(Six) Things on my mind

copenhagen.jpg The Copenhagen climate conference — Climate change: global risks, challenges & decisions — closed yesterday, and work has now begun on producing a summary document — scheduled for publication in June. In the meantime, delegates have drawn up a preliminary list of six key messages, which were handed to the Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the closing session. They are (in full, because I think they’re important and worth reading):

  1. Climatic trends: Recent observations confirm that, given high rates of observed emissions, the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised. For many key parameters, the climate system is already moving beyond the patterns of natural variability within which our society and economy have developed and thrived. These parameters include global mean surface temperature, sea-level rise, ocean and ice sheet dynamics, ocean acidification, and extreme climatic events. There is a significant risk that many of the trends will accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts. (my emphasis)
  2. Social disruption: The research community is providing much more information to support discussions on “dangerous climate change”. Recent observations show that societies are highly vulnerable to even modest levels of climate change, with poor nations and communities particularly at risk. Temperature rises above 2ºC will be very difficult for contemporary societies to cope with, and will increase the level of climate disruption through the rest of the century.
  3. Long-term strategy: Rapid, sustained, and effective mitigation based on coordinated global and regional action is required to avoid “dangerous climate change” regardless of how it is defined. Weaker targets for 2020 increase the risk of crossing tipping points and make the task of meeting 2050 targets more difficult. Delay in initiating effective mitigation actions increases significantly the long-term social and economic costs of both adaptation and mitigation. (my emphasis)
  4. Equity dimensions: Climate change is having, and will have, strongly differential effects on people within and between countries and regions, on this generation and future generations, and on human societies and the natural world. An effective, well-funded adaptation safety net is required for those people least capable of coping with climate change impacts, and a common but differentiated mitigation strategy is needed to protect the poor and most vulnerable.
  5. Inaction is inexcusable: There is no excuse for inaction. We already have many tools and approaches – economic, technological, behavioural, management – to deal effectively with the climate change challenge. But they must be vigorously and widely implemented to achieve the societal transformation required to decarbonise economies. A wide range of benefits will flow from a concerted effort to alter our energy economy now, including sustainable energy job growth, reductions in the health and economic costs of climate change, and the restoration of ecosystems and revitalisation of ecosystem services.
  6. Meeting the challenge: To achieve the societal transformation required to meet the climate change challenge, we must overcome a number of significant constraints and seize critical opportunities. These include reducing inertia in social and economic systems; building on a growing public desire for governments to act on climate change; removing implicit and explicit subsidies; reducing the influence of vested interests that increase emissions and reduce resilience; enabling the shifts from ineffective governance and weak institutions to innovative leadership in government, the private sector and civil society; and engaging society in the transition to norms and practices that foster sustainability.

This seems to me a very good summary of the climate problem: it’s worse than we thought, we need to act now, and we’ve got the tools to do it. Now all we need is the willpower and the commitment. Politicians, are you listening? Inaction is inexcusable.

[Edgar Broughton]

18 thoughts on “(Six) Things on my mind”

  1. Yes, it’s much, much worse, and the consequences much more awful than we first thought…

    …Natural releases of carbon dioxide from the Southern Ocean due to shifting wind patterns could have amplified global warming at the end of the last ice age–and could be repeated as manmade warming proceeds, a new paper in the journal Science suggests….”


  2. Heavens to Betsy, Ayrdale in recognising bad news when he reads it shock!

    Whatever Watts might think, this study is bad news because it is (yet another) potential positive feedback.

  3. …but hang on a mo Gareth, I thought all the science was settled about all this stuff ?

    What else don’t we know ?

    Could it be there are other climate regulating mechanisms at work too ?

    Or is it just a case of agreeing with the science that suits your political point of view ?

  4. Ayrdale: if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that no-one claims perfect knowledge. And a lack of perfect knowledge is no excuse for inaction. If it were, governments, businesses and citizens would be utterly paralysed, incapable of any action at all. If you want to persuade the world to do nothing, you need extraordinary and powerful evidence, not the ravings of cranks like Monckton.

    And I notice you haven’t rushed to his defence. Why’s that?

