The Heat is On – Time to Act on Climate Change

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A new assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims that the warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and its effects are now evident in most regions of the world.

Since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased. Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years. Breaking more temperature records than in any other decade.

The authors of the new report on the physical evidence for climate change state that continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system.

The Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is projected to be likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 in all but the lowest scenario considered, and likely to exceed 2°C for the two high scenarios. Heat waves are very likely to occur more frequently and last longer.

As the Earth warms, we expect to see currently wet regions receiving more rainfall, and dry regions receiving less, although there will be exceptions.

It is the poorest regions of the world and the most vulnerable individuals such as the young and elderly who will be most affected.

Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. This will require international action to adopt ambitious legal agreement on climate change in 2015. We will only know over the next year or whether the new evidence will have any impact on national governments who are preoccupied with stimulating growth, reducing debt and increasing employment.

The  assessment draws on millions of observations and over 2 million gigabytes of numerical data from climate model simulations. Over 9,200 scientific publications are cited, more than three quarters of which have been published since the last IPCC assessment in 2007.

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Key evidence highlighted in the report is given below with levels of confidence:

  • Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010 (high confidence). It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (0−700 m) warmed from 1971 to 2010, and it likely warmed between the 1870s and 1971.
  • Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent (high confidence).
  • The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia (high confidence). Over the period 1901–2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.19 [0.17 to 0.21] m.
  • The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.
  • CO2 concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification.
  • Total radiative forcing is positive, and has led to an uptake of energy by the climate system. The largest contribution to total radiative forcing is caused by the increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 since 1750.
  • Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.
  • Climate models have improved since the last 2007 of assessment of the physical evidence on cliamte change. Models reproduce observed continental-scale surface temperature patterns and trends over many decades, including the more rapid warming since the mid-20th century and the cooling immediately following large volcanic eruptions (very high confidence).
  • Observational and model studies of temperature change, climate feedbacks and changes in the Earth’s energy budget together provide confidence in the magnitude of global warming in response to past and future forcing.cc
  • Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes. This evidence for human influence has grown since the last assessment. It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.
  • Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system.
  • Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 for all  scenarios except RCP2.6. It is likely to exceed 2°C for RCP6.0 and RCP8.5, and more likely than not to exceed 2°C for RCP4.5.
  • Warming will continue beyond 2100 under all RCP scenarios except RCP2.6. Warming will continue to exhibit interannual-to decadal variability and will not be regionally uniform.
  • Changes in the global water cycle in response to the warming over the 21st century will not be uniform. The contrast in precipitation between wet and dry regions and between wet and dry seasons will increase, although there may be regional exceptions.t767375a
  • The global ocean will continue to warm during the 21st century. Heat will penetrate from the surface to the deep ocean and affect ocean circulation.
  • It is very likely that the Arctic sea ice cover will continue to shrink and thin and that Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover will decrease during the 21st century as global mean surface temperature rises. Global glacier volume will further decrease.
  • Global mean sea level will continue to rise during the 21st century. Under all RCP scenarios the rate of sea level rise will very likely exceed that observed during 1971–2010 due to increased ocean warming and increased loss of mass from glaciers and ice sheets.
  • Climate change will affect carbon cycle processes in a way that will exacerbate the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere (high confidence). Further uptake of carbon by the ocean will increase ocean acidification.
  • Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped. This represents a substantial multi-century climate change commitment created by past, present and future emissions of CO2.

The  report increases in the confidence associated with climate observations but whichever facts may be discussed, debated or distorted, we cannot ignore the reality that we must act or face frightening new impacts.

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A Zero Carbon Transport Vision

The transport sector has enormous potential to deliver greenhouse gas reductions. However, just how much can we reduce carbon dioxide emissions from transport?

The transport sector has enormous potential to deliver greenhouse gas reductions. However, just how much can we reduce carbon dioxide emissions from transport?

Transport offers many benefits in terms of freedom, independent mobility and accessibility. Yet this comes at a cost such as air polluting emissions which contribute to local air pollution and climate change.

There are two key challenges that require the reduction of oil use within transport and resulting carbon dioxide emissions to be kept to an absolute minimum. Firstly, transport is extremely dependent on oil and there is a likelihood that there will be not be much oil left in 2050 compared to today. Secondly, climate change rises important issues around re-engineering transport systems so that they are less vulnerable to the damaging consequences of climate change and can play a full role in reducing greenhouse gases.

A number of studies have attempted to look at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the transport sector. These include the OECD Environmentally Sustainable Transport study(2002), Visioning and Backcasting for UK Transport Policy study (2007) and the Campaign for Better Transport study on a Low Carbon UK Transport Policy (2008).

