Only 5 years left to act
Our warming world is badly running out of time to deal with man-made climate change and keep temperature rise to within 2 degrees Centigrade (2oC) - but how much time have we left? Answer: 5.3 years. The basis for this appalling conclusion is set out below.
The 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference, commonly known as the Copenhagen Summit, included the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Most countries subsequently signed up to the Copenhagen Accord that recognized that climate change is one of the greatest challenges to Humanity and that actions should be taken to keep any temperature increases to below 2 °C (see “2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference”, Wikipedia).
In a 2009 report entitled "Solving the climate dilemma: a budget approach" the WBGU, that advises the German Government on climate change, estimated that for a 75% chance of avoiding a 2C (2oC, 2 degree Centigrade, 2 degree Celsius) temperature rise (EU policy and majority global policy since the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference) the world can emit no more than 600 billion tonnes CO2 (carbon dioxide) (600 Gt CO2) between 2010 and zero emissions in 2050 (see WBGU, “Solving the climate dilemma: the budget approach”). Since CO2 is the most important greenhouse gas (GHG) we could roughly set the world’s terminal GHG pollution budget at 600 Gt CO2-e (CO2-equivalent, this term including other GHGs). Relative to commencement in 2010, how many years have we left before we exceed this terminal CO2 pollution budget of 600 Gt CO2-e?
The US Energy Information Administration (US EIA) provides detailed statistics on CO2 pollution and has provided estimates of global energy-related CO2 pollution between 2005 (28.181 Gt CO2) and 2035 (43.220 Gt CO2) (see US EIA, “Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions”, Table A10). Using this expertly-determined, year-by-year estimate of global energy-related CO2 emissions one can estimate that the post-2009 total will reach 588 Gt by the end of 2026 and 628 Gt by the end of 2028 i.e. the terminalCO2 pollution budget will be exceeded in mid-2027 or in roughly 14.5 years from now.
However energy-related CO2 pollution is a major part of the general greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution problem, CO2 pollution also occurs in cement manufacture and other naturally-occurring as well as synthetic greenhouse gases contribute to GHG pollution that can be expressed as CO2-equivalent (CO2-e). A GHG is methane (CH4), which is a major component of natural gas, is produced by methanogenic livestock and anaerobic degradation of plant materials in swamps, and is increasingly being released from CH4-water clathrates from shallow Arctic Ocean sea beds and the melting of the Arctic tundra (see “Atmospheric methane”, Wikipedia).
The Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CH4 relative to that if CO2 (1.0) is 21 on a 100 year time frame but on a 20 year time frame and taking aerosol impacts into account, it is 105. This re-assessment of the GWP of CH4 becomes of great importance in assessing how many years we have left to tackle GHG pollution (see Drew T. Shindell , Greg Faluvegi, Dorothy M. Koch , Gavin A. Schmidt , Nadine Unger and Susanne E. Bauer , “Improved Attribution of Climate Forcing to Emissions”, Science, 30 October 2009: Vol. 326 no. 5953 pp. 716-718 ).
Thus the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) provides estimates of CH4 emissions from the US alone that total about 0.67 Gt CH4 annually or 0.67 Gt CH4 x 105 Gt CO2-e/Gt CH4 = 70.35 Gt CO2-e annually. If we set the terminal GHG pollution budget to 600 Gt CO2-e then the US alone has a mere 600 Gt CO2-e/(70.35 Gt CO2-e per year) = 8.5 years of such pollution of this single GHG before this terminal GHG pollution budget is exceeded (see “Greenhouse gas emissions”, US EPA ) .
In 2009 World Bank analysts used an estimate of a GWP of 72 for CH4 on a 20 year time frame to re-assess the contribution of livestock to man-made GHG pollution as over 32.564 Gt CO2-e/year of which 5.047 GT CO2-e/year is due to undercounted methane. This re-assessment lifts the annual GHG pollution from 41.744 Gt CO2-e to 63.803 Gt CO2-e. Assuming that live-stock-related GHG pollution increases in direct proportion ion to energy-related CO2 emissions, one can estimate that the world will reach 551.738 Gt CO2-e in 2017 and 624.363 Gt CO2-e in 2018 i.e. the World has 5.8 years at present rates before it exceeds the terminal CO2-e budget.
However one can re-assess the World Bank re-assessment by consider that CH4 has a GWP relative to CO2 of 105. This re-assessment indicates that the World will reach 573.167 Gt CO2-e in 2017 and 648.547 Gt CO2-e in 2018 i.e. the World has 5.3 years at present rates before it exceeds the terminal CO2-e budget. of 600 Gt CO2-e.
This estimate that the World has only about 5 years at current rates of pollution before it faces an implicit and disastrous 2 degrees Centigrade temperature rise is consonant with the dire warnings of the World Bank-commissioned Report “Turn Down the Heat” (see “Turn down the heat. Why a 4oC warmer world must be avoided”, A Report for the World Bank, by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, November 2012).
