Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Almost Everything You Know About Climate Change Solutions Is Outdated, Part 1 - by Joe Romm

Almost everything you know about climate change solutions is outdated, for several reasons.

First, climate science and climate politics have been moving unexpectedly quickly toward a broad consensus that we need to keep total human-caused global warming as far as possible below 2°C (3.6°F) — and ideally to no more than 1.5°C.  This has truly revolutionary implications for climate solutions policy.

Second, key climate solutions — renewables, efficiency, electric cars, and storage — have been advancing considerably faster than anyone expected, much faster than the academic literature anticipated.  The synergistic effect of all these light-speed changes is only now beginning to become clear ... .

Third, the media and commentariat have simply not kept up with all these changes and their utterly game-changing implications.  As a result we end up with recent articles in such prestige publications as Foreign Affairs and the New York Times that are literally out-of-date the instant they are published, as I’ll discuss below.

That’s why ClimateProgress is committed to staying ahead of this rapidly-moving subject and a key reason why I have begun writing more about climate solutions, the area in which I have the most personal experience and expertise.  Indeed, now that there is basically a high-level political consensus around the globe about what the science says should be our temperature target, the need to move quickly on solutions has never been clearer.

World Unanimously Agrees 1.5°C Is the Preferred Global Warming Target to Avoid Catastrophe
[B]y December 2015, some two hundred leading nations unanimously committed to an ongoing effort of ratcheting down greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions limits with the goal of keeping total warming “to well below 2°C [3.6°F] above preindustrial levels.”  The full text of this Paris Agreement went even further, with all of the member nations of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreeing “to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.”

What happened?  In large part, the science of climate change became much more worrisome.  For example, most scientists had thought as recently as a few years ago that the world would see very little contribution to sea level rise this century from the melting of the great ice sheets — particularly from the Antarctic ice sheet, which contains some 90 percent of the world’s landlocked ice.  But starting around spring of 2014, studies revealed that the West Antarctic ice sheet in particular was disintegrating so fast that it was close to, or perhaps past the point at which, irreversible collapse couldn’t be stopped.  And then we quickly learned the Greenland ice sheet was equally unstable.

Within a year, 70 leading climate experts issued a report that the latest science made clear our climate targets were not adequate.  The member nations of the UNFCCC had set up a “structured expert dialogue” from 2013 to 2015 to review the adequacy of the 2°C target.

In May, the scientists reported their findings.  They simplified their key conclusions into a handful of core messages — but still couldn’t garner much media attention.  Some key findings (emphasis in original):
  • Message 4: “Significant climate impacts are already occurring at the current level of global warming” (which is about 0.85°C) and so additional “warming will only increase the risk of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts. Therefore, the ‘guardrail’ concept, which implies a warming limit that guarantees full protection from dangerous anthropogenic interference, no longer works.
  • Message 5: “The 2°C limit should be seen as a defense line … that needs to be stringently defended, while less warming would be preferable.
  • Message 10: “While science on the 1.5 °C warming limit is less robust, efforts should be made to push the defense line as low as possible.
The scientists suggested that the UNFCCC nations explicitly embrace “keeping warming well below 2 °C.”  They explained that the benefits from 1.5°C warming instead of 2°C include:  “most terrestrial and marine species would be able to follow the speed of climate change; up to half of coral reefs may remain; sea level rise may remain below 1 m [39 inches]; some Arctic sea ice may remain; ocean acidification impacts would stay at moderate levels; and more scope for adaptation would exist, especially in the agricultural sector.”

But, of course, we are already at roughly 1°C warming (as of 2015) and rapidly approaching 1.5°C.  That’s clear from a remarkable graphic by Climatologist Ed Hawkins (via Climate Central):

Media, Opinion-makers Slow to Grasp the Radical Implications of the 1.5°C Target
A key reason almost everything you know about climate change solutions is outdated is that the implications for climate policy of staying “well below 2°C” — let alone aiming for 1.5°C — are simply unprecedented. They haven’t been thought through and internalized by even very well-informed people.

Read more at Almost Everything You Know About Climate Change Solutions Is Outdated, Part 1

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