A study by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) has outlined how a phased programme of technological, financial and behavioural changes could secure the potential cuts in carbon dioxide emissions compared to a business-as-usual approach:
• 100 per cent in road transport (cars and lorries)
• 100 per cent in rail transport
• 56 per cent in aviation
• 49 per cent in shipping

Under this programme road transport will be completely carbon neutral by 2050 due to a combination of reduced demand (approximately 75 per cent from spatial, fiscal and behavioural measures), and a whole-scale shift in technology to plug-in electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cells, both of which will utilise decarbonised UK electricity supply.

Clearly, a carbon neutral electricity supply would be much more likely to be able to meet the increased needs of road transport sector entirely composed of plug-in electric vehicles and/or hydrogen cells. The measure causing the greatest reduction in demand is the annual increase in fuel costs due to the re-introduction of a fuel price escalator.

With regard to rail, all passenger and freight will be powered by 100 per cent electricity that is carbon neutral.

Carbon dioxide emissions of from aviation will be reduced by 59 per cent, which represents a significant progress in bringing aviation in line with the implications of the UK national commitment to an 80 per cent reduction by 2050 compared to 1990. However, the scale of the reduction is still not enough despite the applications of measures.

It is clear that a combination of measures to reduce demand such as air increases, no additional runways, modal shift to railways (High Speed Train) and video substitution would deliver a considerably greater reduction than could be achieved by advances in aircraft technology and air traffic management alone. It follows that a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from aviation of this scale could not be delivered by policy that encouraged technological solutions alone whist allowing demand to continue to grow.

Carbon dioxide emissions from shipping will be reduced by 49 per cent through changes in ship size, routing, fuel, speed and a number of other promising technologies have been assumed.

Although road and rail transport could both achieve the zero carbon dioxide emissions target, emissions from aviation and shipping are problematic. Although a 76 per cent reduction is a considerable achievement it still falls short of a zero carbon target. To improve on this figure carbon dioxide reduction would require more radical interventions or technological innovations for these two sectors than those envisaged in the SEI study. This would require fundamental changes in globalisation and patterns of international trade and mobility if aviation and shipping is to make a larger contribution to the zero carbon target.

The decarbonisation of the road and rail sector is dependent on the decarbonisation of the electricity supply system. However, if the electrical power sector decarbonisation is less than 100 per cent by 2050 carbon dioxide emissions from road and rail transport will be substantially higher.

The SEI study has shown that the potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions form the UK transport sector is much greater than anyone previously thought and that reductions in emissions go hand in hand with improvements in air quality, health and economic success.

The policy recommendations include a number of radical but achievable measures including:

Spatial planning to create neighbourhoods and communities where it is possible to reach destinations on foot or by bicycle and public transport

New approaches to the regionalisation of production and consumption to bring about reductions in road freight

Increases in the cost of transport to implement the so-called “polluter pays principle”

Full de-carbonisation of the UK electricity supply system (as envisaged by the Climate Change Committee)

Full conversion of all cars to Plug In Electric Vehicles or Hydrogen Fuel Cells utilising de-carbonised electricity.

A zero carbon transport future will provide better access for more people to more things this is currently is the case. Traffic congestion and time wasted in traffic jams will be a thing of he past and the time currently wasted in commuter trips will be spent on rewarding and enriching activities.

The study has set out a vision of a zero carbon future and how to achieve it. What we need now is to convince decision-makers to move boldly and decisively to make this vision for UK transport a reality.

© Gary Haq 2010

Photo credits: Shutterstock

The True Carbon Cost of Our Consumption

S world Leaders prepare to meet in Copenhagen this December to negotiate a new Climate Deal, it is time to acknowledge the true cost of our consumption.

shoppingAS world Leaders prepare to meet in Copenhagen this December to negotiate a new Climate Deal, it is time to acknowledge the true carbon cost of our consumption.

UK Government policy has maintained that we are only responsible for the carbon dioxide emissions in our national boundaries. However, this week the government’s new energy scientist, Professor David MacKay, has acknowledged that the reductions in UK carbon dioxide emissions since the 1990s are an illusion.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, the UK must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 12.5 per below 1990 levels by 2012. According to official government figures, since the 1990s UK emissions have fallen by about 15 per cent.

However, a study by the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York published in July 2009 calculated the true carbon dioxide emissions associated with UK consumption. Using an approach based on consumption rather than production the study found that UK emissions actually increased by 18 per cent (115 million tonnes) between 1992 and 2004.

