The IPCC well knows that halving CO2 emissions in 12 years is politically impossible, economically unaffordable and climatically unnecessary.
Guest essay by Barry Brill
The recently released IPCC SR15 reports (at A1) that global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2032 and 2050 and (at B) will probably bring species extinction, weather extremes and risks to food supply, health and economic growth. If we are to avoid this, net CO2 emissions will need to decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero by 2050 (C1), followed by extensive removals (C5). The required energy investment alone will be $2.4 trillion per year.
Is this possible?
As at 2015, which was not materially different from 2010, more than half the planet’s total CO2 emissions (36Gt) were sourced from just three countries:
Both China and India have made it very clear that the urgent needs of their people preclude any possibility of contributing to emission reductions during the Paris Agreement’s initial commitment period ending in 2030. Instead, China is expected to increase its 2010 emission levels by 50-100%, while the International Energy Agency predicts that emissions in India will treble over the 2010-30 period.
If China and India alone account for 23.31 Gt in 2030 – about 65% of the current total – the IPCC’s 45% global reduction target is clearly impossible. Even if all 195 other members of the UNFCCC (including USA), somehow eliminated all of their CO2 emissions by 2030, they could achieve much less than the global decline required.
But it gets worse. The US has repudiated the Paris Agreement entirely. Allowing 5Gt for USA’s 2030 emissions means the remaining 194 countries all have to reduce their emissions by 134%. Obviously, that’s not going to happen.
SR15 calculates (at D1) that current non-binding commitments under the Paris Agreement will lead to warming of more than 3°C. These targets aim to hold greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2030 to less than 58 GtCO2e – a nearly 30% increase on 2014 levels. But this is already proving too ambitious and very few countries are even trying to meet their stated goals.
So, despite the fact that the Governments of the world have already stated that even their best collective efforts cannot achieve better than a rise to 46 GtCO2 by 2030, the IPCC is calling for a reduction to less than 30 GtCO2. Such a pipe-dream cannot spur greater effort and can only result in a throwing up of hands.
The IPCC’s proposals are bolder than even the most-ambitious scenario set out by the IEA in its World Energy Outlook 2017. This is because SR15 uses only those modelled pathways that might conceivably lead to 1.5°C, rather than scenarios of anything that could possibly happen in the real world.
Just consider the enormity of the 1.5°C fantasy. Coal, which presently represents 37% of the world’s energy must be eliminated entirely within 11 years. But the WEO17 report has found that coal would retain a 25% share for over 20 years. It also reported that CO2 emissions from oil use in transport would almost catch up with those from coal-fired power plants (which are flat) by 2040. The IEA anticipates that a 20 percent rise in emissions from the growth of aviation and ocean-going vessels by 2040 will more than offset the emissions reductions of the 280m electric cars (out of a 2 billion global car fleet) it expects to be operating by that time.
A further IEA report just days ago found that petrochemicals are rapidly becoming the major driver of global oil consumption and are set to account for more than a third of the growth in oil demand to 2030 (and nearly half to 2050) ahead of trucks, aviation and shipping.
Is this affordable?
The IPCC’s modelled pathways show that $2.4 trillion must be invested in new clean energy every year from 2015 through 2035, which, Bloomberg notes, is an almost sevenfold increase from the $333.5 billion invested in renewable energy in 2017. That is an aggregate investment of $48 trillion. The interest bill alone (at say 5%pa) would be $200 billion per month – more than the whole world currently spends on childhood education and environmental protection combined.
The report (C2.7) says that “the literature on total mitigation costs of 1.5°C mitigation pathways is limited and was not assessed in this report”. Others have calculated massive additional expenditure on energy efficiency, electricity transmission and storage, CCS and other carbon dioxide removal (CDR). But even these estimates do not attempt to put a price upon the “unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” called for by the IPCC.
Imagine if a fraction of these massive sums were instead invested in climate adaptation. Or research into future energy technologies. Or poverty alleviation.
New Nobel laureate William Nordhaus uses complex models to balance the costs and benefits of climate goals and finds the optimised outcome is a rise of about 3.5°C by 2100. Bjorn Lomborg says:
“Reducing temperature rises by more would result in higher costs than benefits, potentially causing the world a $50 trillion loss.”
Is this necessary?
Dr Judith Curry points out:
“Over land, we have already blown through the 1.5C threshold if measured since 1890. Temperatures around 1820 were more than 2C cooler.”
All of the risks listed by the IPCC arise on land, if air temperatures rise by 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Even sea level rise is driven by ice-melt on land. And although “pre-industrial” is defined as 1750, the temperature baseline is 1850-1900.
As Willis Eschenbach comments with characteristic clarity:
“We’ve done the experiment. We’ve seen 2°C of temperature rise already, and it was greatly beneficial overall. So why hyperventilate over seeing a smaller 1.5°C rise?”
So why did the IPCC issue this credibility-destroying Special Report?
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