It’s not too late to meet global warming limit target

8 11 2014
SAM ARNOLD COMMENTARY

Robert Watson and a team of 30 climate experts have laid out a step-by-step action plan on how to meet the global warming limit.   Meeting the target of keeping global temperature from rising above 2 C by 2050 is still possible, according to the leading climate and energy experts that authored the report Tackling the Challenge of Climate Change.   The report was presented at the special UN climate summit in New York in September called by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. It concludes that staying under 2 C needs“immediate, urgent action” at the highest levels of governments. It can be downloaded at http://  bit.ly/10Z3WGp  .

Watson, a former scientific adviser to the U.K. government, rejects any suggestion that 2 C is an inappropriate target, saying it“plays into the hands of climate deniers” and would be a step backward from the urgent action that’s needed.   “Waiting until 2025 or 2030 to bend the CO2 emissions curve will be too late to meet the 2C target,”he said.

Watson points out that the steps needed to achieve 2C are not rocket science: They include increased energy efficiency in all sectors – building retrofits alone can achieve 70-90 per cent in energy reductions – and an effective price on carbon that reflects the enormous health and environmental costs of fossil fuels. Massive increases in wind and solar PV are crucial. Inefficient coal plants must be retired and only new coal plants with carbon capture and storage should be built.

Watson worries that time is rapidly running out, and yet “people aren’t scared enough”to force governments to act. The number of influential people calling for action on climate is, however, growing steadily.   For example, Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of Canada who now is the Governor of the Bank of England, recently said in a World Bank seminar “The vast majority of (oil) reserves are unburnable,” if the world is to avoid catastrophic climate change. He called them “stranded assets,” meaning they are seemingly valuable to investors, but will ultimately not be exploitable.

Thinking of hydrocarbon deposits as stranded assets has gained prominence in recent years. Climate science indicates that if the world is to cut CO2 emissions enough to avoid disastrous global warming, much of the world’s already discovered oil reserves must remain unburned.   Speaking to an audience of corporate interests and pension fund investors, Carney referred to a“tragedy of horizons” – the market failure by which actors, including investors, energy companies, and governments are not looking far enough ahead to the coming environmental problems, even though they can be clearly foreseen. The report on Mark Carney’s speech can be downloaded at http://bit.ly/1uBRRDf  .

“We have the technology and knowhow to solve this climate crisis,” says Marlene Moses, ambassador of the Pacific Island nation of Nauru that commissioned the report, Tackling the Challenge of Climate Change. “What is missing is the courage to make the change – and that has to come from world leaders.”

The report notes that governments need to follow the lead of countries like Germany and Denmark that have made climate a priority. They are well along the path to low-carbon economies and are benefiting from less pollution and the creation of a new economic sector.   Almost half of the world’s most powerful corporations are in the fossil fuel sector. They have extraordinary influence on government policies. Robert Watson calls this influence “a form of corruption” preventing the necessary action on climate. In countries like the U.S., Australia and Canada, industry leads and government follows.

Environmental author Naomi Klein, in her latest book, This Changes Everything, writes“Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war….. What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of those sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.”   Robert Watson, Mark Carney, Marlene Moses, Naomi Klein, and many more “get it.”   But will industry and governments get it before it’s too late to meet the 2 C climate target?

SAM ARNOLD is a member of the Sustainable Energy  Group in Woodstock,

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