James Lovelock 2008.
Update 28 the October 2022
- Our prime minister Rishi Sunak has decided that attending COP27 is less important than sitting behind Jeremy Hunt as he gives his budget speech. He also banned the King from going
- Our environment secretary Therese Coffey said: “We hosted a very significant Cop last year in Glasgow, lots of progress was made.”
- The UK will be represented by Alok Sharma who was the COP26 president, but was sacked from the Cabinet by Rishi Sunak
- The UN environment agency said countries’ pledges to cut carbon emissions had been “woefully inadequate” and there was “no credible 1.5C in place”.
A few questions and answers that illustrate our predicament
Q. What is the current level of CO2 in the air?
A. 415ppm and rising at around 20ppm per decade.
Q. When was it last so high?
A. 22 million years ago
Q. Was it going up then?
A. No, it was coming down.
Q. When was the last time it was going up from this level?
A. Around 65 million years ago following the comet strike which caused a mass extinction.
Q. And before that?
A. CO2 levels were higher than now, up to 1000ppm, and global temperature was around 6 degrees hotter.
Q. So we have no experience of this before?
A. No, as far as we know, this is the fastest rise in CO2 levels since oxygen breathing life appeared on the planet.
What we are doing about it
We know that greenhouse gases, in particular carbon dioxide and methane reduce the amount of the sun’s energy that is radiated from the Earth back into space. This does not just make us a bit warmer. It increases the amount of energy in the atmosphere which causes bigger storms and hurricanes. It changes the areas on earth which are habitable. We know there is a feedback effect where man made emissions cause increased temperature which trigger “natural emissions” such as forest fires, melting permafrost etc.
We know that these gases have been building up in the atmosphere for 200 years.
We are trying to stop this build up.
Most of the governments of the world have come up with agreements on Cop 26
The Climate Law also sets an intermediate target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.
Whatever that means! 55% of what they were in 1990 maybe?.
Why not simply state a figure? Emissions are now 34 billion tonnes. In 1990 they were 22 billion tonnes. A 55% reduction of that figure takes us to 9.9 billion tonnes, or one third of todays value. So is this the target? If so why not simply say so.
This is an easy target for the UK. In 1990 our emissions were 600 million tonnes. In 2020 they were 330 million – so they are NOW 55% of what they were on 1990. So we have met it already. (I wonder who came up with that target at the meeting hosted by Boris Johnson)
For China, emissions were 2.5 billion tonnes in 1990, so they would need to reduce them to 55% of this or 1.4 billion. Current emissions are 11 billion tonnes, so that is a reduction of 80%
India is in a similar position to China
If we were to cut emissions today
- CO2 in the atmosphere will not suddenly decrease. That will take many years.
- Global temperatures will not stop rising. Global temperature and CO2 levels are not proportionate. Their relationship is much more complex.
- The Greenland ice sheet and the polar ice will continue to melt, but more slowly
- Ocean temperatures will continue to rise, but more slowly.
All we could do is hope that we have not pushed the system too far.
- If the permafrost warms and releases it’s methane,
- and/or the ocean gets warmer and cannot absorb as much CO2
- and/or the polar icecaps melt and cannot reflect heat back into space
- and if any of the above triggers the others
then the earth will flip into another stable state where sea levels are 80 metres higher and storms much more frequent and violent, and current tropical regions are all desert.
But we are not cutting emissions today.
If, and it’s a big if, the countries who attended COP26 achieve their goals, we may begin to see a reduction in the rate of increase.
- Coal is to be phased down (not out), The big coal using, and producing, countries (China, India, Australia) would not agree to a phase out.
- Only a very small number of small countries made any commitment on oil or gas.
Large reductions in these areas would result in a reduction of wealth for these countries, and a subsequent reduction in living standards which will result in dissatisfaction with the government, riots, and insurrection, coups, and civil wars and any changes reversed anyway. Nations are not altruistic by nature.
So in the coming years, enjoy life in between “100 year events”, which will happen every year or so and with increasing severity.