Climate Change 2014: What Do We Do Now?

by Bruce Melton, Truthout | News Analysis –


(Photo: Ben Grey)

As we move into 2015, the latest climate science continues to diverge from policy. New science tells us that, because of short-lived climate pollutants, current policies dealing with carbon dioxide pollution alone will likely produce more warming than doing nothing at all.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has now also said that we must begin to effect a large removal of the accumulated climate pollution already in our atmosphere – that emissions reductions alone are no longer sufficient. But all is not discouraging, when it comes to new climate discoveries. Atmospheric removal of carbon dioxide now appears to be no more expensive than many things our civilization does every day.

This is a paradigm change from current policy. All policy to date basically relies only on reducing carbon dioxide emissions that we put in the sky every year. Nowhere does policy or proposed policy suggest taking more out than we put in. Two decades ago, proposed climate policy was suggesting carbon dioxide emissions reductions of 80 percent or more by 2100. A decade ago, the suggestions were for reductions of 80 percent or more by 2050. Today in some cities, current policy is reaching for what is being called net zero, or 100 percent reductions of carbon dioxide emissions by mid-century.

Looked at a different way, the Kyoto Protocol called for the United States to reduce emissions to 1987 levels by 2012. Currently proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations reduce US emissions to 1970 levels by 2030. This may seem substantial, but in reality it’s less than a 13 percent reduction in almost 20 years.

Since 1987, we have emitted as much carbon dioxide as was emitted in the prior 236 years. The relatively inconsequential increase in emissions reduction in currently proposed EPA rules – that will hopefully be adopted in July 2015 – are literally 20 years behind, and short-lived climate pollutants and the short-term time frame are not addressed at all.

What needs to happen now, as the IPCC says, is negative emissions of significantly more than 100 percent. What, exactly, does this mean?

IPCC Says: “Strong Negative Emissions”

“A large fraction of climate change is largely irreversible on human time scales,” the IPCC tells us, “unless net anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions were strongly negative over a sustained period.” This quote comes from the Summary for Policy Makers from the first report in the 2013 IPCC series released October 2013 (Physical Science Basis). (1) It means that somehow, today’s 400 parts per million (ppm) concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere must begin to lower, not continue to rise.

This statement contains two parts: the irreversible part, which is not that new, and the large net removal part, which is very new. It means taking more carbon dioxide out than we put in – by a lot.



Reprinted with permission from Truthout