Renew On Line (UK) 61
|Extracts from NATTA's journal
Renew, Issue 161 May-June2006
|Welcome Archives Bulletin|
8. Climate change threats
Climate to get worse
An apocalyptic vision of life 1,000 years from now has been painted by the Tyndall Centre in a report for the Environment Agency looking at what the global effect of climate change might be if mankind does not cut emissions. Temperatures could have risen by 15C (27F) by the year 3000 and sea levels by more than 11 metres (36ft).
The report notes that this dwarfs estimates made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that sea levels will rise by between 16cm and 69cm by the 2080s and says that ‘anything more than a two-metre rise would flood large areas of Bangladesh, Florida and many low-lying cities, and displace hundreds of millions of people’.
In addition it says ,‘the acidity of the oceans will fall significantly, posing a threat to marine organisms such as corals and plankton. That, in turn, would affect the whole marine ecosystem’ and warns that ‘abrupt climate changes are possible even after emissions cease because changes may be set in motion that cannot be stopped’.
Moreover it says the changes could be even greater if the climate turns out to be more sensitive to emissions than the study assumes.
The solution, the Tyndall team says, is to reduce emissions to zero by 2200. Barbara Young, CEO of the Environment Agency, said the next 25 years will be crucial ‘We are running out of road on decision making- unless we dramatically reduce the use of fossil fuels then we will be committing future generations to the most severe impacts of climate change’.
Gulf stream slows?
Last December, in the depths of winter, came the chilling news that the Gulf stream was slowing. But in response to a Parliamentary Question on Dec12th, Environment Minister Elliot Morley commented: ‘Research funded by Defra at the Met Office’s Hadley Centre is aimed at determining the likelihood of changes as a result of global warming to the Atlantic Thermohaline Circulation (THC), of which the Gulf Stream forms an important component. Although recent data collected by the Natural Environment Research Council suggest a possible recent weakening of components of the THC of up to 20 to 30%, changes in the strength of the Gulf Stream itself or effects on temperatures have not been seen. Latest Hadley Centre modelling results indicate that a sustained slowing of the THC over a few decades could have a cooling effect of about 1C. However, warming due to greenhouse gases is likely to be greater, leading to a net warming in coming decades. No specific assessment has been made of the potential impacts of this scenario but it would likely mean that impacts would be reduced relative to current warming scenarios.’
So that’s allright then. But it has also been suggested that the interaction might not be so convenient- that the cooling effect would not be masked by warming in winter, and might not occur in the summer.
What can be done?
Writing in the Guardian (16th Dec) Government Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir David King spelt out what the options were for avoiding this kind of threat. ‘If we are to stabilise the carbon dioxide level, what number should we aim for? I would be happiest if we could stabilise the atmosphere at 270 parts per million, the “natural” level before we began burning fossil fuels. However, it’s too late for that; we are already at 381ppm and the level is increasing by 2ppm per year. Many scientists have suggested that 400ppm would be a desirable target, giving us a reasonable chance of avoiding the worst that climate change might throw at us, but this target is not achievable. We could perhaps manage it, if every nation were prepared to switch off its coal-fired power stations right now and sit waiting in the dark for new zero-emissions technologies to emerge. But in the real world that is not feasible. Thus I have suggested that we aim for a level of 550 ppm by 2050. This amount of carbon dioxide, roughly double the preindustrial level, will still expose us to many of the dangers of climate change, but it is realistically achievable and provides the best available safeguard for the future. Even this target will take urgent action. It is doable, but we will have to bust a gut to make it happen.’
So how is this going to be achieved? Well firstly, there’s the international agreements. On Dec 15th Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, Elliot Morley, reported on what he saw as the very successful Montreal COP11/UNFCCC meeting (see our Reviews section) ‘The outcomes of the conference in Montreal are hugely significant. The Kyoto parties agreed to launch a process for agreeing new greenhouse gas targets beyond 2012 and all parties agreed to review the framework convention with a view to ensuring a truly global effort to tackle climate change. The Kyoto protocol was strengthened with the adoption of the Marrakesh accords compliance mechanism and greater support for the Kyoto mechanisms.’
Then there are the specific technologies. King backed nuclear along with renewables- and carbon sequestration. In a Commons reply on Dec 14th Malcolm Wicks, the Energy Minister, also talked about the attractions- and costs- of carbon sequestration: ‘The cost of carbon dioxide abatement through the application of carbon capture and storage (CCS) has been examined in the DTI’s Carbon Abatement Technologies Strategy (June 2005). This drew on a wide range of sources including programmes organised by the International Energy Agency as well as a public consultation, and estimated costs of £38-£127 per tonne of carbon for abatement on coal fired plant. This should be compared to the social cost of carbon dioxide emissions, which is highly uncertain although a recent report for DEFRA indicated a range from £35-£1,000 per tonne of carbon emitted.’
And responding to a Parliamentary Question on forestry sequestration in the developing world, Elliot Morley commented ‘Our policy is that emissions reductions from reduced deforestation should be part of developing countries’ participation in climate change agreements’. At the COP 11/UNFCCC meeting in Montreal last Dec, there was a call from Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica, supported by other countries making up the Coalition of Rainforest Nations, to allow developing countries to claim carbon sequestration from forestry as part of their carbon abatement credits- see our Groups section in Renew 161.
We have seven years...
The world has seven years to implement measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions or it could be too late, according to Tony Blair- and the US India and China had to be part of a framework that included targets and that succeeded the 1992 Kyoto Protocol.
‘If we don’t get the right agreement internationally for the period after which the Kyoto protocol will expire- that’s in 2012- if we don’t do that then I think we are in serious trouble.’
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