Environment: No reasonable prospect of keeping 1.5 alive

Dec 11, 2022
Symbol for limiting global warming. Limit global warming

Not one of over 1200 computer simulations provides a reasonable chance of global warming being under 1.5oC in 2100. Climate protester jailed for 15 months in NSW.

Zero ‘reasonable’ pathways for staying under 1.5

Working with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, The Washington Post has conducted computer simulations of over 1200 scenarios for keeping global warming under 1.5oC this century. The scenarios are based on models produced by leading climate scientists and considered in the IPCC’s mitigation report released earlier this year. Each one is based on a unique combination of assumptions about the global population, the global economy, technological change and how quickly the use of fossil fuels will be reduced. The vast majority of the models predict a global average temperature increase in 2100 in the 1.0-2.5oC range but some go as high as 5oC.

Just 230 of the scenarios (less than a fifth) predict a temperature increase in 2100 below 1.5oC but:

  • 118 of the 230 were eliminated because they involved changes or developments in the next three years which conflict with the reality of what’s actually happening at the end of 2022;
  • Of the 112 remaining pathways, 86 involved such high and/or lengthy, albeit temporary, overshoots of 1.5oC between 2050 and 2100 that the risks of triggering dangerous tipping points in one or more Earth Systems were unacceptable;
  • The remaining 26 ‘low’ or no overshoot scenarios all involve widescale use of carbon capture (‘negative emissions’) – i.e. removal of CO2 from the atmosphere by nature (forests, soil carbon, mangroves, etc.) or technologies that are still under development.

But here comes the crunch. The scientists then graded as ‘speculative’, ‘challenging’ or ‘reasonable’ each of five actions (CO2 removal using land and technology, reduction in CO2 and methane emissions, and energy demand) needed to stay under 1.5 with low overshoot. Looking first only at CO2 removal using technology, when the ‘reasonable’ criterion was applied just four viable scenarios remained. Applying the ‘reasonable’ filter to all five actions left none – i.e. there is no ‘reasonable’ pathway available for the temperature increase to be under 1.5oC in 2100.

Changing the filter from ‘reasonable’ to ‘challenging’ brings eleven scenarios for being under 1.5oC in 2100 back into play. The most ‘challenging’ task will be increasing the technology-based removal of CO2 from the atmosphere from the current 43 million tons per year to 7 billion tons per year in 2050 (a 160-fold increase).

That’s a giant increase but, to provide some context, the generation of solar energy increased globally by about the same amount in just 16 years between 2005 and 2021, while the generation of wind energy took only 25 years from 1996 to 2021 to achieve the same growth.

Of course, computer-based modelling has its weaknesses. Models are models, not the real thing and they are certainly not predictions about what will happen. In addition, the last stage of the approach used here included value judgements by experts about the likelihood of the necessary decisions being taken and the progress realised. Nonetheless, there was not a single viable pathway to stay under 1.5 among over 1200 tested, surely that tells us something about the gravity of the situation that humanity now faces.

Forget net zero, this is the zero that really matters.

Australia: could do better!

Climate Action has updated its projection of global warming in 2100 based on the current actions and the aspirational targets and pledges made by the signatories to the Paris climate agreement. The projections confirm all the other reports that I’ve highlighted recently (including the modelling above):

  • Depending on exactly which policies, promises and targets are examined, global warming is likely to be in the 2-3oC range in 2100;
  • The real challenge – phasing out coal, oil and gas production – continues to be ignored;
  • There have been no substantial increases in nations’ net zero pledges since the Glasgow COP in 2021;
  • Emissions reduction policy development has progressed but implementation remains too slow;
  • International climate finance increased by only 4% in 2020 and is nowhere near sufficient.

The report’s observations on Australia seem to be about right:

  • Australia is the only G20 country to strengthen its NDC target in 2022 but ‘its starting point is far behind its peers after three decades of inaction’;
  • Emissions reduction targets (43% by 2030 and net zero by 2050) were made legally binding in September 2022 but are still short of the cuts needed to limit warming to 1.5oC;
  • Has few policies to meet its targets;
  • Continues to support new coal and gas, including major new liquefied natural gas (LNG) export projects, that are clearly inconsistent with limiting warming to 1.5oC;
  • Has a long way to go to contribute its fair share of emissions reductions and international climate finance.

Who are Australia’s real environmentalists?

Young people today are so selfish, self-absorbed, concerned about their own feelings and the trivia of their inter-personal relationships. They don’t seem to care about anyone outside their friendship circle, about the state of the world, about the environment. Not like when I was a young person in the 60s and 70s – outrage boiling in my veins, demonstrating in the streets … blah, blah, blah.

So who voted Green at the May election?

Shock horror. Not my generation! We were more interested in protecting our super balances and catching up with the readings for next week’s book club meetings.

NSW’s disgraceful anti-protest laws

I cannot let this week pass without commenting on the 15 month prison sentence imposed on Violet Coco for blocking one lane of the Sydney Harbour Bridge for 25 minutes earlier this year.

Ms Coco’s protest was completely peaceful; she caused no physical harm to anyone; she damaged no property; she merely inconvenienced some people and created a little work for employees of the NSW government. Ms Coco took this action to highlight the longstanding failure of governments to take adequate action to prevent catastrophic global warming.

If you haven’t read the letter published in Tuesday’s P&I that was penned by Ms Coco before her sentencing, I strongly encourage you to read it now. No less concerning than the vindictive sentence handed to Ms Coco is the treatment she alleges was meted out to her by the police following her arrest and the conditions imposed on her when she was released on bail.

The anti-protest laws passed by the Perrottet government (and similar laws passed by other state governments across Australia) are an assault on democracy and citizenship. Perhaps even more than the NSW government’s inadequate action on climate change, they demonstrate the complete subservience of Dominic Perrottet and his government to the fossil fuel industry and more broadly to the demands of capitalists for unfettered growth of profits.

Until governments take climate action seriously, protests such as Ms Coco’s or daubing Vegemite on Blue Poles are going to continue, although their exact nature will keep changing as the protesters develop new tactics to test the authorities. Making martyrs out of peaceful protesters such as Ms Coco is only going to recruit followers.

If you are caught breaking the law, you must expect that some penalty will follow. But the social contract depends on the punishment being proportionate to the crime. This manifestly is not the case with the NSW anti-protest laws.

After Coco’s sentencing, Perrottet said, ‘If protesters want to put our way of life at risk, then they should have the book thrown at them and that’s pleasing to see’. It’s difficult to know whether he is ignorant about the dire threats posed by climate change or simply a hypocrite. It is not actions such as Coco’s – delaying a few thousand car occupants for an hour or so – that threatens ‘our way of life’. It is Perrottet and his puppeteers, the fossil fuel industry’s board members and executives, who are the criminals destroying people’s lives and futures.

(The light rail along Sydney’s George Street was shut down for about 30 hours on December 1st-2nd to accommodate a culinary extravaganza for cashed-up guzzlers. OK for Perrottet and businesses to inconvenience travellers.)

I very much hope that the Constitutional challenge launched by two ‘Knitting Nannas’ succeeds in overturning NSW’s outrageous law.


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