossil fuel exporters) than the global average.
Jeffrey Michel: You might be right, but politics (which includes GEOpolitics) is the art of possible. There is a CCS project in Houston coming online that expects to capture 90% of CO2 emissions from a coal-fired Electric Generating Unit (coal power-plant). That would be a big deal.
We have the means to monitor and verify whether this capture rate is achieved and we have the capability to drastically improve this technology. That being said, unless you are a really creative company that plans to put the captured CO2 to profitable use (such as piping it down to some depleting reservoirs nearby for enhanced oil and gas recovery like the NRG-Petro Nova project power plans to do), there’s no reason (market incentive) to deploy, improve, or scale up this technology. Necessity is the mother of innovation. There’s no market necessity at this time.
Roger, the perfect option might be some breakthrough in nuclear technology (see e.g., Transatomic Power, Leslie Dewan, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UXXwWOImm8) or something else, but even if that is scaled up, I don’t see how it becomes an option for developing countries in the foreseeable future.
Coal is cheap and readily available and doesn’t require a lot of technological know-how to convert to reliable base-load power. CCS doesn’t seem that big of a leap. We are pretty damn good about drilling fossil fuels out of the ground; who’s to say we can’t be just as good piping it back in.
Without CCS, you have to tell developing countries “You can’t burn that coal.” To quote Mr. Hone: “That’s a hard ask.”
I am not a scientist, but I am a climate journalist and acting moderator of ClimateChangeNationalForum.org (CCNF), which is an objective platform and public forum for climate and physical scientists to blog on this issue, and based on what I’ve read on CCNF, I’d be hesitant to put much stock in the “hiatus” at this time or place a bet on 1.33 C for ECS (equilibrium warming per doubling of atmospheric CO2eq concentrations).
I. ON THE “HIATUS”
If you really want an objective assessment on what climate scientists are saying about the recent slow-down in global surface temperature rise after the huge spike in warming from the super-El Nino event of 1998, check out “What Climate Scientists are Saying about the Global Warming “Hiatus””. http://climatechangenationalforum.org/what-climate-scientists-are-saying-about-the-global-warming-hiatus/.
Note: The comments also include those by Dr. Judith Curry, the Republican’s pick for the last U.S. Senate EPW Committee hearing on the President’s Climate Action Plan, so the dialogue includes a pretty wide range of perspectives.)
If you read the comments, you’ll see that the slow-down does provide evidence that ECS, at least in terms of “fast feedbacks”, is not on the really high-end of the IPCC AR5’s range (e.g., > 3.75 degrees Celsius per doubling of atmospheric CO2eq ppm), but none of the participating scientists subscribed to a best ECS estimate over 3C in the first place. Bottom-line, with the exception of Dr. Judith Curry, the recent slow-down is not changing any of the scientists’ positions on ECS for basically three reasons:
1.) It’s not a hiatus.
– Dr. Andrew Dessler: “[The recent slowdown] is something that we don’t completely understand, but the idea that “climate change has stopped” is completely bogus. If you look at the data, the climate is still shifting… “. See id.
– Dr. Andreas Schmittner: “The statement that “there has been no significant warming over the most recent fifteen-or-so years” is wrong (or misleading at best) because the ocean heat content shows uninterrupted warming. Because 90% or so of all heat goes into the ocean, this is the place to look for warming. See Global Ocean Heat Content 1955 to present (0-2000m).” See id.
– Dr. Scott Denning explained the enormous heat capacity of the ocean with the following. Think about jumping in 70 degree F water on a 70 degree F (room temp) day. Why does the water feel colder if it’s the same temp as the air? It’s because water has a large heat capacity – it sucks the heat out of your body. Now, think about how long it takes to heat up your pool. Now think of the 4000m deep ocean covering most of the globe. The ocean is heating up. Now you understand that there’s still a lot of heat being added to the climate system (aka a “forcing”). See CCNF video interview w/ Dr. Denning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4CBIj3WZCs.
2.) It’s just too short of a time scale to matter. I mean, you are starting the clock at the peak of a massive warming “super El Nino” event in 1998 that kicked off the hottest decade on record (which this decade is on track to break). If you want to obscure the hiatus, just use the average temperature from 1990-2000 and 2000-2010. See slide 4 in the IPCC’s official slide show for the IPCC AR5 Synthesis Report, republished here: http://climatechangenationalforum.org/key-findings-of-the-ipcc-ar5-synthesis-report-official-slide-show/.