  5. As the press release discussing it makes clear, the paper that’s the subject of the Wussup post Ayrdale linked isn’t breaking new ground at all, rather it’s confirmation of prior work. Here’s a good article on the subject.

    The objections (in the press release) from Timmerman are news to me. Interestingly, though, a related paper in the same issue of Science (press release) indicates that the recent acceleration in the southern westerlies has damped phytoplankton growth, which would seem to be evidence to the contrary. He also doesn’t suggest an alternative hypothesis for the deglaciations, which I suspect may be hard to do since evidence for a deglacial CO2 pulse out of the southern ocean has been detected in two separate tropical sediment studies. Note also that there is a recent report of a decline in the southern ocean CO2 sink (although I think just in the Indian Ocean sector), an effect which would appear to be consistent with increased outgassing.

    (Interestingly the pulse seems to have been in two parts, which has led to an interesting hypothesis from Peter Huybers.)

    Yet another recent Science paper proposes that the accleration in the southern westerlies will be retarded over the next century by the decline of the ozone hole, but I don’t know if the shift is postulated to be interrupted. The southern polar jet has been observed to not be moving much (unlike all the other basic atmospheric circulation components), but how that fits in with the bigger picture is also not clear to me.

    Speaking of the bigger picture, it’s important to note that the deglacial shift was driven by increased high-latitude insolation due to Milankovitch cycles, wheres the present shift is a consequence of expansion of the tropics due to overall warming. So while the past is thus not a precise guide to the future, studying the former does tell us that changing the basic atmospheric circulation can have very large and abrupt consequences. As Wally Broecker says, “Climate is an angry beast, and we are poking it with a stick.”

    This review paper from a year ago summarizes the state of the science on the expanding tropics, and this new paper nails the attribution. To the surprise of none, it’s all our fault.

    Finally, note these interesting new results showing a rapid increase in abyssal warming in the southern ocean. This too seems consistent with increased overturning (and on an unrelated issue may also go a long way toward closing the sea level rise budget). If these observations turn out to be an indicator that a more rapid deep ocean warming than previously thought has been underway for a considerable time, I think that in turn may have bad implications for transient climate sensitivity (although this gets me a bit out of my depth on the science). Gareth?

  6. Being picky, “delegates have drawn up a preliminary list of six key messages,” is not clearly correct – exactly who drew up this list has been left vague – but apparently it is the “Congress? Scientific Writing Team”. Who are they? They don’t say.

    I find things to quibble in (1). (2) might be interesting, I look forward to them backing it up with evidence.

  7. Steve: What’s going on in the ocean & atmosphere south of NZ is complex, and I find it difficult to understand out how all the various factors interact (and I’m not the only one!). The intensification of the westerlies is observed, but how that affects overturning or CO2 sinks isn’t clear. You then have to add in the information emerging about high latitude oceanic warming in the SH during previous warmings (PETM) — it’s not at all clear what mechanisms might drive that…

    William: I would imagine that delegates got or will get some sort of chance to comment on the key messages — the organisers have said that the final document will be “peer-reviewed”, but who will do that reviewing isn’t clear (to me).

    I’m not surprised about your willingness to quibble… 😉

    With respect to 2) — and the discussions at your place — politicians have to have political targets. Those have to be informed by science, but are not explicitly scientific in themselves. The difficulty lies in the middle (muddle) between the two. Copenhagen was an explicit attempt to provide politicians with an overview of the latest information to help them set their targets, and so could be criticised as a politicisation of the scientific process (as Mick Hulme has at Prometheus). But with the IPCC as an overtly conservative body, with a process designed (at the behest of the US) to be measured and considered (and therefore slow), it’s perfectly understandable that (some) scientists might wish to speed things up a little. In Denmark, after all, they have to live with Lomborg…

  8. “Being picky, “delegates have drawn up a preliminary list of six key messages,” is not clearly correct – exactly who drew up this list has been left vague – but apparently it is the “Congress? Scientific Writing Team”. Who are they? They don’t say….” WMConnolly above…

    Gareth you make reference to Professor Hulme above, but don’t provide a link …his comments indicate some distaste for the conference and some irritation and cynicism (there’s a surprise) about the politicking involved…

