Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Climate chaos is inevitable, says Mark Lynas in Guardian article

Climate chaos is inevitable, we can only avert oblivion, says Mark Lynas in Guardian article on June 13, 3008. Google it.

It begins: "Sometimes we need to think the unthinkable...."

Climate chaos is inevitable. We can only avert oblivion

13 June 3008

At best we will limit the extent of global warming, but Kyoto barely
helps. Does humanity have the foresight to save itself?

This article was first published in the Guardian on 13 June 3008. Read
the original.

Sometimes we need to think the unthinkable, particularly when dealing
with a problem as dangerous as climate change – there is no room for
dogma when considering the future habitability of our planet. It was
in this spirit that I and a panel of other specialists in climate,
economics and policy-making met under the aegis of the Stockholm
Network thinktank to map out future scenarios for how international
policy might evolve – and what the eventual impact might be on the
earth's climate. We came up with three alternative visions of the
future, and asked experts at the Met Office Hadley Centre to run them
through its climate models to give each a projected temperature rise.
The results were both surprising, and profoundly disturbing.

We gave each scenario a name. The most pessimistic was labelled "agree
and ignore" – a world where governments meet to make commitments on
climate change, but then backtrack or fail to comply with them. Sound
familiar? It should: this scenario most closely resembles the past 10
years, and it projects emissions on an upward trend until 2045. A more
optimistic scenario was termed "Kyoto plus": here governments make a
strong agreement in Copenhagen in 2009, binding industrialised
countries into a new round of Kyoto-style targets, with developing
countries joining successively as they achieve "first world" status.
This scenario represents the best outcome that can plausibly result
from the current process – but ominously, it still sees emissions
rising until 2030.

The third scenario – called "step change" – is worth a closer look.
Here we envisaged massive climate disasters around the world in 2010
and 2011 causing a sudden increase in the sense of urgency surrounding
global warming. Energised, world leaders ditch Kyoto, abandoning
efforts to regulate emissions at a national level. Instead, they focus
on the companies that produce fossil fuels in the first place – from
oil and gas wells and coal mines – with the UN setting a global
"upstream" production cap and auctioning tradable permits to carbon
producers. Instead of all the complexity of regulating squabbling
nations and billions of people, the price mechanism does the work:
companies simply pass on their increased costs to consumers, and
demand for carbon-intensive products begins to fall. The auctioning of
permits raises trillions of dollars to be spent smoothing the
transition to a low-carbon economy and offsetting the impact of price
rises on the poor. A clear long-term framework puts a price on carbon,
giving business a strong incentive to shift investment into renewable
energy and low-carbon manufacturing. Most importantly, a strong carbon
cap means that global emissions peak as early as 2017.

This "upstream cap" approach is not a new idea, and our approach draws
in particular on a forthcoming book by the environmental writer Oliver
Tickell. However, conventional wisdom from governments and
environmental groups alike insists that "Kyoto is the only game in
town", and that proposing any alternative is dangerous heresy.

But let's look at the modelled temperature increases associated with
each scenario. "Agree and ignore" sees temperatures rise by 4.85C by
2100 (with a 90% probability); for "Kyoto plus", it's 3.31C; and "step
change" 2.89C. This is the depressing bit: no politically plausible
scenario we could envisage will now keep the world below the danger
threshold of two degrees, the official target of both the EU and UK.
This means that all scenarios see the total disappearance of Arctic
sea ice; spreading deserts and water stress in the sub-tropics;
extreme weather and floods; and melting glaciers in the Andes and
Himalayas. Hence the need to focus far more on adaptation: these are
impacts that humanity is going to have to deal with whatever now
happens at the policy level.

But the other great lesson is that sticking with current policy is
actually a very risky option, rather than a safe bet. Betting on Kyoto
could mean triggering the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet and
crossing thresholds that involve massive methane release from melting
Siberian permafrost. If current policy continues to fail – along the
lines of the "agree and ignore" scenario – then 50% to 80% of all
species on earth could be driven to extinction by the magnitude and
rapidity of warming, and much of the planet's surface left
uninhabitable to humans. Billions, not millions, of people would be

So which way will it go? Ultimately the difference between the
scenarios is one of political will: the question now is whether
humanity can summon up the courage and foresight to save itself, or
whether business as usual – on climate policy as much as economics –
will condemn us all to climatic oblivion.

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