Since the 1980s we have transferred our manufacturing base abroad and replaced it with an expanded service sector. We now consume a large amount of goods produced in China and India. We have therefore exported our pollution and the carbon dioxide emissions associated with the many goods and services we consume on a daily basis.

power-stationMany of us are shocked by the news that China is building two new coal power stations a week. Yet the polluting coal is being burned to provide energy for Chinese industries that manufacture goods such as electrical equipment and toys for the British market. We are therefore all partly responsible for the carbon cost of the goods we import and consume.

In the current negotiations for a new climate deal developing countries are demanding that developed countries acknowledge their contribution to global carbon emissions. With China calling for countires which consume their products to take the responsibility for the carbon emissions generated in the manufacture of the goods.

copIf a bigger, bolder, wider-ranging and more sophisticated treaty is to replace the Kyoto agreement to stop climate change, we need to own up to the fact that we are polluting much more than official statistics suggest.

When we have acknowledged the full impact of our high consuming lifestyles only then will we be able to do our fair share in cutting our carbon emissions and stoping runaway climate change.

© Gary Haq 2009

When The Lights Go Out

THE UK government would be acting as a “climate criminal” if it allows a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent to go ahead, say campaign groups. If we are to address depleting energy resources and tackle climate change then we will need to face up to the impending energy crunch and the difficult choices ahead.

Gary HaqTHE UK government would be acting as a “climate criminal” if it allows a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent to go ahead, say campaign groups. If we are to address depleting energy resources and tackle climate change then we will need to face up to the impending energy crunch and the difficult choices ahead.
Power failures are a rare thing where I live. I have experienced then when visiting Karachi and Kathmandu. There the lights tend to flicker as a warning sign that we will soon be thrown into darkness. After experiencing the black void for a couple of seconds there is a sudden loud noise as the hotel generator normally kicks in and light is restored.

The last time I experienced a power cut in the UK was as a young child in the 1970s. Then sitting in the dark with a candle seemed like fun. However, after recently experiencing three power failures within a few days I was left with the realisation how the simplest of things in the home were energy dependent. For more than one hour in the evening I could not watch TV, boil the kettle, listen to music, neither see the time, call out on the landline nor could I use my mobile phone as that needed to be recharged. I had forgotten the inconvenience of being left in the dark. I was not totally lost. My 1930s wind-up wall clock and black 1950s Bakelite telephone, which I tend to keep plugged in because I like the ring, were both still functioning. These products are from a bygone age when we were less profligate with energy.

Gary HaqOur demand for energy has been increasing. According to the International Energy Agency world energy consumption is projected to expand by 50 per cent from 2005 to 2030. While the global economic recession will obviously result in a fall in current demand nevertheless we will continue to be a fossil fuel based economy. Our demand for energy has increased so much that we are now on the verge of passing the peak in oil production. This “Peak Oil” is the point where the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached. After this point the rate of oil production goes into terminal decline. The peak is expected in the next 20 years. However, this may be delayed due to the global economic downturn. The use of fossil fuels has resulted in carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas, being pumped in to the air. Pre-industrial levels of carbon dioxide was 280 parts per million (ppm). Our use of oil and gas, have increased this to 385 ppm. It continues to grow by about 2 ppm per year.

If we are to meet future energy demand and avoid climate change then we need to address our demand for energy and look to alternative energy sources. Campaign groups claim the new coal-fired power stations will increase the impact of climate change on poor countries. If the Kingsnorth does get the green light it would be the first coal-fired plant to be built in the UK for more than two decades.

Gary HaqA number of leading environmentalists are now supporting nuclear power as a viable energy source arguing it is better than climate change. Nuclear power together with wind, wave and solar power are seen as vital if low-carbon energy generation is to be achieved. Nuclear power currently accounts for about a fifth of the UK’s electricity, compared with the 35 per cent from coal and 35 per cent from gas. The UK’s nineteen reactors in ten different power stations across the country are ageing. If action is not taken then by 2015 we will lose eight gigawatts power generation that is equivalent to approximately six coal-fired power stations. In the next 15 years the UK will need to replace 33 per cent of its generating capacity. Even with the planned gas-fired power stations there will still be a short fall to meet the increase in energy demand in the coming decade.

We need to face up to the fact that we will be left with an energy gap. Action to increase the efficiency of the energy we use and reduce our overall demand will be needed. If we are serious about tackling climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions then can we afford to leave out nuclear from the energy package? Its drawbacks may seem insignificant when compared to the scale and impact of a changing climate. Unfortunately, we may only realise this when it is too late to do anything about it.

Start stocking up on the candles now!

© Gary Haq 2009