Contributed by Robert Lyman @ March 2016
Robert Lyman is an energy economist of 37 years experience, a former public servant and diplomat.
Over the last 100 years, average global temperatures have risen by ~0.75 degrees C. As a result of both natural climate variations, solar activity and the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The IPCC models,* which focus entirely on the alleged effects of increased carbon dioxide concentrations, suggest that temperature increases will accelerate and could reach somewhere between 2 degrees and 7 degrees by 2100. The UN has therefore sought and obtained the agreement of countries to pursue an arbitrary target of 1.5 to 2 degrees C increase by 2100. The countries have made commitments in principle to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, in the hope of stopping warming. The Kyoto Accord of some 20 years ago was supposed to accomplish a similar objective – but carbon dioxide concentrations continued to rise (from human activity) …while temperatures stagnated for more than 18 years.
(*Observed temperatures are far lower than models; models do not reflect reality according to this IPCC scientist “none of the climate states in the models correspond even remotely to the current observed climate.”)
With every passing day, it seems that there are more “sunny ways” declarations by western political leaders concerning the extraordinary success that they expect to achieve in addressing the threat of human-induced catastrophic global warming. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Barack Obama just concluded a meeting after which they claimed that their joint efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would make a major contribution to keeping global warming by 2100 below 2 degrees Celsius ( C ), and, with luck, below 1.5 degrees C. Attaining this goal will involve many billions of dollars in expenditures within North America alone, as well as the radical transformation of how energy is produced and consumed.
HOW WILL GHG REDUCTION COMMITMENTS AFFECT WARMING?
Against the background of such significant commitments, it is important to draw attention to a February 2016 article by the noted environmentalist and statistician Bjorn Lomborg in the journal Global Policy, published by Durham University. This note will attempt to summarize in laypersons’ terms the highlights of that article. Lomborg’s article can be read online here:
Mr. Lomborg set out to assess the magnitude of the GHG emissions (often described in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent) reductions that will be made in the period from now to 2100. To do this, he used the commitments that were made by countries in the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) filed with the United Nations prior to the recent 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to the Climate Change Convention. While these are not legally binding commitments, they represent the most up-to-date bases upon which to judge what countries might actually do in the period to 2030. Then, using different assumptions about what countries might do after 2030, Mr. Lomborg used the standard MAGICC climate model developed by the U.N. Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to calculate what will be the effects of the emissions reductions in terms of global temperatures.
Every analysis of this kind is dependent upon the assumptions that underly it. Mr. Lomborg was careful to specify his assumptions clearly, the most important of which are these:
- The basic methodology to be used to calculate emissions reductions should be based upon that developed by T.M.L. Wigley in 1998 to estimate the likely effects of the Kyoto Protocol; this involved establishing a baseline of the emissions that would have occurred in the absence of international agreement and then calculating the difference between that baseline and what the commitments could reasonably be expected to produce;
- Lomborg chose as the baseline scenario the worst case scenario (i.e. the one involving the highest level of emissions) used in the most recent IPCC report, AR5;
- There would be no carbon leakage – in other words, the emissions reduction efforts in some countries would be considered to have zero effect in encouraging the transfer of economic activity from the emission-reducing countries to the developing countries with less stringent policies (the actual leakage effect is expected to offset emissions reductions by at least 40% through increased emissions elsewhere);
- All of the countries that made INDC commitments will do as they promised (this is counter to the actual experience under the Kyoto Protocol in which most countries fell considerably short of their commitments).
With these assumptions, Lomborg then analyzed an optimistic and a pessimistic scenario. In the optimistic scenario, the countries making commitments would maintain their emission reduction promises indefinitely (i.e. to 2100 at least); this means that they would take whatever measures were necessary to ensure that emissions did not increase above the commitment level, even as their economies and populations grew. In the pessimistic scenario, the countries were still assumed to meet their commitments to 2030, but after that the countries will trend back towards higher emissions.
For the United States, the main commitment is to reduce emissions under the Clean Power Plan to 1.642 megatonnes (Mt) by 2030, a 535 Mt reduction from 2015 levels. The U.S. has further promised to reduce CO2 equivalent emissions 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. This is the largest absolute reduction in GHG emissions by any country in the world. It is clear in its submission, however, that this is a one point promise in 2025. The target is for a single year, with no promises after that.
For the European Union (EU), its INDC commitment was to reduce GHG emissions to 40% below 1990 by 2030. This is extremely ambitious, as it represents a reduction in EU energy-related CO2 emissions reductions twice as fast as the EU has achieved since 2000.
China made two promises: first, that it would peak its emissions around 2030, and second, that it would reduce its 2030 CO2 intensity by 60-65% compared to 2005. Using the median of various forecasts of the Chinese economy, Lomborg estimated that China will reduce its CO2 intensity by 54% by 2030.
ARE TINY REDUCTIONS WORTH ECONOMIC DESTRUCTION OF NATIONS?
The changes in the global average temperatures as projected by the MAGICC model are just incredibly small. All the emissions reductions that the European Union and China have committed to over the period to 2100 are estimated to reduce global average temperatures by 0.05 degree C.!
2 degrees C. is the completely arbitrary target that the IPCC has posited and countries have accepted, and that temperature change has no scientific basis for measuring whether global warming (or climate change) is likely to be harmful to humans. So, 0.05 is 2.5% of the “warming reduction” target, and the target itself is baseless.
Natural influences, like a massive volcanic eruption, might significantly reduce temperatures in the short-term – or a dramatic natural phenomenon like this past year’s El Nino may increase temperatures, by still nominal degrees.
There are different public estimates of the emissions reductions that would be achieved if all countries adhered to their INDCs. The most optimistic is that by Boyd, Turner and Ward of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. This estimate was that the 2030 global emissions cut would be between 5.3 and 7.5 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 equivalent. The US, EU and China would contribute 4-6.1 Gt, or 75-81% of that., leaving about 1.5 Gt from other countries.
Using the MAGICC model, this means that in the optimistic case the EU and China will reduce global temperature by 2100 by about 0.05 degrees C. and the US and the rest of the world would each reduce temperatures by a bit more than 0.03 degrees C.
Globally, under a pessimistic scenario, temperatures would be 0.048 degrees C. lower than they would otherwise be. Optimistically, global temperatures on average would be 0.17 degrees C. lower.
How much is 0.17 degrees C.? It is roughly the same as the difference in temperature from your feet to the top of your head as a result of the rise in altitude. That is what trillions of dollars in expenditure to reduce emissions will achieve. Canada’s share of that is too small to measure.