Sunday, November 29, 2015

Paris First Movement

"The Paris talks are doomed even if they succeed, because even if they succeed they will have won the wrong argument."

On November 17 we heard David Wasdell, of Project Gaia-Apollo and Team Leader of the Global System Dynamics and Policy Co-ordination Action of the European Commission, speaking on Radio Ecoshock. His overriding theme: 2 degrees is not safe; we are past the point of safe now; and we need to get back to safe as rapidly as we can. The timetables given by the Structured Expert Dialogue (SED), or what we called the “70 wise men” in our previous post, would be disastrous if implemented.

David Wasdell
His arguments were very cogent, and based on solid evidence, but had to ask ourselves why this person, who is not a climate scientist (he is a self-described “systems analyst”) should hold greater credibility than 70 of the world's best climatologists? We decided it is because we are someone who has never given the Wizard of Oz a blank check but peers behind the curtain. As we picked through both sides – Wasdell's several PDF and video presentations and the SED report to the UNFCCC  – we found undeniable logic in his and indefensible timetables in theirs. Here is a segment from Wasdell's radio interview:

IPCC Temperature Holocene/Anthropocene

David Wasdell: The set of computer models used by the IPCC only work with the feedback mechanisms that can be quantified. Inevitably that only gives part of the picture. In contrast, the history of planetary change includes by definition all the feedback processes, known and unknown, positive and negative (that is amplifying or damping), together with all the complex interactions between them. The computer models predict that the temperature change from doubling the concentration of CO2 would be about 3°C. Using the history of the actual relationship between temperature and CO2 concentration we find the outcome is more like 8°C. That is a huge difference with massive strategic implications. The reality of earth System Sensitivity is about 2 and a half times that stemming from the partial computer models.
Going back 400,000 years

Moving from the specific example of change since the last ice-age, we can derive the value of the more generalized “Climate Sensitivity”, the equilibrium change in average surface temperature of the planet following a doubling of the concentration of atmospheric CO2. The temperature change required to compensate for the effect of doubling concentration of CO2 on its own is calculated to be 0.97°C. Climate sensitivity when only fast feedbacks are taken into consideration stands at 3°C. Including the effects of the carbon-cycle feedbacks raises the value of Climate Sensitivity to 4.5°C. Adding the contribution from the ice-sheet dynamics correlates with a 6°C value for Climate Sensitivity. While the Sensitivity value representing the equilibrium dynamics of the Earth System as a whole stands at 7.8°C. Though please note that this figure is derived from slow and close to equilibrium conditions of change in the Quaternary period. It may be too low in the current conditions of the Anthropocene. 
Now if you are working with computer models using only the fast feedbacks, you would predict that 2°C would be achieved at around 440 ppm. But if you are using the Earth System Sensitivity, then at 440 ppm [which we will likely hit between 2030 and 2035] we would be looking at more like 5°C of change. However, as I keep reminding you, the computer simulation, inadequate and partial though it may be, is what is still being fed into the process of strategic policy-making on the assumption that the temperature change will only be 2°C for a concentration of 440 ppm of CO2. 

Alex Smith: At various conferences, in the business press and in scientific circles, there has been a lot of effort to work out how much carbon we can still burn, in the form of oil, gas, and coal, and still remain below the supposed 2 degree warming safety limit. No doubt diplomats at the Paris Conference will talk about this "carbon budget."  How much of a budget do we really have left? 
David Wasdell: At present the CO2 concentration stands at 400 ppm. If it is thought to be safe to go up to 440 ppm, then we have a good budget to play with.  There is still plenty of room in the sky-fill site. However, if we don't use the inadequate computer models, and instead apply the real Earth System Sensitivity, then we were already committed to passing the 2°C ceiling when CO2 concentration stood at 334 ppm. That was back in 1978. We have already overspent the budget by a large amount! Getting the picture?
National promises (“INDCs”)(Independent Nationally Determined Contributions) concerning reduction in CO2 emissions, have been tabled ahead of the COP21 in Paris. Those promises look like pushing us to about 700 ppm by the end of the century (if they are implemented, and there is no guarantee about that whatsoever!). Business as usual is driving us up towards 800 or 900 ppm up here. If we cannot improve the level of promised emissions reduction, then “We might hit 4°C” predicts the IPCC using its low value for sensitivity. But if we use the full Earth System Sensitivity to examine the way the climate behaves at the level of 700 ppm. We are not looking at something around 4°C, but an increase of more like 10°C. That is twice the temperature shift between the ice ages and the pre-industrial benchmark. If we are not able to cut back on our current “business as usual” behavior, then the temperature rise increases to more like 12 or even 15°C, (and two or three times that amount in the Arctic!)  Good bye all the ice on earth. Welcome to something like 90 feet of sea level rise, or even more when all the Greenland ice-cap and the whole of the Antarctic ice sheet melts. Civilization would have collapsed and we would have evacuated London and New York well before then!

