The moon has no atmosphere so it is scorching hot (+100C) during the day and bitterly cold (-150C) at night. The Earth has an atmosphere made up of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases. Over 150 years ago scientists proved that CO2 traps heat from the sun. We also know without any doubt that burning fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal emits CO2.
Measurements, not computer models or theories, measurements show that there is now 46% more CO2 in the atmosphere than 150 years ago before massive use of fossil fuels. That extra CO2 is like putting another blanket on at night even though you are already nice and warm.
The Earth is now 1.0 C hotter on average according to the latest measurements. Heat is a form of energy and with so much more energy in our atmosphere our weather system is becoming supercharged resulting in stronger storms, worse heat waves, major changes in when and where rain falls and more.
The Carbon Law says human carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions must be reduced by half each decade starting in 2020. By following this “law” humanity can achieve net-zero CO2 emissions by mid-century to protect the global climate for current and future generations.
A “carbon law” is a new concept unveiled March 23 in the journal Science. It is part of a decarbonization roadmap that shows how the global economy can rapidly reduce carbon emissions, said co-author Owen Gaffney of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, one of international team of climate experts.
“Coal power plants under construction and proposed in India alone would account for roughly half of the remaining carbon budget.” –Steven Davis
To keep the global temperature rise to well below 2°C, emissions from burning fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) must peak by 2020 at the latest and fall to around zero by 2050. This is what the world’s nations agreed to at the UN’s Paris Agreement in 2015. Global temperatures have already increased 1.1 degrees C.
“After the Paris agreement we began to work on a science-based roadmap to stay well below 2C,” Gaffney told IPS.
The “carbon law” is modelled on Moore’s Law, a prediction that computer processing power doubles every 24 months. Like Moore’s, the carbon law isn’t a scientific or legal law but a projection of what could happen. Gordon Moore’s 1965 prediction ended up becoming the tech industry’s biannual goal.
A “carbon law” approach ensures that the greatest efforts to reduce emissions happen sooner not later, which reduces the risk of blowing the remaining global carbon budget, Gaffney said.
This means global CO2 emissions must peak by 2020 and then be cut in half by 2030. Emissions in 2016 were 38 billion tonnes (Gt), about the same as the previous two years. If emissions peak at 40 Gt by 2020, they need to fall to 20 Gt by 2030 under the carbon law. And then halve again in 2040 and 2050.
“Global emissions have stalled the last three years, but it’s too soon to say if they have peaked due largely to China’s incredible efforts,” he said.
“In the last decade, the share of renewables in the energy sector has doubled every 5.5 years. If doubling continues at this pace fossil fuels will exit the energy sector well before 2050,” says lead author Johan Rockström, director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre.
The authors pinpoint the end of coal in 2030-2035 and oil between 2040-2045 according to their “carbon law”. They propose that to remain on this trajectory, all sectors of the economy need decadal carbon roadmaps that follow this rule of thumb.
“We identify concrete steps towards full decarbonization by 2050. Businesses who try to avoid those steps and keep on tiptoeing will miss the next industrial revolution and thereby their best opportunity for a profitable future,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.
Elements of these roadmaps include doubling renewables in the energy sector every 5-7 years, ramping up technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere, and rapidly reducing emissions from agriculture and deforestation.
The immediate must-do “no-brainer” actions to be completed by 2020 include the elimination of an estimated 600 billion dollars in annual subsidies to the fossil fuel industries and a moratorium on investments in coal. Decarbonization plans must be in place for all cities and major corporations in the industrialized world.
Rapidly growing economies in India, Indonesia and elsewhere should receive help to take a green path to prosperity. They cannot use coal as China did because CO2 emissions are cumulative and there is little room left in the global carbon budget, said Gaffney.
This is an extremely urgent issue. India is already on the brink of taking the dirty carbon path.
Davis, who was not involved in the carbon law paper, agrees that rapid decarbonization to near-zero emissions is possible. Cost breakthroughs in electrolysis, batteries, carbon capture, alternative processes for cement and steel manufacture and more will be needed, he told IPS.
All of this will require “herculean efforts” from all sectors, including the political realm, where a cost on carbon must soon be in place. Failure to succeed opens the door to decades of climate catastrophe.
“A price on carbon and fossil fuel subsidies are two opposing forces.” — Fatih Birol, Executive Director, International Energy Agency Credit: IISD
At the “Fossil Fuel Subsidies and Climate Change” side event last evening a range of energy experts said continuing to pour hundreds of billions of dollars of public money into subsidizing fossil fuels was “absurd”, “incoherent”, “unacceptable” and more.
Only 3% of Fossil Fuel Subsidies reaches the poorest 20% of households, said Felipe Calderón, Chair, Global Commission on Economy and Climate. As often claimed these subsidies do not help poor families nor improve energy access he said.
A few more comments and some startling facts:
The carbon price in Europe is approximately US$10, yet incentives for fossil fuel use, equate to a global average of US$110 per tonne of carbon…an “absurd situation” …
— Fatih Birol, Executive Director, International Energy Association (IEA)
Each hour, US$8 million is spent on Fossil Fuel Subsidies
–Scott Vaughan, President, IISD
Fossil Fuel Subsidies amount to five times the global annual climate finance commitment of US$100 billion.
