Education protects best from climate risks

Education protects best from climate risks

Many of us accept that the world is warming but will not necessarily recognise that climate change caused by human activities is responsible. Social scientists say better education is the answer.

LONDON, 24 December, 2014 − Researchers in the US have confirmed the great global warming paradox: people recognise that climate may be changing and that the storms, floods or heat waves they experience are not normal − but whether they attribute the abnormalities to man-made climate change depends on their existing beliefs.

Political party identification, the researchers found, plays a role in these matters. Democrats generally believe in the idea of global warming, Republicans do not.

Aaron McCright, a sociologist at Michigan State University, and colleagues report in Nature Climate Change that they analysed Gallup Poll data from 2012 on the responses of 1,000 people to temperatures in their home states.

The winter of 2012 was the fourth warmest in the US since 1895. Around 80% of US citizens reported that winter temperatures were warmer than usual, and those polled by Gallup also recognised that the conditions were out of the ordinary.

But only 35% believed that the main cause of the abnormally high temperatures was global warming. “Many people had already made up their minds about global warming and this extreme weather was not going to change that,” said Dr McCright.

Mistaken assumption

“There has been a lot of talk among climate scientists, politicians and journalists that warmer winters like this would change people’s minds. The more people are exposed to climate change, the more they’ll be convinced. This study suggests that this is not the case.”

The research confirms a pattern, and others have already hypothesised that humans are not very enthusiastic about dealing with threats that lie some way in the future. The Michigan State researchers conclude that “actual temperature anomalies influence perceived warming but not attribution of such warmer-than-usual winter temperatures to global warming.

“Rather, the latter is influenced more by perceived scientific agreement; beliefs about the current onset, human cause, threat and seriousness of global warming; and political orientation. This is not surprising given the politicisation of climate science and the political polarisation on climate change beliefs in recent years.”

So the message is: personal experience might help spread support for the idea of adaptive measures, but it may not increase support for mitigation policies.

The North American warm winter of 2012 was only one of a string of extremes that indicate a pattern of change: the 2010 Russian heat wave, Superstorm Sandy on the US East Coast in 2012 and Typhoon Haiyan in the Pacific in 2013 were all natural disasters consistent, the researchers say, “with expectations for a warming world.”

Education matters most

Which is why Wolfgang Lutz of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and colleagues argue in the journal Science that although huge sums of money will be spent on engineering adaptations to climate change, the urgent need is for universal education.

The researchers looked at recently-published analyses of disaster data from 167 countries in the last 40 years and found that making people aware of the hazards and their own vulnerability might do more than sea walls, dams, irrigation systems and other protective infrastructure.

For the researchers, knowledge is power. “Our research shows that education is more important than GDP in reducing mortality from natural disasters. We also demonstrated that under rapid development and educational expansion across the globe, disaster fatalities will be reduced,” said Raya Muttarak, one of the co-authors.

“Education directly improves knowledge, the ability to understand and process information, and risk perception. It also indirectly enhances socioeconomic status and social capital. These are qualities and skills useful for surviving and coping with disasters.” – Climate News Network

Share This:

Climate talks take a rocky road to Paris

Climate talks take a rocky road to Paris

The UN climate talks in Lima have ended with the setting of deadlines for the world to come up with plans to curb emissions and adapt to climate change.

LONDON, 14 December, 2014 − A deal struck in Lima between 196 nations today leaves open the possibility of saving the planet from dangerous overheating. But its critics say the prospects of success are now slim.

The talks − which ran two days longer than scheduled − set a series of deadlines which mean that every nation is charged with producing its plans to cap and reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.

These commitments will then be assessed to see if they are enough to prevent the world heating up more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the threshold political leaders say must not be crossed in order to avoid dangerous climate change.

The Lima agreement invites all countries to set out their plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 31 March. The next step will be to draft a legally binding international agreement on how to get below the 2°C threshold. This text is to be made available to all countries for comment by May 2015.

All eyes on Paris

By 1 November the secretariat of the UN Climate Change Convention is supposed to have assessed whether the commitment of these 196 nations is enough to stop the world overheating – and, if it is not, to point out by how far they will miss the target.

All this is to set the stage for a dramatic final negotiation in Paris in a year’s time, when a blueprint for a legally enforceable deal is supposed to be on the table. This is a tall order, however, because each time the parties meet the rich and poor countries wage the same arguments over again.

