Tuesday, December 03, 2013

A Day of Global Warming Publications

It's been quite a day for global warming related publications.
In Europe we had a report from EASAC – the European Academies Science Advisory Council.  It is, to quote, "formed by the national science academies of the EU Member States to enable them to collaborate with each other in giving advice to European policy-makers. It thus provides a means for the collective voice of European science to be heard."
Their report's title is descriptive:
Over 19 pages the report summarises recent trends in extreme weather events and looks to the future with bleak forecasts.  The conclusion is obvious and stark:
"The risks associated with future climate change can however only be reduced by mitigation measures. These require governmental decisions." 

Then, from across the pond, we had two significant publications.  The National Academy of Sciences launched their report, "Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises".
There's a four-page summary here and the whole 200-page document can be downloaded as a 19MB pdf here.
"The report calls for action to develop an abrupt change early warning system to help anticipate future abrupt changes and reduce their impacts."
Long gone are the days when we had to consider evidence for global warming; that is now taken as read and we are now concentrating on how best to build mitigation and adaptation strategies.
Jim White, chair of Committee on Understanding and Monitoring Abrupt Climate Change and its Impacts, introduces the report in a preface thus: 
"Climate is changing, forced out of the range of the last million years by levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases not seen in the Earth’s atmosphere for a very long time. Lacking action by the world’s nations, it is clear that the planet will be warmer, sea level will rise, and patterns of rainfall will change. But the future is also partly uncertain—there is considerable uncertainty about how we will arrive at that different climate. Will the changes be gradual, allowing natural systems and societal infrastructure to adjust in a timely fashion? Or will some of the changes be more abrupt, crossing some threshold or “tipping point” to change so fast that the time between when a problem is recognized and when action is required shrinks to the point where orderly adaptation is not possible?
"A study of Earth’s climate history suggests the inevitability of “tipping points”— thresholds beyond which major and rapid changes occur when crossed—that lead to abrupt changes in the climate system. The history of climate on the planet—as read in archives such as tree rings, ocean sediments, and ice cores—is punctuated with large changes that occurred rapidly, over the course of decades to as little as a few years. There are many potential tipping points in nature, as described in this report, and many more that we humans create in our own systems. The current rate of carbon emissions is changing the climate system at an accelerating pace, making the
chances of crossing tipping points all the more likely. The seminal 2002 National Academy Report, Abrupt Climate Changes: Inevitable Surprises (still required reading for anyone with a serious interest in our future climate) was aptly named: surprises are indeed inevitable. The question is now whether the surprises can be anticipated, and the element of surprise reduced. That issue is addressed in this report."
The message is, again, clear and stark, and it comes from America's pre-eminent scientific institution.  There is no body that carries more weight.
A live webcast of the report's launch was broadcast today and an archive version is promised soon - check this site.

Some call Hansen's position extreme, but increasing numbers of scientists just call him right.
Central to the paper is the assertion  "we conclude that the target to limit global warming to 2°C, confirmed by the 2009 Copenhagen Accord of the 15th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, would lead to disastrous consequences".  We should be aiming for just 1°C.  No more.  And that means drastic action pretty damn quick.
Hansen provided this covering letter with the paper:
The paper 'Assessing "Dangerous Climate Change": Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature' is being published today in the leading open-access journal PLOS ONE. A 2-page paper summary + 4-page opinion (Hansen & Kharecha) re policy implications is available here or from my web site. 

The paper was written to provide the scientific basis for legal actions against federal and state governments, in the United States and other nations, for not doing their job of protecting the rights of young people. The legal actions being filed by Our Children's Trust ask the courts to require the government to provide a plan for how they will reduce fossil fuel emissions consistent with stabilizing climate. 

We dispute the common assumption that the world necessarily is going to develop all fossil fuels that can be found, thus making large global warming inevitable. Humanity does not need to be a bunch of lemmings headed over a cliff. Indeed, appropriate policies that phase out fossil fuel emissions over decades would be economically and environmentally beneficial. The editors of PLOS ONE, noting our statement "...there is still an opportunity for humanity to exercise free will", are establishing a "Responding to Climate Change" Collection in the journal PLOS ONE. They invite paper submissions in all areas of research and a broad range of disciplines aimed at returning Earth to a state of energy balance. 

The paper draws attention to the moral and ethical issues caused by the inertia of the climate system, which causes most of the impacts of climate change to be felt by young people and future generations, as a consequence of action or inaction of the current generation. Besides this moral issue, we point out that effective government policies, collecting a rising carbon fee from the fossil fuel industry that made fossil fuels pay their costs to society, would be a path to economic prosperity, while business-as-usual only assures economic decline. 
~Jim 
3 December 2013

We have the time from now, through COP20 at Lima to COP21 at Paris, just under two years to win the agreement of all nations to give humanity a sporting chance of survival.


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