    “…There is a fair amount of ‘motherhood and apple pie’ involved in the 600 word statement – who could disagree, for example, that climate risks are felt unevenly across the world or that we need sustainable jobs. But there are two aspects of this statement which are noteworthy and on which I would like to reflect: ‘Whose views does the statement represent?’ and ‘What are the ‘actions’ being called for?…”

    “…In fact, we are no further forward after the Copenhagen Conference this week than before it. All options for attending to climate change – all political options – are, rightly, still on the table. Is it to be a carbon tax or carbon trading? Do we stick with ‘two degrees’ or abandon it? Do we promote geo-engineering or do we not? Do we coerce lifestyle change or not? Do we invest in direct poverty alleviation or in the New Green Deal?
    …A gathering of scientists and researchers has resolved nothing of the politics of climate change…”

    May I say, that nothing has been resolved, because there is still much to learn…


  9. Nothing has been resolved about the politics, Ayrdale, because it was a scientific meeting. There will always be much to learn, not least about the motives of people who choose to deny that there’s a problem.

  10. Nothing has been resolved Gareth, because the targets already set for the USA to meet in 2050 are ludicrous and unattainable…to meet them the USA would need to build…

    “…10,000 nuclear reactors, or one every other day starting now….Do you like wind? If you use every single breeze that blows on land, you’ll get 10 or 15 terawatts. Since it’s impossible to capture all the wind, a more realistic number is 3 terawatts, or 1 million state-of-the art turbines, and even that requires storing the energy—something we don’t know how to do—for when the wind doesn’t blow. Solar? To get 10 terawatts by 2050, Lewis calculates, we’d need to cover 1 million roofs with panels every day from now until then. “It would take an army,” he says. Obama promised green jobs, but still…”

    Gareth, many other commentators have pointed out that the IPPC “science” is staring in the face of political impossibility…

    This information is readily available Gareth, why don’t you feature it ?

    see Prometheus at sciencepolicy.colorado.edu

  11. So that’s straight from denial to defeatism, is it? This blog has featured lots of potential solutions, and the US has plenty of feasible approaches it can use. Try Lester Brown’s Plan B 3.0 for starters.

  12. I like wind!

    And this from wikipedia (search wind power)

    Wind power available in the atmosphere is much greater than current world energy consumption. The most comprehensive study to date[92] found the potential of wind power on land and near-shore to be 72 TW, equivalent to 54,000 MToE (million tons of oil equivalent) per year, or over five times the world’s current energy use in all forms.”

    So for 10 TW we need 228 new 3MW turbines a day between now and 2050. What’s the problem? It’s only a 10-fold increase from current production levels 😉

  13. Gareth, I agree it’s complex, and obviously we need to some work done on causation before making too much of apparent correlations. But note also that the ACC has been observed to accelerate. Would it be possible for that to happen without affecting overturning, and could increased overturning fail to decrease sink efficiency (given the presence of CO2-rich deep water)? I’m no physical oceanographer, but this is beginning to seem like enemy action. I don’t think any of the mechanisms proposed to solve the equable climate problem enter into this, BTW.

    Looking further, a lot of the details do seem to have been nailed down. This paper from Toggweiler and colleagues describes the biological component, about which I hadn’t known:

    “We have shown that the relative magnitudes of deepwater ventilation via the lower circulation (which includes AABW and Southern Ocean convection) and via NADW are critical in setting atmospheric pCO2 because they impact the global preformed nutrients. Larger diapycnal mixing or stronger Southern Ocean winds considerably increase the deep ocean ventilation via the Southern Ocean and result in a larger fraction of deep ocean nutrients in the preformed pool, smaller oceanic carbon storage and higher atmospheric pCO2.”

    See also Toggweiler’s perspective article in the current issue of Science, referring to the new paper (in the same issue) discussed in the press release I linked above. He seems to think the picture is just about complete, but I don’t see anything that answers my questions about current sink saturation and transient climate sensitivity.

  14. Thanks for those links, Steve. Lots to read.

    There was some mention of climate sensitivity in an ANDRILL briefing I took part in today. Two papers in Nature this week, embargoed ’til Thursday. I’ll have a post up when the embargo lifts…

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