The developing countries say the rich developed countries that caused the problem in the first place must make deep cuts in their emissions and pay huge sums for the poorer countries to adapt to climate change.

The rich countries say that the fast industrialisation of many developing countries means that these countries must cut emissions too, otherwise the world will overheat anyway.

The poorest countries of all, and the small island states, who everyone agrees have no responsibility for the problem, want much more dramatic curbs on emissions, and more money for adaptation to sea level rise and climate extremes than is likely to be forthcoming.

New reality

The talks take place amid their own jargon, with phrases like the “principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances” seen as essential to point up the difference between rich and poor nations and what they are expected to do.

The talks have dragged on for 15 years since the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, in which the rich nations agreed to the first cuts in emissions while allowing the poorer nations to continue developing.

Now that China has overtaken the US as the world’s biggest polluter, and countries like Brazil and India are fast catching up, the scientific case is that every country has to curb its emissions, or else everyone faces disaster.

But whether the talks have gone far enough to allow a deal to be reached in Paris next year is a matter of many opinions.

“As a text it’s not perfect, but it includes the positions of the parties,” said Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, the Peruvian environment minister, who presided over the talks and must have been relieved he got a text on which every country was prepared to agree.

Caustic reaction

Environmental groups were scathing about the outcome. Sam Smith, chief of climate policy for WWF, said: “The text went from weak to weaker to weakest and it’s very weak indeed.

“Governments crucially failed to agree on specific plans to cut emissions before 2020…The science is clear that delaying action until 2020 will make it near-impossible to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, yet political expediency won over scientific urgency.”

“It’s definitely watered down from what we expected,” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

But those not keen on limiting their own development were happy. “We got what we wanted,” Prakash Javadekar, India’s environment minister, said.

Despite the different views the talks did not break down, and so there is still hope. This assessment from Mohammed Adow, Christian Aid’s senior climate change adviser, probably accurately sums up the Lima result: “The countdown clock to Paris is now ticking. Countries had the chance to give themselves a head start on the road to Paris but instead have missed the gun and now need to play catch-up.” − Climate News Network

Share This:

Committed carbon emissions are rising fast

Committed carbon emissions are rising fast

As countries build ever more fossil fuel power plants, they commit the atmosphere to rapidly increasing levels of carbon dioxide – the opposite of what governments say they intend.

LONDON, 28 August 2014 – Challenging news for those climate campaigners who believe that renewable sources of energy are on the increase: they may be, but so are carbon dioxide emissions.

Steven Davis of the University of California, Irvine and Robert Socolow of Princeton University in the US report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that existing power plants will emit 300 billion tons of additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere during their lifetimes. In this century alone, emissions have grown by 4% per year.

The two scientists have already reported on the increasing costs of delay in phasing out fossil fuel sources of energy. This time they have looked at the steady future accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from power stations.

“We show that, despite international efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, total remaining commitments in the global power sector have not declined in a single year since 1950 and are in fact growing rapidly,” their paper says.

Massive commitment

“We are flying a plane that is missing a crucial dial on the instrument panel,” said Professor Socolow. “The needed dial would report committed emissions.

“Right now, as far as emissions are concerned, the only dial on our panel tells us about current emissions, not the emissions that capital investment will bring about in future years.”

Governments worldwide have in principle accepted that greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced and average global warming limited to a rise of 2°C.

The scientists asked: once a power station is built, how much carbon dioxide will it emit, and for how long? They assumed a functioning lifetime of 40 years for a fossil fuel plant and then did the sums.

The fossil fuel-burning stations built worldwide in 2012 alone will produce 19 bn tons of carbon dioxide over their lifetimes. The entire world production of the greenhouse gas from all the world’s working fossil fuel power stations in 2012 was 14 billion tons.

“Far from solving the problem of climate change, we’re investing heavily in technologies that make the problem worse”

The US and Europe between them account for 20% of committed emissions, but these commitments have been declining in recent years. Facilities in China and India account for 42% and 8% respectively of all committed future emissions, and these are rapidly growing in number. Two-thirds of emissions are from coal-burning stations. The share from gas-fired stations had risen to 27% by 2012.

“Bringing down carbon emissions means retiring more fossil fuel-burning facilities than we build,” Dr Davis said. “But worldwide we’ve built more coal-burning power plants in the past decade than in any previous decade, and closures of old plants aren’t keeping pace with this expansion.

