Published on May 4th, 2010 | by Joshua S Hill
Curbing Greenhouse Emissions Will Be A Challenge
Since the monumental failure of the Copenhagen summit in December, one must wonder how we’ll ever avert catastrophe.
[social_buttons]Instead of coming out of the climate change conference in Copenhagen with a new international climate treaty we found that countries are more divisive than ever, with industrialized nations, new economic powers like China and Argentina, and developing countries all disagreeing on how a new climate treaty should look.
On top of that are fears that, without a “herculean” effort, we’ll bypass the 2-degree Celsius threshold and step into a climate that we are unable to reverse.
Outgoing U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer said Monday that a major U.N. conference in December to be held in Cancun is likely only to yield a “first answer” on curbing greenhouse gasses. “I don’t think we will get enough of an answer in Cancun to get us to the 25-40 range,” he said, referring to the need for industrialized nations to curb their emissions by 25 to 40 percent compared with 1990 by 2020.
“A good outcome of Cancun will be an operational architecture on climate change,” de Boer added. “And then we can decide on a treaty.” And though de Boer expects an international climate treaty before the end of 2012, he suggests that even that will “not be the definitive answer to the climate change challenge.”
This comes on top of a report appearing May 3 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by Veerabhadran Ramanathan and Yangyang Xu, climate researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, who have identified three avenues by which major greenhouse gas-emitting countries can avoid reaching the warming tipping-point, a point beyond which many scientists believe climate change will present an irreversible danger to the planet.
“Without an integrated approach that combines CO2 emission reductions with reductions in other climate warmers and climate-neutral air-pollution laws, we are certain to pass the 2-degree C and likely reach a 4 degree C threshold during this century,” said Ramanathan. “Fortunately there is still time to avert unmanageable climate changes, but we must act now.”
Ramanathan and Xu proposed steps include stabilizing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, fashioning warming-neutral pollution laws that will balance the removal of aerosols that have an atmospheric cooling effect with the removal of warming agents such as soot and ozone, and reducing methane, hydroflurocarbons and other greenhouse gases that remain in the atmosphere for short periods of time. The authors believe that by aggressively pursuing these three strategies simultaneously could reduce the likelihood of reaching the temperature threshold to less than 10% before the year 2050.
“By taking a comprehensive look at human induced climate change, this paper clearly separates the global actions which must be undertaken simultaneously — and how quickly these actions must be taken,” said Larry Smarr, founding Director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) and a collaborator with Ramanathan on CO2 reduction strategies. “This paper should be required reading for all policy makers.”
One possible practical application of the authors’ first step could be focusing on the conclusions of a new article published online in the American Chemical Society’s semi-monthly journal Environmental Science & Technology which states that the US could completely halt emissions of carbon dioxide from coal-fired electric power plants within 20 years. According to the authors of the article, this could be done using technology that is already in existence or that could be commercially available within a decade.
“The only practical way to preserve a planet resembling that of the Holocene (today’s world) with reasonably stable shorelines and preservation of species, is to rapidly phase out coal emissions and prohibit emissions from unconventional fossil fuels such as oil shale and tar sands,” they state.
The authors outline strategies to make that phase-out possible. They include elimination of subsidies for fossil fuels; putting rising prices on carbon emissions; major improvements in electricity transmission and the energy efficiency of homes, commercial buildings, and appliances; replacing coal power with biomass, geothermal, wind, solar, and third-generation nuclear power; and after successful demonstration at commercial scales, deployment of advanced (fourth-generation) nuclear power plants; and carbon capture and storage at remaining coal plants.
But we’re not going to get anywhere without political will, massive amounts of funding, and I think a fear of what will happen if we don’t do anything.
Image Source: eye2eye via flickr