Rio wrap: a real limp deal (where’s the way out?)

So it ended, as have most of the recent UN conferences on climate change, with a statement of platitudes and good intentions but nothing in the way of firm commitments to action. George Monbiot called the conference text 283 paragraphs of fluff, The Economist called the outcome “a limp agreement” and “a poor result for a summit billed by some as a “once in a generation” chance to save the planet from its intolerable burden.” Despite warnings of ecological tipping points looming, and the world’s top scientific organisations urging action on population and consumption, the leaders of the world (or at least, the ones who could be bothered to turn up) managed only to boot the ball downfield about as effectively as an English footballer in a penalty shoot out. It was all just too difficult. So they left it for another day — perhaps another generation — to sort out.

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The Climate Show #8: Kevin Trenberth and our shaky future

The Climate Show returns with a packed show, featuring one of the world’s best known climate scientists, NZ-born, Colorado-based Dr Kevin Trenberth — star of the Climategate “where’s the missing heat” emails. He’s been in New Zealand to visit family (experiencing the Christchurch quake in the process) and to attend a conference, and his comments on the state of our understanding of climate change should not be missed. John Cook of Skeptical Science returns with his new short urls and an explanation of why declines have never been hidden, and Gareth and Glenn muse on Arnie “Governator” Schwarzenegger riding to the rescue of climate science, cryospheric forcing and carbon cycle feedbacks from melting permafrost, and a new paper that suggests that current policies are pointing us towards extremely dangerous climate change. All that and hyperbranched aminosilica too…

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Show notes below the fold.

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Copenhagen Accord puts world on pathway to 3ºC

German scientists have added up the emissions reductions pledged in the Copenhagen Accord and calculate that they put the planet on a pathway that misses the Accord’s stated 2ºC target, and only delivers a 50/50 chance of coming in under 3ºC by the end of the century. In an opinion article in this week’s Nature, Copenhagen Accord pledges are paltry, Joeri Roelgj et al show how the current emissions commitments amount to little better than “business as usual”, and effectively mean that global emissions will have increased by 20% by 2020. The key points in the article are:

  • Nations will probably meet only the lower ends of their emissions pledges in the absence of a binding international agreement
  • Nations can bank an estimated 12 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalents surplus allowances for use after 2012
  • Land-use rules are likely to result in further allowance increases of 0.5 GtCO2-eq per year
  • Global emissions in 2020 could thus be up to 20% higher than today
  • Current pledges mean a greater than 50% chance that warming will exceed 3°C by 2100
  • If nations agree to halve emissions by 2050, there is still a 50% chance that warming will exceed 2°C and will almost certainly exceed 1.5°C

A lack of ambition now means that countries will face steep emissions cuts in future. Co-author Malte Meinshausen told the BBC:

In an ideal world, if you pull off every possible emission reduction from the year 2021 onwards, you can still get to get to 2C if you’re lucky. But it is like racing towards the cliff and hoping you stop just before it.

Commenting on the article, Andy Reisinger of VUW’s Climate Change Research Institute told the SMC:

“This analysis shows that it is imperative to substantially strengthen the emissions targets for 2020 as part of a strong international agreement if the world is to have a realistic chance of limiting warming to 2°C. We are no longer gambling the future of the planet — if we stick with current emissions targets we are folding our cards entirely and leaving it to our (and other people’s) kids to pay our accumulated debts.”

VUW’s Martin Manning points out that politicians need to be given the mandate to act decisively:

It is becoming increasingly obvious that dealing with climate change is something that needs to become driven by society more broadly. People need to consider how much of a problem we want to pass on to our grandchildren and tell politics and industry to act accordingly.

The BBC coverage is excellent, dramatically illustrating the lack of ambition in European targets. Reports also at the Herald & Stuff

Marvellous year

Click on the picture, and then listen to Marvellous Year, the title track of Don McGlashan’s recent album. It’s a fitting soundtrack to the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010. If what you’re looking for is a roundup of 2009’s climate-related news, I can do no better than offer you Nature’s effort — via Olive at Climate Feedback.

At Hot Topic, 2009 was interesting, in the sense of the Chinese curse. We enter 2010 with much more traffic than a year ago — helped along by the arrival of Scrotum and Monckton (1, 2, 3), a book review (or two), and the occasional robust dismissal of crank tripe. We’ve joined Sciblogs, New Zealand’s very own science blog network, Hot Topic (the book) was shortlisted for the Royal Society of NZ’s first science book prize, and the NZ media have occasionally availed themselves of my views on climate issues. A major part of this year’s progress has undoubtedly been due to the contribution made by Bryan Walker. Since joining HT as my co-blogger late last year, he’s contributed 119 posts, and built up a remarkable corpus of climate book reviews. His passion for the subject and patience with the more intractable commenters has been a lesson in itself.

A few more details: at the end of December last year, we were averaging about 5,000 unique visitors per month. Over the last couple of months, that’s risen to 17,000 per month — small beer in terms of the big climate blogs, but not bad in NZ terms. Over the last 2 months, Woopra tells me that 43% of visitors came from NZ, accounting for 60% of pageloads (mainly because most commenters are from NZ). The US is in second place (22% of visitors/14% of pageloads), Australia third (8.5%/9.5%), the UK fourth (7%/5%) and Canada fifth (5%/4.5%). We had visitors from 133 countries. The top ten regular readers are Carol Stewart, Rob Taylor, Laurence, Andrew W, Dappledwater, Le Chat Noir, R2D2, scaddenp, CTG and Macro. The top three each made more than 350 visits over the two months — remarkable diligence! I haven’t counted up the comments to see who was the most prolific, but I would guess that Rob and R2 would be up there, probably arguing with each other…

And for 2010? More of the same, only better. With luck, the world may finally get down to serious action on emissions. Fingers crossed, and happy New Year.