“Far from solving the problem of climate change, we’re investing heavily in technologies that make the problem worse.” And Professor Socolow said: “We’ve been hiding what’s going on from ourselves. A high-carbon future is being locked in by the world’s capital investments.

“Current conventions for reporting data and presenting scenarios for future action need to give greater prominence to these investments.” – Climate News Network

Share This:

US climate change debate heats up

US climate change debate heats up

Groups for and against US government plans for new regulations aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions have been slugging it out at a series of heated debates across America.

LONDON, 11 August, 2014 − Achieving progress in cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions and preventing serious global warming is never easy. But just how difficult a task that is became clear at a series of recent meetings across the US held to discuss the Obama administration’s latest plans for tackling climate change.

Those plans, announced in early June by the government’s Environmental Protection Agency, call for substantial nationwide cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Power companies − in particular, those operating coal-fired plants − will have to make big adjustments, reducing overall CO2 emissions by 25% on 2005 levels by 2025 and by 30% by 2030.

The EPA-sponsored public meetings, held in four US cities, were packed.

Long overdue

In Denver, in the state of Colorado, representatives of the skiing industry − a vital part of the state’s economy − said the new regulations were long overdue.

Skiing organisations said changes in climate were already happening and the industry was being badly hit, with drier and warmer winters resulting in less and less snow.

But coal mining is also central to Colorado’s economy. One resident of a coal mining community told the meeting: “The environmental extremist war on coal is really a war on prosperity. Coal means families can buy homes and put food on the table.”

The multi-billion dollar US coal industry is training its big guns on the EPA proposals.

Fred Palmer, a representative for Peabody Energy Corporation, the biggest coal producer in the US, told a meeting at the EPA’s HQ in Washington that the government should provide more funds for new technologies such as carbon capture and storage.

“Climate change is an issue we need to deal with in the right way,” Palmer said, “The only way to approach it is with technology, not with command-and-control from Washington.”

Other coal lobbyists have been wading into the fray. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity said the EPA’s emissions cutting programme “threatens to dismantle our nation’s economy, fundamentally alter the American way of life, and severely hamper US energy independence and leadership”.

Groups of campaigners in favour of the EPA proposals demonstrated at the meetings, with the area round the EPA’s Washington office turned into the site of a large green carnival.

Adamantly opposed

Although the Obama administration has a considerable battle on its hands – with many politicians, corporate groups and powerful business organisations adamantly opposed to the new proposals – there are signs that the White House is determined to implement the measures.

Coinciding with the public meetings around the country, the government’s Council of Economic Advisers issued a report saying cutting emissions makes sense economically, as well as environmentally.

For each decade that action on emissions is delayed, costs of meeting reduction targets rise by more than 40%, the report says.

The public mood about the seriousness of climate change and the need to take action seems to back Washington’s stance.

A recent poll carried out by the ABC news network in the US and the Washington Post found that seven out of 10 people think global warming is a serious problem that needs to be tackled – and more than 60% of those questioned wanted action on emissions, even if it means higher energy bills. – Climate News Network

Share This:

Oil giant says profits are assured

Oil giant says profits are assured


Investors are being told by Shell, the biggest oil company in the world, that the world will go on burning more and more oil − despite the threat of climate change

LONDON, 27 May − Shell, the world’s largest oil company, believes that governments will not damage its business by taking rapid action on climate change, and says all its oil reserves will be needed and sold at a profit.

In a robust reply to a recent report by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, Shell explains the company reasoning for investing in tar sands and other high cost and difficult-to-extract oil reserves. It says that an ever-expanding global economy, fuelled by population growth and great prosperity, will need more and more oil and gas at least until 2050. This will support high prices.

The Carbon Tracker Initiative report, and subsequent research by Friends of the Earth Netherlands, says that many of Shell’s long-term, high-carbon projects in the pipeline will become highly vulnerable to losses or will simply be left in the ground when international law starts to constrain the burning of fossil fuels to limit temperature rises.

But Shell says this will not happen because they do not believe politicians will take action quickly enough to avert global warming. In a long letter to investors, they say they can be assured that the company will continue to make substantial profits out of burning fossil fuels for the foreseeable future.

Growing demand

Shell does acknowledge that the renewables market will expand dramatically, and that gas will become an ever more important fuel, but says that will still not be enough to satisfy the growing demand for energy.

