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14 Nov 2007

Follow-up to ‘The Big Melt’ Challenges Assumptions on Co2 Targets.

tpcNot content with having written The Single Scariest Thing I Have Ever Read, the recent **Big Melt** report, David Spratt at Carbon Equity has just produced the second in what will be a series of three reports. The new one, Target Practice; where should we aim to prevent dangerous climate change builds on the insights from the first report, namely that the thawing of the Arctic ice is happening so much faster than anyone had ever thought, nearly 100 years ahead of the IPCC projections and before we have even reached a 1 degree rise in global temperature, that we need to reassess our concept of where a ‘safe’ limit might lie. In the new report, Pratt, now joined by Philip Sutton, asks the question, given that 2 degree is no longer a ‘safe’ limit, where might that limit be?

The key findings of the report are as follows;

• Policies have not been constructed within a framework of fully solving the problem.
• Actions proposed should be doubly-practical: they should deliver tangible results in the real world and crucially they must also fully solve the problem
• We suggest the goal is a climate safe for all people and all species over ‘all’ generations
* The loss of the Arctic sea ice, in all likelihood at an increase of less than 1ºC in global average temperature unambiguously represents dangerous human interference with the climate and therefore global temperatures should not have exceeded the levels three decades ago in order to avoid dangerous climate change.
• The widely-promoted 2ºC is not credible, initiating climate feedbacks on earth and in the oceans, on ice-sheets and on the tundra, taking the earth past significant tipping points.
• Proposals for a 60% cut on 1990 levels by 2050 implies a 3ºC target. The last time temperatures were 3°C higher than our pre-industrial levels, the northern hemisphere was free of glaciers and ice sheets, beech trees grew in the Transantarctic mountains, sea levels were 25 metres higher.
• In order to avoid the loss of the Arctic icesheet, a safe target would be 0.5ºC. We therefore propose that a safe-climate temperature increase cap be 0.5ºC and greenhouse gas level of 320 ppm CO2e, a level to which we should aim to return the planet if we value biodiversity and human life. There is no ideal achievement timetable other than as fast as possible.
• To return to the safe zone we need to bring the global temperature and the atmospheric greenhouse gases down from their present levels; and
• This means that no further greenhouse gases should be added to the air and there needs to be a very significant decay in the level of the short-residence-period greenhouse gases and other positive forcing (warming) agents in the atmosphere (e.g. soot) and a major draw down of CO2 using natural carbon sinks and deliberate human capture and sequestration.

The challenge the report sets is summed up in the graph below. It is worth looking at closely.


A third report, **Rising to the Challenge** (currently in preparation), will look at how to achieve the goals set out in this report. Next time you hear a Minister say that 60% cuts in CO2 by 2050 is ‘ambitious’, send them a copy of the two reports so far and suggest that still holding to 2 degrees as a target is, in effect, condemning humanity to runaway climate change. **Target Practice** spells the end of economic growth, but also offers an unleashing of human creativity unparalleled in history.

Categories: Climate Change

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14 Nov 12:38pm

Seeing the 95% cut in emissions required for my home country of Australia to keep within a 2 degree temperature rise (p 16) I wrote something – shall I say – downbeat. This on the day an election leaflet arrived exhorting me to ‘go for growth!’ But then I deleted the downbeatness. There are already many places in Australia where people have gone beyond the parameters of a particular ecosystem state and moved into a new, less productive state, before they have even realised it has happened. In a way, global warming is just one more (big) mess we’ve got to learn to live with, and patch up as best we can. We could, of course, be patching up more intelligently. If you knew we were going to ‘solve’ global warming by the end of the century, would you live your life differently? What about if you knew we weren’t going to solve it? I’ve been re-reading ‘Resilience Thinking’ by Walker and Salt. Walker is one of the people who brought us the Resilience Alliance website. Really insightful and useful stuff.

Shaun Chamberlin
14 Nov 2:24pm

And it’s not just the ministers we need to be challenging on this. The UK’s Stop Climate Chaos Coalition includes many of the UK’s leading environmental, international development and other campaigning bodies. It is campaigning for 80% cuts by 2050 to keep us under a 2ºC rise..

They claim to be listening to the scientists and not to politicians, but it really isn’t true is it?

They are taking the current politics as their starting point, not the current science.

I am already involved in a productive email exchange with the Head of Policy at WDM, who is actually pretty sympathetic to my position. With a few more protests from members I think we would see movement on this.

I have sent him the link to these reports, and I suggest we all campaign for the campaigners at least to work to realistic targets. If they do not then how can we expect the Government to do so?

Robert Morgan
14 Nov 6:16pm

“Realistic targets” – what scientists see as realistic in order to reduce CO2 below the current level and what politicians see as realistic (i.e. policies that will, as they see it, allow continued economic growth, are diametrically opposed. On P.21 of the report it says a “state of emergency” would be needed to bring in the policies required. Unless there is overwhelming public pressure, such a state would only be declared anytime in the next 10 years at least, if an ACTUAL climate emergency arose. It could be argued what this would be.

At the very least, something like a further 2-3 years dramatic decrease in arctic summer ice cover, down to say half the summer 2006 value. More likely, it would have to be a reputable group of scientists (?lead by James Hansen) declaring that the Greenland and/or West Antarctic ice sheets had commenced an irreversible meltdown that would produce several metres of sea level rise this century. Of course, then it might be too late.

For politician-led action before that time, a paradigm shift in thinking would be needed and that would only come through overwhelming public pressure through growth of popular movements, or some sort of phase-change in the economic landscape due to peak oil. While the majority of people elect politicians on the basis of vaguely credible promises of economic growth, that is what politicians will continue to promise and action on climate change will continue to be token.

15 Nov 1:23am

“Target Practice spells the end of economic growth, but also offers an unleashing of human creativity unparalleled in history.”

Rob I love your ability to inspire hope in spite of terrible, terrible news. Thank you for your work.

15 Nov 1:24am

I should clarify, the end of economic growth isn’t terrible news. I was of course referencing the overall findings of Target Practice.

Robert Morgan
15 Nov 1:39pm

I also have to say that while this document is excellent in some ways and mostly well reasoned, there are aspects which would prevent it being taken seriously by those who would wish to sweep aside these issues.

First, it has not been properly proof-read and has literally dozens of typos. This suggests rushed and sloppy work. Many of the citations in the text are missing from the reference section, so one does not know the quality of many of the sources of information or even if they say what is claimed. Many references are of poor quality and credibility – privately-run websites, blogs, newspaper articles, etc. More seriously, many assertions are presented as if facts, with no reference and no apparent research. An example is (p.19): “This physically very large ‘albedo switch’ [caused by loss of summer Arctic ice] will lead to further warming in the Arctic of several degrees which will contribute to the destabilization of the Greenland ice sheet”. This is simply not proven to be the case, though in my opinion (an opinion only), it will probably happen.

It is a shame that is has so many obvious shortcomings, as a few days of extra work and more care would have made a very powerful and pursuasive document.