As delegates and heads of state from 190 countries gather here in Paris, the premises of the negotiations are badly flawed. It is as though the world's best negotiators are about to try to land a heavy passenger aircraft but the altimeter gauge is off by 500 feet. Despite being summoned in a timely fashion, the technicians who were brought in to repair the instrument either failed to do so, or have not been listened to, and thus we glide now towards a predictably unfavorable outcome. The Paris talks are doomed even if they succeed, because even if they succeed they will have won the wrong argument.
The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) will continue to jointly consider the report of the Structured Expert Dialogue (SED) on the 2013–2015 review at the upcoming session to be held in Paris in December 2015, with a view to concluding their considerations on this matter and reporting their findings to the COP, which shall take appropriate action based on the review. 

At Bonn in June, when the SED report was released, the negotiators asked hard questions of the Science Group:
Parties sought clarification on
  • the window of opportunity for staying under 2°C of warming and the risks created by overshooting, 
  • the practicality of achieving negative emissions, 
  • the marginal costs of mitigation for 40–70 per cent emission reduction from 2010 levels by 2050, 
  • the Cancun pledges (“INDC”s), 
  • the impact of mitigation on economic growth, and 
  • production-versus consumption-based accounting for emissions.

BECS Net Sequestration Potentials by Sector (eCO2, 2015)
The answers coming back from the SED group were poorly informed and unimaginative. So, for instance, in response to the window of available time they said it would depend on how fast low-carbon technologies could scale, and that would be known by 2030 [at 430 ppm], but not much before then. As to the practicality of achieving negative emissions, the scientists seemed to be oblivious to the applications of biochar and the potential for cool energy, cool food and cool building. They lamely opined that:

"The practicability of negative emissions depends on costs, trade-offs and the feasibility of various scenarios. The IPCC presented options for generating large amounts of energy from BECS [Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage] and the associated risks for biodiversity and food security and prices, stressing that policymakers need to consider the trade-offs [translation: consider unregulated use of genetically engineered fuel-stocks, soil- and livelihood-destroying monocrop plantations, and expensively capturing the carbon as smoke using toxic scrubbers that then have to be locked away somewhere forever]."

As for the economic cost of a 40-70 percent emissions reduction, the scientists could not answer that other than to say it would be even more if we wait. The INDC pledges, they said, would not keep us to 2 degrees, but would lock in at least 3 degrees, probably 4. For northern latitude countries like Canada, Sweden and Russia, that equates to 6 to 8 degrees, which is unsurvivable by any measure

Jason Lowe, Hadley Centre, at SED-4.
Bottom line: the world is not on track to achieve a long-term survival goal for our species, but potentially successful means are available and must be scaled up urgently.

Bill McKibben, writing a short entry for a science fiction anthology, Visions 2100 – Stories From Your Future to be released at the COP on December 5, said:
“Looking back on the century, the only real thought is: why didn’t we do this sooner? The technology we’re using – solar panels, windmills, and the like – were available in functional form a hundred years ago. But we treated them as novelties for a few decades – and it was in those decades that climate change gathered its final ferocity. Now we live in a low carbon world and it works just fine – except that there’s no way to refreeze the poles, or lower the sea level, or turn the temperature back down to a place where we can grow food with the ease of our ancestors. Timing is everything, and it hurts to think we blew it.” 

Last year the International Energy Agency (IEA) presented an action plan that could stop the growth in emissions by 2020 at no net economic cost, reducing emissions by 3.1 GtCO2e (about 10%). They (incorrectly) claimed that reduction would be 80 per cent of the savings required for a 2°C pathway.

Still, to follow the IEA's prescribed path, COP21 would have to recognize the need to fully decarbonize energy systems. Unfortunately, the wise men ultimately dropped the ball when they concluded in their SED report that “Carbon neutrality should be achieved in the second half of this century in the light of the limited global CO2 budget.” This pushes the ambition standard at Paris well below where it will need to be.

One can only hope that someone will be allowed to fix that broken altimeter before the hard landing makes repairs moot. We only get one shot at this. Paris is it.

Timing is everything. Not only should negative emissions be allowed under the Paris regime, they should be mandated.

In September 2013, David Wasdell gave a talk to the Club of Rome meeting in Ottawa entitled “Sensitivity, Non-Linearity & Self-Amplification in the Global Climate System” that included this slide, taken from NASA mission control during the Apollo-13 flight:

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