Time Running Out on Vows to Act on Climate Scientists Warn

Alleyway, RLeahy 2007
Alleyway, RLeahy 2007

By Stephen Leahy

COLUMBUS, Ohio, Sep 24 (IPS)

Promises are easy to make.

But promises by world leaders will not halt the heat-trapping carbon emissions that are dialing-up global temperatures and altering the climate, say critics and climate researchers meeting in this U.S. Midwestern city.

As evidenced at the U.N. leader’s summit on climate change in New York Tuesday, the world’s big economies are refusing to commit to actions that will prevent this and future generations from inheriting a hostile climate no other humans have ever faced.

Do we have the social and political will to deal with a problem that we will only see partially in our lifetimes?” wonders Don McConnell, president of Battelle Energy Technology, the world’s largest non-profit research centre.

“What most don’t realise is that the biggest impact from climate change will be shifts in precipitation, not temperature increase,” McConnell told IPS at the McCormick Energy Solutions Conference at Ohio State University this week.

Such changes have already been documented, with increasing frequency and severity of flooding and droughts. In July, researchers reported in the journal Nature Geoscience that the normal band of heavy rainfall around the equator has been creeping north, leaving areas once blessed with abundant rainfall high and dry.

Flooded forest near Careiro Island, Central Amazonia sml [Image courtesy of Cristina Cox FernandesHRWe’re talking about the most prominent rainfall feature on the planet, one that many people depend on as the source of their freshwater because there is no groundwater to speak of where they live,” said Julian Sachs, associate professor of oceanography at the University of Washington, in a release.

Global energy use is expected to climb 55 percent between 2005 and 2030, said McConnell, and without major changes, most of that increase will come from fossil fuels – pushing carbon emissions far beyond the point of unstoppable, catastrophic climate change, scientists agree.

To have an even chance of stabilising the climate at roughly two degrees C of warming, the current two- to three-percent annual growth in carbon emissions must flatline between 2015 and 2020 and start to decline by three percent per year, according to the latest scientific evidence. That means the target for the U.N. climate meeting in Copenhagen in December is a new international agreement to reduce global emissions by 50 percent compared to 1990 and to do that by 2050.

“The magnitude of this problem is not widely appreciated (in the U.S.),” said Steven Koonin, undersecretary for science at the U.S. Department of Energy.

“Once carbon dioxide is up in the atmosphere, it is effectively up there forever,” Koonin, a physicist and former chief scientist for BP Oil, told IPS in Columbus.

U.S. per capita emissions are 20 tonnes of carbon per year, while the global average is four tonnes, but in order to stabilise the climate, that average must be cut to two tonnes, he said.

“Energy touches everything,” Koonin said, making change both complicated and difficult. Energy systems are integrated, so low-carbon fuels would have to work in all vehicles, for example. And, in the U.S., where much of the energy system works well, there is little incentive to make changes.

For complete article see CLIMATE CHANGE: Time Running Out on Vows to Act, Scientists Warn

4 thoughts on “Time Running Out on Vows to Act on Climate Scientists Warn

  1. I am convinced that the best thing any individual can do is to grow more food (and sequester more carbon) by adding reduced salt sea minerals to their soil. You can find some very convincing evidence that this can double plant growth and carbon sequestration in a couple years:


    A cheap and simple, open-source method for doing this is also on the page linked above.

    Can you think of anything else, that everyone can do, which might do a better job of reducing our carbon footprint, feeding the world and countering the problems caused by industrial agriculture?

    • Anything better? Yep – consume much less. Get rid of your car, cut right back or stop flying, cut right back or stop eating meat (esp red meat), move into a smaller, more efficient house, lower your thermostat (or raise it in summer) and put on another layer, move closer to work and friends to decrease travelling, buy less crap. Discover in a simpler life greater joy as you rediscover time for relationships. And for gardening. 🙂

  2. “reduce global emissions by 50 percent compared to 1990 and to do that by 2050”

    If we peak in 2020 and drop to 50% of 1990 by 2050, then we’re going to sail well past 2ºC. Still, even such a limited goal is far better than simply continuing to accelerate into destruction.

    • Unfortunately you are correct Byron. The best we can do is to quickly shift away from fossil fuels this decade so that the peak might be earlier than 2020 and the emissions decline at a more rapid rate.

      This decade sets the table for the rest of the century – don’t think many people realize this.

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