– Dr. Denning: “Decadal changes in climate are fascinating phenomena well worthy of study, but they are NOT an important way to estimate climate sensitivity over a century or more in response to forcing of 3 to 8 Watts per square meter”. See “What Climate Scientists are Saying about the “Hiatus”. http://climatechangenationalforum.org/what-climate-scientists-are-saying-about-the-global-warming-hiatus/#sthash.IiHeKeZL.dpuf
3.) What’s seen in the data and recent peer-reviewed studies:
– Dr. Dessler: “If you look at most of the globe, it’s still warming. There’s just this slice of eastern Pacific that is cooling. And that cooling there is offsetting the warming. If you look at it seasonally, except for Northern Hemisphere winter, the planet is still warming. Now obviously these can’t continue. You can’t have spring, summer, and fall warming, and the winter cooling. And you can’t have the eastern Pacific cooling and the rest of the globe warming, so this is going to stop at some point, and we are going to figure out what it is. But make no mistake—weird things are afoot in the climate system.” See id.
– Dr. Denning: “If you really want to learn about decadal changes (a.k.a. the “hiatus”), a good place to start is with England et al (2014, Nature, doi:10.1038/nclimate2106, http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v4/n3/full/nclimate2106.html) who show that observed changes in winds over the tropical Pacific and the resulting change in ocean warming can explain the observed changes in decadal temperature trend.” See id.
II. ON YOUR ECS ESTIMATE OF 1.33 C
I’d be wary betting a stable climate on this. Haven’t looked up your study (don’t have a subscription), but I bet $50 your referenced paper was an *observationally based* study (please correct me if I am wrong), much like Drs. Curry and Lewis’s recent paper in Climate Dynamics, which arrived at a best ECS estimate of 1.64 C. Dr. Curry blogged about this on CCNF. See http://climatechangenationalforum.org/climate-sensitivity-uncertainty/.
– Dr. Nielsen-Gammon: “There are basically three types [of climate sensitivity estimates]: estimates based on the current well-observed change, estimates based on computer models designed to simulate the current climate accurately, and estimates based on changes in climate in the geologic past. The latter two types [climate model and paleoclimate approaches] show different, *HIGHER* sensitivities than the first types.” See Scientists’ Comment Thread under id.
– Before Dr. Nielsen-Gammon made the above comment under Dr. Curry’s post, I asked Dr. Scott Denning why his and the other scientists’ ECS estimates were so much higher than Dr. Curry’s. From what I gathered from our conversation, a big reason is that we’ve only exponentially increased GHG emissions to massive levels very recently (like starting in 1970 or so), so the observationally based estimates by Dr. Curry are based on a VERY SHORT instrumental record.
– The major ice sheets are huge slabs of ice; they take a long time to melt (Dr. Denning: “It takes a long time to melt that much ice”), so we haven’t even begun to see the albedo effect. According to recent posts by Drs. Will Howard and Sean Bryan on CCNF, this albedo effect was a very important positive feedback that accounted for a good share of the heat that brought us out of the last ice age (the initial catalyst was the Milankovitch cycle; the other positive feedback was the rise in CO2). See http://climatechangenationalforum.org/climate-change-and-timescales-part-1-why-global-wobbling-doesnt-matter-2/ and http://climatechangenationalforum.org/fears-of-freezing-the-1970s-are-calling-they-want-their-climate-policies-back/.
– BTW, the only response from Dr. Curry regarding the much higher paleoclimate estimates (e.g., 3 C per doubling), is that they are ALL “dubious”. That wasn’t on CCNF but that was her response on her blog to Dr. Bart Verheggen’s rebuttal of her post on CCNF. See http://climatechangenationalforum.org/uncertainty-doesnt-imply-nothing-is-known-or-nothing-should-be-done/. To my disappointment, she didn’t state why.
UNCERTAINTY CUTS BOTH WAYS.
Drs. Curry and Lewis paper had a best estimate of 1.64 C for ECS, but, like the IPCC and all other papers on climate sensitivity, they have a fairly large “likely” range due to uncertainty (ECS 17-83% range is 1.25-2.45 degrees C). Thus, under a business as usual scenario (e.g., ~1120 CO2eq ppm around years 2100-2120), there would be a ~20% chance that we will commit ourselves to 5 degrees C of warming according to their range. See http://climatechangenationalforum.org/climate-sensitivity-uncertainty/.
