Global Warming and Kyoto
Genius proposes a somewhat draconian solution for global warming. It's a refreshing change from the "holocaust denial" of some right-wing commentators but goes further than is prudent and, more importantly, further than necessary.
Genius suggests that we should treat oil (and presumably other fossil fuels) similarly to cocaine or other harmful substances and simply use all necessary means to prevent "pushers" from harvesting it. If only life were that simple. We did of course come up with a (hopefully) successful cold turkey solution to the use of CFCs but this was relatively non-controversial, the science was clear-cut and undeniable and the economic costs minor. Global warming is complex and ubiquitous and the economic impact of cutting down on fossil fuels is substantial. More importantly the opposition to freezing oil production will not come only from third world oil despots but also from Western oil companies. If we contemplate a preemptive strike against the middle-east oilfields must we launch our first cruise missiles from the gulf of Texas?
Genius rightly calls for more evidence before deciding on a future course of action but it is notoriously difficult to predict human actions 100 year ahead. This link gives a good summary of the current evidence. The IPCC originally split the question into two parts -
(1) What is the likely future increase in human CO2 emissions with time
(2) What will be the global temperature response to thechanged levels of CO2 emissions.
The first question was addressed by the IS92 model scenarios. These modelled global fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions to 2100 under different population, economic and technical assumptions. The scenarios do not anticipate any specific policies (such as Kyoto) but do involve assumptions of future technologies impacting on nuclear, Biofuel and solar prices and supply. The mid-range scenario (IS92a) is the most likely and this would lead to the following by 2100
(1) a trebling of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel
(2) a temperature increase of 2.5 C degree
(3) cumulative (1990 to 2100) CO2 fossil fuel emissions of 1500 Gt
(4) a "committment" to a further 2.5 degrees of warming even if all fossil fuel consumption stopped at 2100.
(5) an atmospheric CO2 concentration of 730 ppmv (cf 360 ppm 1990).
(6) a sea level rise of 64cm by 2100.
The second question the effect of increased CO2 emissions is complex. Not all CO2 emitted remains in the atmosphere and atmospheric warming is a complex process. The question is addressed by a second set of models whuch operate over a longer time span. IPCC introduced a second set of scenarios which envisage stabilising atmospheric CO2 concentrations at various levels. The S650 scenario stabilises CO2 concentrations at levels from 350-750 ppmv (mid-range 550 is just on twice the pre-industrial level). Greenpeace suggests that this could lead to a temperature rise of 2.0 C degrees from 1990 to 2100 and a further 0.6 degrees long-term. Sea-level rise would be about 33cm by 2100 or about 1m long term. Effects on agriculture and natural ecosystems would be material (we are long past the point of doing anything about that) but not catastrophic. We can achieve this by keeping total CO2 emissions to 2100 materially below the IS92a prediction of 1500 GtC and reducing more drastically in subsequent years eventually reaching a value of about 3 GtC/yr. We can make up for inadequate cuts in one decade with proportionately deeper cuts in the following decade and so we can afford to negotiate sound policies, do the science and allow orderly economic transitions.
Global CO2 emissions are currently about 6.2 GtC per year from a population of 6.4 billion. Annex 1 (industrialised) countries account for 3.7 GtC from a population of 1.1 billion. A post-Kyoto regime would then express future limits as a fraction of these levels. Future industrialised countries can be brought in by pro-rating the base (2000) populations to the mean limit for current Annex 1 countries. If we then adopted standard limits of 80%, 70%, 50%, 30% and 15% of the baseline by 2030, 2050, 2100, 2150 and 2200 respectively China would, for example, probably come into the scheme around 2030 with a notional baseline of 4370 GtC/yr and hence an initial target of 3496 GtC/yr from 2030. If China's emissions grow at a rate equal to gdp growth (about 10%) over the same time they would have grown to about 5000 t/ha by 2030 and so China's participation would be essential. On the other hand a more stringent target than that suggested would be unfairly restrictive to the emerging economies. If we assume the above structure and make reasonable assumptions as to GDP growth in non-Annex 1 countries then the total emissions to 2100 are close to 1090 GtC which corresponds to the IPCC S650 stabilisation scenario.
The scenario outlined is a natural progression from Kyoto. It makes relatively minor savings (compared to IS92a) in
the first half of the twenty first century but requires more substantial cuts subsequently. Kyoto will lead to the establishment of a "Carbon market" and to the imposition of Carbon taxes by at least some governments. It will also simplify/reinforce the use of countervailing sanctions against "unfair competition" from non-Kyoto countries should this happen. A large part if not all of the global economy will operate a regime where CO2 emissions carry a known cost and this will favour the emergence and development of alternative energy, energy saving and CO2 sequestering technologies in an economically rational way.
DPF takes exception to my use of the term "holocaust denier" to describe "global warming sceptics". I can only reiterate here that I consider "holocaust denier" morally neutral as it makes no value judgement that the holocaust was "a good or even remotely defensible thimg" but merely a mistaken belief that it did not happen. It is guilty of gross error, obstinate refusal to consider evidence and absurdity but nothing else. The holocaust denier is above all absurd in his reusal to face the obvious. There are of course many global warming sceptics who ask entirely legitimate questions and, of course, the evidence for global warming is much less clear-cut than that for the holocaust yet there are some global warming "deniers" who refuse to accept evidence in front of their eyes, treat every disagreement between "experts" as a refutation of the scientific concensus and every agreement betwen those experts as evidence of conspiracy that they cut a figure scarcely less absurd or pathetic than the classic holcaust denier.