The company accepts that climate change is a serious threat that must be tackled, and believes − along with scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change − that the temperature of the planet will rise above the 2°C danger threshold by the end of this century. But it believes that it will take many decades to alter the world’s energy infrastructure to tackle it effectively. Meanwhile the world economy will go on demanding to burn oil and so safeguard the company’s current investments.

The open letter from Dr J.J. Traynor, executive vice president, investor relations, at Royal Dutch Shell, reveals that the company is placing great faith in carbon capture and storage, and is developing projects in Australia, Canada and Scotland.

Many critics believe that carbon capture, while theoretically possible, has limited potential because old oil wells or other potential storage facilities where the carbon dioxide might be pumped are distant from where the fossil fuels are burned. It therefore makes the technology expensive and unlikely to be a major factor in reducing emissions.

Dr Traynor says: “Shell believes that without carbon capture and storage, emission reduction will be more difficult, disruptive to the world economy, standard of living, and cause more economic hardship.” The company does believe that the technology can be made to work, and that is why it is investing in it.

The letter says: “A fundamental transition of the energy system will be needed, but that will take considerably longer than some alarmist interpretations of the unburnable carbon issue would have the public believe.

“Shell is focused on finding real solutions, based on current energy realities, to the widely acknowledged and real threat of climate change.

“The sheer size and scale of the energy system mean that demand for hydrocarbons is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, and hydrocarbons still make up half the total energy demand in 2050, down from more than 80% today but from a larger energy system overall.

“We do not believe that any of our proven reserves will become stranded.”

Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands) claims that Shell’s investments will become highly vulnerable when international law starts to constrain the burning of fossil fuels to limit temperature rises.

“Shell may not decide to take the 2°C limit seriously, but the rest of the world does.”

“Shell’s investments in tar sands are five times more carbon-intense than normal gas, and 80% of their fossil fuel reserves are unburnable,” said Geert Ritsema, head of the energy campaign. “Shell may not decide to take the 2°C limit seriously, but the rest of the world does. The Netherlands, the EU, the G8 and the UN have all set this as an official climate objective. And because global reserves of fossil fuels are five times too large, Shell will have to write off the most expensive and most CO2 intensive reserves first.”


Carbon Tracker commented on the oil company’s statement: “Shell does not explain how it is solving the contradiction between the predictions of high oil demand and its acceptance of the need to address climate change. Carbon Tracker argues that high-cost production and growing oil demand assumptions are inconsistent with a more resilient global economy and stable global climate.

“We invite companies and investors to stress-test oil demand scenarios, taking into account expected slowing economic growth in countries like China, more efficient use of oil − particularly in transport − and the substitution effect due to the introduction of cleaner fuels and technologies such as natural gas, biofuels, and electric vehicles.” − Climate News Network

Share This:

Reefs merit protection money

Reefs merit protection money

The great natural protective barriers that coral reefs provide for millions of people in coastal communities are seriously threatened, but scientists calculate that restoration projects would cost 20 times less than building artificial breakwaters to keep pounding waves at bay

LONDON, 19 May − Coral reefs, under threat around the tropics from the double menace of global warming and ocean acidification, are also natural protection systems for million people. And the importance of that protection is shown in a new scientific study confirming that a coral reef can reduce the energy of a pounding wave by up to 97%.

It is widely known that reef systems offer a natural barrier. But Filippo Ferrario, from the University of Bologna in Italy, and an international team of researchers report in Nature Communications that they decided to try to put a figure on the effectiveness of a living limestone rampart maintained by a tiny animal that is the basis for a rich submarine ecosystem.

They found that the shallowest part of a reef – the crest where the waves break first – dissipates 86% of the wave’s energy, while the whole reef can reduce the sea’s impact by 97%.

And the cost of maintaining a reef − that is, the cost of a reef restoration project − is US$1,290 per metre, compared with an average $19,791 per metre to build an artificial breakwater. That’s almost 20 times cheaper.

First line of defence

“Coral reefs serve as an effective first line of defence to incoming waves, storms and rising seas,” says study co-author Michael Beck, lead marine scientist of the US Nature Conservancy. “Two hundred million people across more than 80 nations are at risk if coral reefs are not protected and restored.”

Dr Ferrario adds “The study illustrates that the restoration of coral reefs is an important and cost-effective solution to reduce risks from coastal hazards and climate change.”

