Sunday, November 24, 2019

The breach of the Paris Agreement

By Andrew Glikson
Earth and climate scientist
Australian National University



Since its inception the Paris Agreement has been in question due to, among other:
  • its broad definition, specifically holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels;
  • its non-binding nature; and 
  • accounting tricks by vested interests.
The goal assumes pre-determined limits can be placed on greenhouse gas levels and temperatures beyond which they would not continue to rise. Unfortunately these targets do not appear to take account of the amplifying positive feedback effects from land and oceans under the high cumulative greenhouse gas levels and their warming effects. Thus unfortunately the current high CO₂ levels of about 408 ppm and near-500ppm CO₂-equivalent (CO₂+methane+nitrous oxide) would likely continue to push temperatures upwards.

Significant climate science evidence appears to have been left out of the equation. The accord hinges on the need to reduce emissions, which is essential, but it does not indicate how further temperature rise can be avoided under the conditions of a high-CO₂ atmosphere, which triggers carbon release, unless massive efforts at sequestration (drawdown) of greenhouse gases are undertaken. Inherent in global warming are amplifying positive feedbacks, including albedo (reflection) decline due to the melting of ice and the opening of dark water surfaces, increased water vapor contents of the atmosphere in tropical regions which enhances the greenhouse effect, reduced sequestration of CO₂ by the warming oceans, desiccation of vegetation, fires, release of methane from permafrost and other processes. This means that even abrupt reductions in emissions may not be sufficient to stem global warming, unless accompanied by sequestration of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere to a lower level, recommended as below 350 ppm CO₂ by James Hansen, the leading climate scientist.

The world is on track to produce 50% more fossil fuels than can be burned before reaching the limit prescribed by the Paris Agreement, with currently planned coal, oil and gas outputs making the Paris Agreement goal impossible. Projected fossil fuel production in 2030 being more than is consistent with 2°C, and 120% more than that for 1.5°C.

Unbelievably, according to the International Monetary Fund, “In 2017 the world subsidized fossil fuels by $5.2 trillion, equal to roughly 6.5% of global GDP”, which is more than the total the world spends on human health. Such subsidies cannot possibly be consistent with the Paris Agreement. The pledge to end fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 by the G7 nations, with exceptions by the UK and Japan, may come too late as global CO₂ concentrations, already intersecting the stability limits of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, are rising at a rate of 2 to 3 ppm per year, the highest in many millions of years.

Despite the scientific consensus regarding the anthropogenic origin of global warming, the world’s biggest fossil fuel corporations are taking a defiant stance against warnings that reserves of coal, oil and gas are already several times larger than can be burned if the world’s governments are to meet their pledge to tackle climate change. ExxonMobil said new reserves in the Arctic and Canadian tar sands must be exploited. Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, said global warming was “an environmental crisis predicted by flawed computer models”. Glencore Xstrata said that governments would fail to implement measures to cut carbon emissions. The World Bank and Bank of England have already warned of the “serious risk” climate action poses to trillions of dollars of fossil fuel assets.

Not to mention the risks to the living Earth and its billions of inhabitants!

The apparent neglect of scientific advice is not an isolated instance. It is not uncommon that climate reports are dominated by the views of economists, lawyers, bureaucrats and politicians, often overlooking the evidence presented by some of the world’s highest climate science authorities. Whereas the IPCC reports include excellent and comprehensive summaries of the peer-reviewed literature, the summaries for policy makers only partly represent the evidence and views of scientific authorities in the field, including those who have identified global warming in the first place.
Figure 2. from: James Hansen, data through June 2019

There exists a tendency in the media to report averages, such as average global temperature values, rather than the increasingly-common high zonal, regional and local anomalies.

For example, the annual mean global temperature rise of for 2018 is about one third the Arctic mean temperature rise (Fig. 2). Given that developments in the Arctic bear major consequences for climate change, the global mean  does not represent the seriousness of the climate crisis.

Another example is the way extremes weather events are reported as isolated instances, neglecting the rising frequency and intensity of hurricanes, storms, fires and droughts, indicated in frequency plots (Fig 3.).

Figure 3. Rise in geophysical, meteorological, hydrologocal and climatological events. Munich RE
It is not until international and national institutions take full account of what climate science is indicating that a true picture of the climate crisis will be communicated to the public.


Andrew Glikson
Dr Andrew Glikson
Earth and climate scientist
Australian National University


Books:
- The Archaean: Geological and Geochemical Windows into the Early Earth
- The Asteroid Impact Connection of Planetary Evolution
- Asteroids Impacts, Crustal Evolution and Related Mineral Systems with Special Reference to Australia
- Climate, Fire and Human Evolution: The Deep Time Dimensions of the Anthropocene
- The Plutocene: Blueprints for a Post-Anthropocene Greenhouse Earth
- Evolution of the Atmosphere, Fire and the Anthropocene Climate Event Horizon
- From Stars to Brains: Milestones in the Planetary Evolution of Life and Intelligence



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