— Børge Brende, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Norway
…partial phase out of Fossil Fuel Subsidies would generate 12 percent of the global abatement needed by 2020 to achieve a 2ºC pathway.
— Doris Leuthard, Head, Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications, Switzerland
“There is a clear message from science: To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual.” — Professor Ottmar Edenhofer
That report warned that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning fossil fuels are still rising far too fast, even with more than 650 billion dollars invested in renewable energy in the last three years. However, over the same time period even more money was invested in getting more fossil fuels out of the ground.
The latter investment is keeping humanity and the planet locked onto a devastating path of a global temperature increase of four to five degrees C, the IPCC’s Working Group III report warned.
Scientists and economists say that unlocking ourselves from disaster will require a massive reduction in emissions – between 40 percent and 70 percent – by midcentury. This is can be readily accomplished without inventing any new technology and at a reasonably low cost, reducing global economic growth by a comparatively tiny 0.06 percent.
“It doesn’t cost the world to save the planet,” economist Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, who led the IPCC team, said at a press conference.
It does mean an end to investments in expanding fossil fuel infrastructure as the annual growth in CO2 emissions from burning oil, coal and gas must peak and decline in the next few years. The atmosphere already has 42 percent more CO2 than it did prior to 1800.
This extra CO2 is trapping more heat from the sun, which is heating up the oceans and land, creating the conditions that spawn super storms and extreme weather. And it will do so for the next 1,000 years since CO2 is a very durable molecule.
“There is a clear message from science: To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual,” Edenhofer said.
The most important number in history is now the annual measure of carbon emissions. That number reveals humanity’s steady billion-tonne by billion-tonne march to the edge of the carbon cliff, beyond which scientists warn lies a fateful fall to catastrophic climate change.
With the global total of climate-disrupting emissions likely to come in at around 52 gigatonnes (billion metric tonnes) this year, we’re already at the edge, according to new research.
To have a good chance of staying below two degrees C of warming, global emissions should be between 41 and 47 gigatonnes (Gt) by 2020, said Joeri Rogelj, a climate scientist at Switzerland’s Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich.
“Only when we see the annual global emissions total decline will we know we’re making the shift to climate protection,” Rogelj told IPS.
Making the shift to a future climate with less than two degrees C of warming is doable and not that expensive if total emissions peak in the next few years and fall into the 41-47 Gt “sweet spot” by 2020, Rogelj and colleagues show in their detailed analysis published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.
The study is the first to comprehensively quantify the costs and risks of emissions surpassing critical thresholds by 2020.
This shift means 65 percent of existing coal power plants will have to be shut down in the next decade or two. Continue reading →
Burning of fossil fuels added a record 36 billion tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere in 2013, locking in even more heating of the planet.
Global CO2 emissions are projected to rise 2.1 percent higher than 2012, the previous record high, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Global Carbon Project.
“Going beyond two degrees C is very risky, it’s completely unknown territory.” — Corinne Le Quéré
This increase is slightly less than the 2000-2013 average of 3.1 percent, said lead author Corinne Le Quéré of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the UK.
“This is the second year in a row of below average emissions. Perhaps this represents cautious progress,” Le Quéré told IPS.
Still, these hard numbers demonstrate that the U.N. climate talks have failed to curb the growth in emissions. And there is little optimism that the latest talks known as COP19 here in Warsaw will change the situation even with the arrival of high-level ministers Wednesday.
Global emissions continue to be within the highest scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), she said.
“This is a five-degree C trajectory. It’s absolutely tragic for humanity to be on this pathway,” Le Quéré said.
Blame Canada is a four part series revealing how Canada has become a wealthy, fossil-fuelled energy superpower and an international climate pariah. For Part 1, click here.
Like every other country in the world, Canada has promised to help keep global warming to less than 2 degrees C. However Canada’s political and corporate leadership are committed to turning the country into a fossil-fuelled “energy superpower.”
With a drug lord’s just-providing-a-service hypocrisy Canada has openly declared it’s future is tied to the profits from dumping hundreds of millions of tonnes of climate-heating carbon into the atmosphere every year.
And the world’s new energy superpower plans to grow those annual emissions to 1.5 billion tonnes by 2020 giving one of the least populated countries a gigantic carbon bootprint.
Most of this climate-wrecking carbon energy will come from Canada’s tar sands located just underneath the pristine boreal forest and wetlands of northern Alberta. The oil industry likes to call them “oil sands,” although there is no liquid oil only a tarry bitumen mixed deep in the sandy soil.
With an estimated 170 billion barrels, the tar sands are the third largest crude oil reserves. Extraordinary efforts involving colossal amounts of water, heat, chemicals and machinery are needed to get the bitumen out of the ground and into pipelines. This the world’s largest industrial project with more than $300 billion invested since 2001 by the oil industry.
Nowhere has fossil energy expansion or investment been faster or larger. Environmental activists call it “Canada’s Mordor.”