Marine scientists have argued for decades that natural systems such as mangrove forests, sandspits, water meadows and reefs offer protection for coastal cities. A huge proportion of humanity now lives in cities, and many cities have grown up on estuaries, around natural harbours, or on beach fronts − that is, at or near sea level.

Extreme weather

Sea levels will rise inexorably with global warming, and climate change threatens to increase the frequency and the magnitude of extreme weather events. There have been warnings that, by the end of the century, coastal flooding could cost up to a trillion dollars a year.

But the natural reefs that have offered shelter for so many people – for example, an estimated 41 million in Indonesia, 36 million in India, and 23 million in the Philippines – are under stress from pollution and overfishing.

Corals are also sensitive to rising water temperatures. And, although there is some evidence that some corals can adapt, there are serious concerns about the consequences of change in water chemistry as more and more atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolves in the oceans. – Climate News Network

Share This:

Glacier tracing goes digital

Glacier tracing goes digital

Detailed new maps of all the world’s glaciers have been produced to provide vital data that will help plan for the effects of climate change

LONDON, May 10 – Scientists have for the first time compiled a complete map of all the glaciers on Earth, providing extensive data that will help calculate sea level rise caused by global warming and the threats to communities that rely on melt water for agriculture and water supply.

The data, including length and volume, is contained in a collection of digital outlines of the world’s 200,000 glaciers − excluding the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets.

It has been named the Randolph Glacier Inventory, after the US town of Richmond, New Hampshire, which was one of the meeting places for the group of international scientists who carried out the study as part of the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The study has been published in the Journal of Glaciology.

Many glaciers are in extremely remote regions, such as the Himalayas and Greenland, which has made them hard to reach − let alone measure their length and thickness. A combination of large-scale efforts by volunteers on the ground and satellite technology has overcome these difficulties, enabling 70 scientists from 18 countries to compile the maps.

Overall, the glaciers cover 730,000 square km − an area the size of Germany, Poland and Switzerland combined. The volume of ice is about 170,000 cubic km, which is less than previously thought, but still enough to raise global sea levels between 35cm and 47cm if they all melted.

Sea level rise

Although this is less than 1% of the amount of water stored in the Greenland and Antarctica icecaps, it matters because most of the glaciers are melting now, actively adding to sea level rise. The two big icecaps are so cold inside that it will be thousands of years before the ice temperature rises enough to reach melting point.

Some of the most populous areas on earth, such as China, India and Pakistan, rely on melt water from glaciers for agriculture. At present, glaciers still provide plenty of summer water, but in many cases they are melting faster than winter snows are replenishing them. If this continues, the summer water flow will eventually cease, leading to calamity for the human populations that rely on them.

This is already happening in some parts of the Andes in South America, with some smaller glaciers having disappeared. The impact affects, for example, some wine-growing regions that rely on melt water for their vines.

There are still uncertainties about some of the measurements because, in some cases, glaciers are covered in debris as they move down mountains, while others are obscured by snow, making measurements of thickness more difficult.

Each glacier in the new inventory is represented by a computer-readable outline, making precise modelling of glacier-climate interactions much easier.

Glaciers currently add about one-third to existing sea level rise − about the same amount as the two giant ice sheets. The remaining third is the result of thermal expansion of the oceans as they warm.

Speed of retreat

In countries such as Switzerland, where the health of glaciers is vital for tourism, the speed of their retreat has been closely monitored. The melting is also important because it causes landslides, as well as impacting on water supply.

“The rapid shrinking of glaciers during the past 20 years is well recognisable in the Alps and other parts of the world,” said Frank Paul, a senior researcher in the University of Zurich’s Department of Geography and a co-author of the study.

Tobias Bolch, a researcher at the Institute for Cartography at the Technische Universität Dresden, Germany, is another co-author of the study. He said: “Here and in other parts of the world glaciers also impact on the regional to local-scale hydrology, natural hazards, and livelihoods in otherwise dry mountain regions.

“Accurate knowledge of water reserves and their future evolution is thus key for local authorities for early implementation of mitigation measures.” – Climate News Network

Share This:

The energy revolution is in reverse

The energy revolution is in reverse

The UN climate panel’s prescription for tackling climate change is admirably clear. The problem is that the world is heading in precisely the opposite direction.

BERLIN, 18 April – Keeping the rise in global average temperatures to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels will not be prohibitively expensive, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says, though it won’t be easy.

