Gang of four: can developed and developing countries act in concert to avoid a world of 2ºC plus?

A recent article in Nature: climate change highlights the growing consensus that if action isn’t urgently taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) humanity we will fail to keep global average temperatures below 2ºC:

On going climate negotiations have recognized a “significant gap” between the current trajectory of global greenhouse-gas emissions and the “likely chance of holding the increase in global average temperature below 2 °C or 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels”.

The article by Glen Peters, Robbie Andrews et.al titled The challenge to keep global warming below 2ºC examined looks at historical GHG emission levels and compares those to the emissions scenarios used in all previous four IPCC reports:

Long-term emissions scenarios are designed to represent a range of plausible emission trajectories as input for climate change research. The IPCC process has resulted in four generations of emissions scenarios: Scientific Assessment 1990 (SA90), IPCC Scenarios 1992 (IS92), Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES), and the evolving Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) to be used in the upcoming IPCC Fifth Assessment Report.

One merely needs to look at the following graph to see how we are tracking:

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Note the black line – historical emissions – and contrast that to the mass of other lines, the alternative emission pathways. For the uninitiated or confused it shows GHG emissions inline with the various “business as usual” (BAU) scenarios developed in the previous four IPCC reports. Each year we are pumping increased levels of CO2 and other GHGs into the atmosphere.

Just in case it isn’t clear this alternative graph from the same paper shows the annual percentage increase in CO2 emissions and how they track against the various scenarios:

 Tracking_pathways

Emissions have been growing at least 2% per annum without pause – exactly what you’d expect to see under BAU scenarios. In the IPCCs Fourth Assessment report these were referred to as the A1 scenarios:

The A1 storyline and scenario family describes a future world of very rapid economic growth, global population that peaks in mid-century and declines thereafter, and the rapid introduction of new and more efficient technologies.

Within the A1 group of scenarios there are several scary emission pathways you want to avoid if you don’t want to push average global temperatures 2ºC and beyond. In the upcoming fifth assessment report the high emissions path will be referred to as RCP8.5 (there are four RCPs or Representative Concentration Pathways).

Short version?

We’re well on track for a world of 2ºC if we don’t act within the next few years. The authors note we can avoid such a situation but only if we act with a sense of urgency by 2020:

Current emissions are tracking slightly above RCP8.5, and given the growing gap between the other RCPs (Fig. 1), significant emission reductions are needed by 2020 to keep 2 °C as a feasible goal. To follow an emission trend that can keep the temperature increase below 2 °C (RCP3-PD) requires sustained global CO2 mitigation rates of around 3% per year, if global emissions peak before 2020…

To translate “sustained global CO2 mitigation rates” means rapidly decarbonising our economies over a period of many years – decades even. Emission rates need to fall dramatically and sooner rather than later.

It’s worth thinking about this in context of the most recent round of negotiations at Doha (COP18), which like nearly all of its predecessors has delivered underwhelming results.

The Gang of Four and beggar they neighbour: who needs to lead?

The authors note the close cooperation and coordination of four countries (or three countries and one region) will be key to mitigating GHG emissions:

To move below the RCP8.5 scenario — avoiding the worst climate impacts — requires early action and sustained mitigation from the largest emitters such as China, the United States, the European Union and India.

These four regions together account for over half of global CO2 emissions, and have strong and centralized governing bodies capable of co-ordinating such actions. If similar energy transitions are repeated over many decades in a broader range of developed and emerging economies, the current emission trend could be pulled down to make RCP3-PD, RCP4.5 and RCP6 all feasible futures.

They make a key point: the “Gang of Four” account for over 50% of all global GHG emissions and all of them have the capacity to lead the world in implementing solutions to bring down emissions to safe levels.

The developing nations – lead by China and India – have been exhorting the developed nations to make deep cuts to emissions, assist in technology transfer and provide funding for mitigation and adaptation initiatives. Nor should we forget the fact that both China and India have seen profound economic growth over the past several decades: they’re not keen to sacrifice this unless the United States and other developed nations act in concert with them.

The developed nations – the United States chief among them – have been unwilling to undertake the deep cuts or pledges for technology transfer and funding out of self interest. Nor do they wish to surrender their present economic and political advantages to developing nations such as China.

Each of the Gang of Four fears it will be a case of beggar thy neighbour: in making sacrifices they will be taken advantage of.

But really it is a case of the tragedy of the commons: acting unilaterally and out of self interest each party not only beggars the other, but also their own future.  

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28 thoughts on “Gang of four: can developed and developing countries act in concert to avoid a world of 2ºC plus?

  1. Richard Ryan says:

    doesnt sound near as bad as it could … like Als sea level rise of 7m. I’m betting the next report will say 12 degrees or something because nobody is believing the BS. Why? Because all the loony doomsday predictions are proving to be utter crap.