5C is the temperature difference between an ice age and warm period, except unlike deglaciation (which took over 10,000 years), this amount of heat would be added to the climate system in the geological blink of an eye (couple hundred years or so). See http://climatechangenationalforum.org/cause-and-effect-by-scott-denning/.
DON’T IGNORE THE TAIL RISK
A proper risk assessment requires an accounting for not only the likely outcome, but also for the unlikely- but-still-possible “tail risk” outcome — aka the “worst-case scenario”. See Dr. Kerry Emanuel’s hypothetical of a little girl crossing a busy intersection in his post “Tail Risk vs. Alarmism”: http://climatechangenationalforum.org/tail-risk-vs-alarmism/.
This is really common sense. For instance, in the U.S. military, operational planners account for the “most likely enemy course of action” and “the most catastrophic [plausible] enemy course of action” before executing a mission. For some reason it is often missed when talking about climate change.
Bottom-line, don’t forget the tail risk and know that uncertainty cuts both ways.
Final note: In his rebuttal to Dr. Curry’s post, Dr. Bart Verheggen concluded the following:
“[E]ven if Dr. Curry’s best estimate of 1.64 ECS is turns out to be correct, “if we continue on a business as usual type pathway, we will still commit ourselves to a warming of over 3 degrees. Or, as Richard Millar wrote at RealClimate.org: this “might just be the difference between a achievable rate of emissions reduction and an impossible one”.” http://climatechangenationalforum.org/uncertainty-doesnt-imply-nothing-is-known-or-nothing-should-be-done/#sthash.Qz4oYZ4V.dpuf.
P.S. My #SciComm for the day is done.
P.P.S. I do hope you read this Hans. Good night.
I am a geophysicist and climateskeptic blogger in the Netherlands.
I can solve differential equations so I can judge climate scientific literature on their assumptions.
The hiatus is a Popperian falsification of virtually all climate models that run a SRES A1B scenario. End of, start from scratch, back to the drawingboard. If you don’t accept the hiatus as falsification you are simply saying that climate science is non-falsifiable. “I am always right even when I am wrong.”
“Recall: In the AR4, the IPCC projected warming to proceed at about 0.2 C/decade for the first two (or was it three?) decade of this century. Whatever it was, we are quite a large fraction of the way there. Also, in the AR4, like it or not, the IPCC authors elected to communicate uncertainty using ±1 s error bars around a multi-model mean. To match them I show the observed temperature on a similar graphs. You can see the present temperature while certainly ‘up’ relative to recent temperatures is just brushing the lower -s boundary for temperature itself. If we use a ‘red noise’ model for time series to compute uncertainty intervals for trends consistent with observations, the 0.2C/decade warming trend is well outside the 2s uncertainty intervals consistent with the observations.
Of course, this is now old news: Even the IPCC has admitted a ‘hiatus’. Even if many won’t quite want to admit the models are somehow “wrong”, the peer reviewed literature is now permitting people to observe that the temperatures are not exactly following the mean trend. But it’s well worth comparing observations to projections now that those projections are (likely) to be deemed “old news”.
Anyway: I’m rather unconvinced ‘the hiatus’ is over. That said: it’s a bit difficult to say for sure because the definition of ‘hiatus’ is rather vague. It does seem to me we are going to need to see quite a bit of warming to overcome the doubts of those who think models are not well suited to predicting warming over periods as long as 20 or 30 years.”
On a daily basis I am constantly ignoring the tail risks, so why would policymakers suddenly have to consider it when making 30 years policies? Looking beyond 30 is futile anyway, because that would be ruling over your grave, and would imply a lot of hubris over the next generations. All focus should be on getting rid of world hunger, high energy pricing would be a huge hurdle against that.
So therefore, I am wholeheartily advising to ignore the tail risks.
Emission reduction should be achieved by new CHEAPER technology, not by expensive CCS methods. I foresee an electric car that after a 5 min charging time can run 600 km, I foresee cheap nuclear energy and I foresee cheap solar technology. I would not buy wind energy shares.
The responsibility of future emissions is fully on the shoulders of BRIC countries. China has bought time until 2030, the year when its population peaks. Lets hope that nuclear energy is taken quickly out of its current green prison, otherwise the BRIC countries have a horrible catch-22 to solve: Fight poverty, or fight high temperatures. I know where current priorities are, and that is not temperature. In the mean time the BRIC countries need lots of hydrocarbons, and I am proud that I am in the privileged position to help them to find it.
[…] the context of Shell arguing (h/t Dan O.) that there’s no escape without CCS, it looks like what we are really arguing […]