There’s just one problem: the atmospheric facts show that the world is not simply ignoring the IPCC. It’s moving smartly away from the clean energy future that the Panel says is attainable towards an inexorably hotter and more risky future.

Reaching the target will mean cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40-70% over 2010 levels by mid-century, the IPCC report says. Yet what is happening at the moment is the exact opposite: average global emissions rose by a billion tonnes a year between 2000 and 2010, faster than ever before.

To avoid the worst impacts of climate change as cheaply as possible, the report urges an energy revolution to end the dominance of fossil fuels. The IPCC says  investments in renewable energy need to triple, with subsidies to fossil fuels declining and a switch to natural gas to help countries to get rid of coal.

The path to lower emissions may cost the energy giants dear, the IPCC acknowledges. “Mitigation policy could devalue fossil fuel assets and reduce revenues for fossil fuel exporters,” Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chair of the IPCC’s Working Group III, which produced the report, told a public meeting here. “To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual.”

‘Negligible’ cost

Another controversial point is the report’s inclusion of nuclear power as a low-carbon option (it acknowledges that it has declined globally since 1993 and faces safety, financial and waste-management concerns). The report also advocates carbon capture and storage (CCS), noting that it remains untested on a large scale.

But the IPCC insists that diverting hundreds of billions of dollars from fossil fuels into renewable energy and cutting energy waste would shave just 0.06% off expected annual economic growth rates of 1.3%-3%. “Statistically you won’t notice,” said Dr Ryer Gerlagh, a co-ordinating lead author on the economics chapter of the report.

Li Shuo of Greenpeace China said: “Science has spoken: climate action is no burden, it’s an opportunity. As renewable energies are growing bigger, better and cheaper every day, the age of dangerous and polluting coal, oil and gas is over. The only rational response to this report is to start the phase-out of fossil fuels immediately.”

Wrong direction

Global temperatures have risen about 0.8°C since record-keeping started in 1850. Current pledges by governments to reduce emissions by 2020 have set the world on a path to between 3 and 5°C of warming by 2100, the IPCC says.

The Working Group III contribution to the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) is intended to provide a comprehensive assessment of the options for mitigating climate change through limiting or preventing greenhouse gas emissions. It may have shown that those options exist and are affordable. But that is very far from showing that governments can be persuaded to use them. – Climate News Network

Henner Weithöner is a freelance journalist in Berlin specialising in renewable energy and climate change.

Share This:

‘Forget the cost – tackle climate anyway’

'Forget the cost - tackle climate anyway'

Forget the cost of mitigating climate change, say two researchers. It’s impossible to work out how much it will be – and whatever it is, we should do it anyway.

LONDON, 3 April – Two researchers who tried to work out the economics of  reducing global climate change to a tolerable level have come up with a perhaps surprising answer: essentially, we do not and cannot know what it would cost.

Even more surprising, probably, is their conclusion: not knowing is no excuse for not acting. “Mitigating climate change must proceed regardless of long-run economic analyses”, they conclude, “or risk making the world uninhabitable.”

Their report, entitled The economics of mitigating climate change: What can we know?,is published online in Technological Forecasting and Social Change.

The pair are Dr Rich Rosen, who specialises in energy system planning and is a senior fellow of the Tellus Institute, based in Boston, Massachusetts, and Edeltraud Guenther, professor of environmental management and accounting at Dresden University of Technology in Germany.

In a densely-argued analysis of the long-term economics of mitigating climate change they say various kinds of uncertainties raise serious questions about whether or not the net costs and benefits of mitigation over periods as long as 50 years or a century can be known accurately enough to be useful to policymakers and citizens.

Crisis ‘trumps uncertainty’

Technological change, especially for energy efficiency technologies, is a key factor in making the net economic results of mitigation unknowable over the long term, they argue. So policymakers should not base mitigation policy on the estimated net economic impacts computed by integrated assessment models (IAM – models which combine scientific and economic insights).

Instead, “mitigation policies must be forcefully implemented anyway given the actual physical climate change crisis, in spite of the many uncertainties involved in trying to predict the net economics of doing so”.

This argument directly challenges the many politicians and others who insist that governments should adopt policies designed to limit climate change only if they can make a strong economic case for doing so. Essentially, it shifts the ground of the debate from “what is affordable?” to “what is survivable?”