Thus Dr Jim Yong Kim (President, World Bank Group), in his Forward to the World Bank “Turn Down the Heat” Report: “It is my hope that this Report shocks us into action… This report spells out what the world would be like if it warmed by 4 degrees Celsius, which is what scientists are near-unanimously predicting by the end of the century, without serious policy changes…
The 4oC scenarios are devastating: the inundation of coastal cities; increased risks for food production; potentially leading to high malnutrition rates; many dry regions becoming drier, wet regions wetter; unprecedented heat waves in many regions, especially in the tropics; substantially exacerbated water scarcity in many regions; increased frequency of high-intensity tropical cyclones; and irreversible loss of biodiversity, including coral reef systems. And most importantly, a 4oC world is so different from the current one that it comes with high uncertainty and new risks that threaten our ability to anticipate and plan for future adaptation needs. The lack of action of climate change not only risks putting prosperity out of reach of millions of people in the developing world, it threatens to roll back decades of sustainable development.
It is clear that we already know a great deal about the threat before us. The science is unequivocal that humans are the cause of global warming, and major changes are already being observed: global mean warming is 0.8oC above pre-industrial levels; oceans have warmed by 0.09oC since the 1950s and are acidifying; sea levels rose by about 20 cm since pre-industrial times and are now r9idng at 3.2 cm per decade; an exceptional number of extreme heat waves occurred in the last decade; major food crop growing areas are increasingly affected by drought. Despite the global community’s best intentions to keep global warming below a 2oC increase above pre-industrial climate, higher level of warming are increasingly likely.
Scientists agree that countries’ current United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change emissions pledges and commitments would most likely result in a 3.5 to 4oC warming. And the longer those pledges remain unmet, the more likely a 4oC world becomes…A 4oC world can, and must, be avoided.”
The World Bank Report states that “While the global community has committed itself to holding warming below 2°C, to prevent “dangerous “ climate change, the sum total of current policies – in place and pledged – will very likely lead to warming far in excess of this level. Indeed present emissions trends put the world plausibly on a path toward 4°C warming within this century.”
The World Bank Report concludes: “A 4°C world will pose unprecedented challenges to humanity. It is clear that large regional as well as global scale damages and risks are very likely to occur well before this level of warming is reached. This report has attempted to identify the scope of these challenges driven by responses of the earth system and various human and natural systems. Although no quantification of the full scale of human damage is yet possible, the picture that emerges challenges an often implicit assumption that climate change will not significantly undermine economic growth. It seems clear that climate change in a 4°C World would seriously undermine poverty alleviation in many regions. Thus is supported by past observations of the negative effects of climate change on economic growth in developing countries. While developed countries have been and are projected to be adversely affected by impacts resulting from climate change, adaptive capacities in developing regions are weaker. The burden of climate change in the future will very likely be borne differentially by those in regions already highly vulnerable to climate change and variability. Given that it remains uncertain whether adaptation and further progress towards development goals will be possible in at this level of climate change, the projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur – the heat must be turned down. Only early, cooperative , international actions can make that happen.”
Already 18 million people died avoidably in 2012 from deprivation in the Developing World (minus China) as compared to 16 million in 2003. Post-1950 global avoidable mortality has totaled 1.3 billion for the World, 1.2 billion for the Developing World and 0.6 billion for the Muslim World, a Muslim Holocaust 100 times greater than the WW2 Jewish Holocaust (5-6 million killed , 1 in 6 dying from deprivation) or the “forgotten” WW2 Bengali Holocaust in which the British with Australian complicity deliberately starved 6-7 million Indians to death for strategic reasons (see my books “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950 and “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History. Colonial rapacity, holocaust denial and the crisis in biological sustainability”, both now available for free perusal on the Web).
The 2012 DARA Report (commissioned by 20 climate-vulnerable countries) estimated that presently about 5 million people die each year from climate change (400,000) and from carbon burning (4.5 million) with the expectation that 100 million people will have die this by 2030 if not effective action is not taken (see DARA, “Climate Vulnerability Monitor. A guide to the cold calculus of a hot planet”, 2012, Executive Summary pp2-3). It is estimated that 10 billion people will perish this century if man-made climate change is not properly addressed (see “Climate Genocide”).
We have almost run out of time – at present rates of pollution the World will exceed its 600 Gt CO2-e terminal GHG pollution budget in only about 5 years. What can ordinary people do? Ordinary folk who care for their children grandchildren, Humanity and the Biosphere must (a) inform everyone they can and (b) urge and apply sanctions and boycotts against all people, politicians, countries and corporations complicit in the worsening climate genocide, noting that the worst annual per capita polluters the US, Canada and Australia have repeatedly sabotaged UN climate change conferences. The latest such UN conference, the 2012 Doha UN Climate Change Conference, is concluding, sabotaged by the US, without agreement on effective global agreement to seriously tackle climate change. Threatened countries must act urgently against climate criminal nations like Australia, Canada and the US by Boycotts, Divestment, Sanctions, Green Bans, Green Tariffs, International Court of Justice litigations, International Criminal Court prosecutions and global public education on the worsening climate crisis. The World has 5 years left before it is too late to avoid a 2C temperature rise – for numerous expert opinions on our worsening predicament simply Google “Are we doomed?”
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|William John Cox|