Just in time for the ongoing talks on what, if anything, the nations of Earth can agree to do about climate change in Cancún, Mexico, the U.K.’s Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research has rounded up a trove of cutting-edge scientific research that paints what may be the most accurate portrait of Earth’s future to date.
The highlights from this series of papers published by the Royal Society:
The U.N. has long sought to limit warming of the Earth to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) by 2100, but a new paper from scientists at the U.K.’s Met Office Hadley Center and the University of Exeter says with high emissions and strong carbon cycle feedbacks, we could reach 4 degrees C (7.2 degrees F) as early as 2060.
The impacts associated with 3.6 degrees F have been revised upwards, sufficiently so 3.6 degrees F now more appropriately represents the threshold between ‘dangerous’ and ‘extremely dangerous’ climate change. Adapting to 7.2 degrees F of warming will be more challenging and qualitatively different from adapting to 3.6 degrees F of warming.
Average warming of 7.2 degrees F globally means warming during the summer months over the U.S., Europe, Africa and Australia; winter temperatures in the Arctic will increase 21.6-28.8 degrees F. This will lead to sea level rise, displacing, without adaptation, 187 million people over the century.
Climate realism crawls out of its den, sees its shadow, guarantees a few more centuries of warming: Economist Eban Goodstein argues we’ve effectively blown all the relevant deadlines for starting to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, virtually guaranteeing, absent economic collapse or a near-magical technological breakthrough in solar power production, 550 parts per million of atmospheric CO2 and at least 4 degrees F of warming, enough to guarantee future warming for centuries.
On the other hand, Kjell Aleklett, professor of physics at the University of Uppsala and president of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, argues that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s business-as-usual scenario implying 10.8 degrees F of warming assumes elevations in levels of coal consumption that are unrealistic given likely reserves. Aleklett does not assert, however, that limited supplies of fossil fuels will keep us out of trouble in terms of the climate.
“Ninety percent of all coal reserves in the world can be found in six countries: the U.S., India, China, Russia, South Africa, and of course Australia,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald. “The whole CO2 emissions problem is only six countries. Those are the drug dealers when it comes to selling coal. If these six countries would stop selling coal, there would be no problem at all.”
The Wall Street Journal reports that regionally, China is already facing a “peak coal” scenario.
Cancun: Jarabe Tapatío without the triumphal march: Slate’s Michael Levi is optimistic about the potential for effective action at this week’s international climate talks in Cancún, while journalist Marc Gunther gives us 10 blanket reasons climate talks don’t work.
Conservatives and liberals alike are ready to lay the blame at the feet of China and its rabid consumption of coal. Mother Jones‘ Kate Sheppard rounds up the rest of the generally dire news on the talks, ranging from their potential to become irrelevant to the intractability of the positions of the 180 countries who are potential signatories to any agreement.
Two professors, in the op-ed pages of The New York Times, say negotiators in Cancún should forget about carbon dioxide and go for the low-hanging fruit such as: methane, hydrofluorocarbons, dark particle soot, and lower atmospheric ozone. Scientists in the Telegraph say negotiators should just give up on the U.S.
In any event, reaching the emissions targets originally set forth by the U.N. would require World War II-style rationing in the developed world, argues Kevin Anderson, director of the Tyndall Center.
Finally, something even Tea Partiers and environmentalists agree on: It’s official: Everyone outside of the corn belt officially hates the ethanol tax credit. Even Al Gore, the man whose tie-breaking vote initiated the credit, is now admitting it was a mistake. Next up: Can both ends of the political spectrum unite on a plan to energize America’s clean energy industry before we fall even further behind the Chinese?
How to blame extreme weather on climate change (without having to apologize for doing so): “Fractional risk attribution” allows scientists to compare our world to one in which warming never occurred, leading them to conclude, for example, global warming was 75 percent responsible for the European heat wave of 2003.
Last but not least: the good news: Owing to uncertainty about future carbon regulations and America’s glut of natural gas, Progress Energy Carolinas is turning from coal to gas-fired power plants. It’s part of a larger trend away from coal for power generation that “has the potential to reshape energy consumption in the United States significantly and permanently,” says Dan Eggers, a Credit Suisse energy analyst.
The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate
and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.