  2. [...] 2012/12/10: WtD: Gang of four: can developed and developing countries act in concert to avoid a worl… [...]

  3. Robert says:

    Do any of these “almost out of the 2C window” analyses incorporate the 250-450Gt of permafrost carbon now expected to hit the atmosphere by 2200?

    It seems as though we are already out of the 2C window, and if we take that target seriously (I do) we are going to need all of the “big three”: Adapt (a +2C world will be radically different than today); Geoengineer (to keep global temperatures below +2C over preindustrial), and; Mitigate (aggressively cut emissions, since geoengineering is a partial and temporary solution with potentially severe unintended consequences.)

    Numbers and sources: http://theidiottracker.blogspot.com/2012/11/adapt-geoengineer-mitigate-agm.html

    • john byatt says:

      No the models do not yet include methane,methane is not going to be the problem this century, it is the CO2 which will dominate,,

      are we F##ked?

      http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/12/09/1306051/agu-scientist-asks-is-earth-fked-surprising-answer-resistance-is-not-futile/

      • john byatt says:

        Doha came to the conclusion that geoengineering would be an insane reaction,
        we thankfully will not go down that path

        WE may however panic by 2050, so who knows what will happen

      • john byatt says:

        That should be methane from permafrost melt, not included

      • John,
        While I agree that CO2 is the main problem at present, I do not share your confidence that methane from permafrost melt will not be a major problem this century. We will have to wait and see what happens.

      • john byatt says:

        My information on that came from Gavin Schmidt climatologist GISS.

        I read everything at RC on a daily basis

    • john byatt says:

      Sorry missed the by 2200, yes big problem by then

      • Robert says:

        Seems like most of the carbon that comes out of the permafrost will emerge as CO2, rather than as methane. And of course in the long term, the methane gets oxidized to CO2 anyway.

        I understand the impulse to call geoengineering “an insane reaction” but I can’t agree. Aren’t we saying that crossing the 2C limit is extremely dangerous? And don’t we also agree that between the inertia in human emissions production and carbon cycle feedbacks that we are locked in to >2C? Are all forms of geoengineering less dangerous than crossing that limit?

        Serious question. I’m exploring this. I’m starting to think that just as adaptation has to go along with mitigation, geoengineering has to go along with adaptation and mitigation.

        I’m very interested in the pro-science arguments against. If we really believe that 2C represents a deadly danger to civilization, shouldn’t geoE be on the table?

      • john byatt says:

        The big problem with geoengineering is that once started it has to continue until ways of bringing down atmospheric levels could be achieved, it also ignores the Ocean acidification problem.

        for good discussion use relevant terms at realclimate.

    • Eric Worrall says:

      You’ve missed the most obvious option, which is the one the world is going to follow – let the academics froth and rant, until they get bored and move onto some other pseudoscience scare.

  4. zoot says:

    You poor little popinjay, you don’t even know what a citation is, do you?

    • Eric Worrall says:

      And you can’t name any conventional power plants which renewables have replaced. Rather sad, considering you guys have been promoting useless renewables for many years.

      • zoot says:

        Eric, poor little faith based, deluded Eric.
        You made a statement.
        I challenged your statement. It’s not up to me to justify your fevered ramblings.
        According to reality based arguments you now have to provide evidence for your statement.
        Otherwise you are bravely attacking a(nother) straw man.

      • zoot says:

        Another straw man.

  5. Eric Worrall says:

    If only you guys had focussed on promoting nuclear power, and hadn’t frittered away your influence and political capital, and our money, on useless renewables.

    • zoot says:

      Citation required, otherwise strawman argument.

    • Eric,
      I don’t agree that renewables are useless; I think they can have an important place in some areas including Tasmania which gets most of its electricity from renewables, and could get all of it.
      However, I’m interested to hear your opinion of so called “fourth generation” nuclear reactors using fast neutrons rather than the slow neutrons of the present thermal reactors. These are also sometimes called breeder reactors and make much better use of the energy in the Uranium, leaving shorter lived wastes.

      • Eric Worrall says:

        I think fast neutron reactors have a lot of potential. But energy is so cheap these days, its currently simply not worth building new nuclear reactors, especially reactors with a radical new design, unless other factors such as the need to clean up the local air trump pure economics. Its actually cheaper to store the relatively small amount of waste which is produced by a conventional reactor, than to burn it in a fast breeder reactor.

  6. john byatt says:

    Paleoclimate informs us that we may have already exceeded the ppm level for 2 to 3 degrees

    It (ppm) lies somewhere between 385 and 415 ppm, so we will reach 2degrees, the only thing we do not know is the time frame which it will take place in

    such changes in the past have happened over eons, we are driving it to those levels in a bit over a century before any negative feedbacks that again happen over eons will even get a chance to evolve

    All we can do is to keep the pressure on to try to get the best of a bad outcome

    .

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