The authors say economic analyses of mitigating climate change rely on flawed sets of IAM results, which are invalidated by uncertainty over future technologies and their costs. They also believe changes in production and consumption patterns will affect mitigation costs.

‘Meaningless’ results

They write: “Since the Western lifestyle can probably not serve as a role model for the life styles of the nine billion people likely to inhabit our planet by 2050, significant but unpredictable changes to consumption and production patterns not incorporated in existing IAMs are likely to occur, adding another layer of uncertainty to the economic calculations made by these IAMs for the net costs and benefits of mitigating climate change.”

“The IPCC and other scientific bodies should no longer report attempts at calculating the net economic impacts of mitigating climate change…”

The authors do not hide their scorn for the results provided by existing IAM scenarios. These, they write, are “not useful because even the simplest comparison of model results yields meaningless results — the uncertainties are too profound.”

They end by posing a question: “Should these findings and conclusions about the inadequacies of current IAMs really matter to policymakers who are trying to figure out when, and to what extent, to implement effective climate change mitigation policies?

Their response is terse: “Our answer is ‘no’, because humanity would be wise to mitigate climate change as quickly as possible without being constrained by existing economic systems and institutions, or risk making the world uninhabitable.” – Climate News Network

Share This:

Low-flatulence livestock can cool planet

Low-flatulence livestock can cool planet

Farmers may be able to rear livestock which produce fewer emissions from their stomachs of methane, one of the most important greenhouse gases.

LONDON, 18 January – Stand by for a new breed of farm animal – the low-methane cow. European scientists are collaborating in a bid to find a cow that makes the same milk, but manages to do so while emitting lower levels of natural gas from the ruminant stomach.

Methane is a fact of farm life: cows eat grass, hay and silage, and then proceed to digest it with help from an arsenal of stomach and gut microbes. But methane is also a potent greenhouse gas (GHG): weight for weight it is more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a century.

About a fifth of all GHG emissions from agriculture are directly released from the stomachs of the world’s cattle herds. And a consortium called RuminOmics has launched research into every aspect of animal husbandry in an attempt to lower the methane productivity while keeping up the dairy output.

Phil Garnsworthy is a dairy scientist at the University of Nottingham, UK, and one of the project partners. He reasons that cattle vary quite dramatically in the levels of methane from their stomachs, so it would be possible to imagine a dairy herd that produced the same volume of milk while reducing their gaseous discharges.

There are other factors: as every human knows too well, gas output is linked to diet. “It is possible to imagine cutting emissions from cattle by a fifth, using a combination approach in which you would breed from lower-emitting cattle as well as changing their diets”, said Professor Garnsworthy.

More profitable

Inheritance, too, may play a role. “There are three issues: diet, genetics and the microbiology of the cow’s rumen”, says Lorenzo Morelli of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Piacenza, Italy. “We think that animal genetics may well influence their gut microbiology. However, this link has not been proved and we are still in the data collection phase.”

Most animal husbandry research has concentrated on raising animal productivity and fertility. But lower methane output could join the list of desired characteristics. There could even be a direct pay-off for the herdsmen.

“The methane is lost energy that could go into producing milk”, says Morelli. “So if we can find the right genetic mix, we can find cattle that are less polluting, more productive, and more profitable for the farmer.”

Methane is a short-lived gas: it stays in the atmosphere for about 10 years. Carbon dioxide – always the dominant greenhouse gas – is released in far greater quantities, and a molecule of carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for about 100 years.

Multiple gains

But the same volume of methane over a 20-year period will trap 70 times the heat that carbon dioxide retains, so any serious reduction in methane output could make a significant difference to the pace of climate change. Some scientists have argued that it would be better simply to reduce the herds, rather than their digestive output.

In December an international team argued in the journal Nature Climate Change that since methane was the second most abundant GHG, one of the most effective ways to cut output would be to reduce global populations of ruminant livestock – sheep, goats, camels and buffalo as well as cattle are all ruminants.

Globally, they argued, the numbers of ruminant livestock had risen by 50% in the last 50 years, and now about 3.6 billion animals were grazing on about one quarter of the Earth’s land area. Furthermore, a third of all arable land was used to grow feed for these animals.

“Cutting the number of ruminant livestock could have additional benefits for food security, human health and environmental conservation involving water quality, wildlife habitat and biodiversity”, said Peter Smith of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, one of the authors. – Climate News Network

Share This: