Climate change target may lead to 'dangerously misguided' policies

September 2, 2008

The pledge from G8 countries to cut global emissions by 50 per cent by 2050, in an effort to cut global warming to 2ºC, could lead to ‘dangerously misguided’ climate change adaptation policies, according to new research from The University of Manchester.

Stabilising greenhouse gas emissions at a level that will avoid dangerous climate change is no longer viable without an immediate reframing of current climate policy, according to scientists at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in Manchester.

In a paper published in a special geo-engineering edition of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, which is published online today, Prof Kevin Anderson and Dr Alice Bows say that by focusing on long-term emission targets, such as 50% by 2050, climate policy has essentially ignored the crucial importance of current emission trends and their impact on cumulative emissions.

They say that as a consequence, although countries should aim to reduce global emissions in line with a 2ºC target, adaptation policy must focus on climate change impacts associated with 4ºC or more.

Dr Bows said: “The 2007 Bali conference heard repeated calls for reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions of 50 per cent by 2050 to avoid exceeding the 2°C threshold.

“While such endpoint targets dominate the policy agenda, they do not, in isolation, have a scientific basis and are likely to lead to dangerously misguided policies.

“To be scientifically credible, policy must be informed by an understanding of cumulative emissions and associated emission pathways.

“Every year that the emissions grow more than anticipated, as they have since 2000, the 2050 target will need to be adjusted. The less we take action now, the more we need to do in the future - and the focus on 2050 means we take our eye off the ball.”

In conclusion Dr Bows and Dr Anderson write: “It is increasingly unlikely that an early and explicit global climate change agreement or collective ad hoc national mitigation policies will deliver the urgent and dramatic reversal in emission trends necessary for stabilization at 450 ppmv (parts per million by volume) CO2e.

“Similarly, the mainstream climate change agenda is far removed from the rates of mitigation necessary to stabilize at 550 ppmv CO2e. Given the reluctance, at virtually all levels, to openly engage with the unprecedented scale of both current emissions and their associated growth rates, even an optimistic interpretation of the current framing of climate change implies that stabilisation much below 650 ppmv CO2e is improbable.

“The analysis presented within this paper suggests that the rhetoric of 2°C is subverting a meaningful, open and empirically informed dialogue on climate change.

“While it may be argued that 2°C provides a reasonable guide to the appropriate scale of mitigation, it is a dangerously misleading basis for informing the adaptation agenda.

“In the absence of an almost immediate step change in mitigation - away from the current trend of 3 per cent annual emission growth - adaptation would be much better guided by stabilisation at 650 ppmv CO2e - approximately 4°C.

“However, even this level of stabilisation assumes rapid success in curtailing deforestation, an early reversal of current trends in non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions and urgent decarbonisation of the global energy system.”

The special edition of the journal is edited by Professor Brian Launder, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at The University of Manchester.

In the introduction to the journal, he and co-author Prof Michael Thompson write that the consequences of global warming are “already causing misery and premature death for millions and hold the prospect of unquantifiable change and potential disaster on a global scale for the decades to come”.

“While the link between rising global temperatures and increasing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 has been known for more than a century, there is increasingly the sense that governments are failing to come to grips with the urgency of setting in place measures that will assuredly lead to our planet reaching a safe equilibrium.

“Today, the developed world is struggling to meet its (arguably inadequate) carbon-reduction targets while emissions by China and India have soared. Meanwhile, signs suggest that the climate is even more sensitive to atmospheric CO2 levels than had hitherto been thought.

“Alarmed by what are seen as inadequate responses by politicians, for a number of years some scientists and engineers have been proposing major ‘last-minute’ schemes that, if properly developed and assessed in advance, could be available for rapid deployment, should the present general concern about climate change be upgraded to a recognition of imminent, catastrophic and, possibly, irreversible increases in global temperatures with all their associated consequences.

“While such geoscale interventions may be risky, the time may well come when they are accepted as less risky than doing nothing.”

Provided by University of Manchester

Explore further: Historical records miss a fifth of global warming: NASA

Related Stories

Historical records miss a fifth of global warming: NASA

July 22, 2016

A new NASA-led study finds that almost one-fifth of the global warming that has occurred in the past 150 years has been missed by historical records due to quirks in how global temperatures were recorded. The study explains ...

Russian wildfires put key climate resource at risk

July 22, 2016

Russia's practice of leaving massive wildfires to burn out of control in sprawling stretches of Siberia puts at risk a key global resource for absorbing climate-warming emissions: its trees.

Birds on top of the world, with nowhere to go

July 20, 2016

Climate change could make much of the Arctic unsuitable for millions of migratory birds that travel north to breed each year, according to a new international study published today in Global Change Biology.

Group clones California giant trees to combat climate change

July 20, 2016

At the foot of a giant sequoia in California's Sierra Nevada, two arborists stepped into harnesses then inched up ropes more than 20 stories into the dizzying canopy of a tree that survived thousands of years, enduring drought, ...

Toxic waters and climate change—how are they linked?

July 20, 2016

It is imperative that society learn more about how climate change contributes to episodic and very severe water quality impairments, such as the harmful algal bloom that caused Florida to declare a state of emergency earlier ...

Recommended for you

2016 climate trends continue to break records

July 19, 2016

Two key climate change indicators—global surface temperatures and Arctic sea ice extent—have broken numerous records through the first half of 2016, according to NASA analyses of ground-based observations and satellite ...

Warmer Mediterranean turns the Sahel green

July 21, 2016

Climate change can have mixed consequences: It would appear that the warming of the Mediterranean region, which has brought greater heat and drought to the countries there for around 20 years, is behind an increase in rainfall ...

8 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

MikeB
3 / 5 (8) Sep 02, 2008
When you have no idea what you are doing... do nothing
bobwinners
3.4 / 5 (5) Sep 03, 2008
It is probably a better idea for world governments to focus on dealing with the effects of global warming rather than seeking to stop it. I doubt that there is one chance in ten that global agreements on heat trapping emissions will be agreed and adhered to.
Modernmystic
3.4 / 5 (5) Sep 03, 2008
From the article...

...a recognition of imminent, catastrophic and, possibly, irreversible increases in global temperatures with all their associated consequences.


Can someone explain how adding CO2 to the atmosphere will create IRREVERSIBLE increases in global temperatures? Do these people even know what they're talking about, or is this simply what it looks like....blatant intellectual dishonesty? This is only slightly more sophisticated than an evil sibling saying "ooogy ooogy booooogie" to scare their three year old brother away.
notaphysicist
2.3 / 5 (6) Sep 03, 2008
Modernmystic: It will be irreversible on the scale of a human generation-to-lifetime; not on any sort of geologic scale. On the other hand, if we ever get serious, about fixing the problem; we will want to grow forests, char them into charcoal, collecting the gas for fuel and as a chemical feedstock, and then compact the charcoal and stuff it back into mines. If we do that annually with 10 billion tons of charcoal we will be fine.
Modernmystic
3 / 5 (4) Sep 03, 2008
I suppose you might be correct assuming human technology sits at a standstill for an entire generation. On the other hand, even rudimentary nanotechnology could go a long way to scrubbing "excess" CO2 out of the air. Not to mention where we'll be technologically speaking 500 years from now...most likely we'll be in full control of the climate.

In any case it's a flamboyantly inaccurate statement. If people want to be taken seriously they might want to try to make accurate statements.
deepsand
1.8 / 5 (5) Sep 03, 2008
From the article...

...a recognition of imminent, catastrophic and, possibly, irreversible increases in global temperatures with all their associated consequences.


Can someone explain how adding CO2 to the atmosphere will create IRREVERSIBLE increases in global temperatures? Do these people even know what they're talking about, or is this simply what it looks like....blatant intellectual dishonesty? This is only slightly more sophisticated than an evil sibling saying "ooogy ooogy booooogie" to scare their three year old brother away.
Already done; but, you learned nothing.

And now you ask that others undertake a fool's errand?
Velanarris
5 / 5 (3) Sep 06, 2008
From the article...

...a recognition of imminent, catastrophic and, possibly, irreversible increases in global temperatures with all their associated consequences.


Can someone explain how adding CO2 to the atmosphere will create IRREVERSIBLE increases in global temperatures? Do these people even know what they're talking about, or is this simply what it looks like....blatant intellectual dishonesty? This is only slightly more sophisticated than an evil sibling saying "ooogy ooogy booooogie" to scare their three year old brother away.


Easy answer, it won't. CO2 is at max IR absorption at 0.0038ppm in the troposphere. We're currently at 280-290ppm only 0.03% of which is man made.
hkhenson
not rated yet Nov 11, 2008
There is a way to solve the energy crisis (which is more of a problem right now than the climate problems). As a side effect, it also gets so much CO2 out of the air that an ice age is a possibility.

http://htyp.org/d...gasoline

Keith Henson

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.