The IPCC Orders Action

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has produced Part 3 of a report, and with only about 2900 pages, that has one stark message: we need aggressive action to curb greenhouse gas emission AND we need aggressive action to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, and the action must start now, not some indefinite time in the future. As I recall, this problem was highlighted thirty years ago, and in that thirty years, emissions have increased. There was not even a hint of a reduction. To give some idea of how seriously some take this matter, Germany closed down its nuclear power plants, and now it threatens not to use Russian gas, but instead burn lignite. We cannot do much worse than that can we?

Maybe we can, and maybe we are. According to an article by Lawrence et al. (Front. For. Glob. Change (2022) tropical rain forests not only secrete carbon and take it out of circulation, saving around 0.5 of a degree C, but they also physically cool the planet by a further 0.5 degrees C. What the trees do is to emit much humidity from their leaves, with the result that they cool themselves (similar to sweating) and this humidity creates clouds, which reflect sunlight back to space. This is the sort of a geo-engineering proposal often made, but the trees do it for free. So, what are we doing? Why, cutting down the rain forests. Apparently a third has been removed, and another third has been heavily logged so it is not as functional as it should be. We are supposed to be trying to hold the temperatures to an increase of no more than 1.5 degrees C, we are nearly there already, so do we really need another degree of heating added in for no good reason?

According to the IPCC, carbon emissions will have to decline rapidly after 2025, halve by 2030, and hit “net zero” by the early 2050s. Given current efforts, a warming of 3 degrees is forecast. Emissions from existing and planned projects already exceed the allowable carbon budget. But even going to zero emissions will not suffice in the short term. Nations also need to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

So, what can we do? First, consider the problem. For our electricity, which has a little under 750 GW global capacity, wind power provides a little over 6%; solar provides a little over 2%, hydropower about 16%, nuclear about 10%. For fuels, earth consumes about 3.8 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, 35.4 billion barrels of oil, and 8.5 billion t of coal a year. Why we have a problem should be clear. Currently, about 2/3 of our electricity comes from burning fossil fuel. Worse, you don’t build a coal-fired power station today and turn it off tomorrow. Wind turbines need solid support. Making a tonne of cement produces roughly 800 kg of CO2, making a tonne of steel releases 1.85 t of CO2; combined they sum to about 16% of the world’s CO2 production. Wind power might be “green” but look at the CO2 emitted making and installing the equipment. Solar is free, but the demand for electricity is when solar is weak or non-existent, so massive storage is required, and that gets expensive, both in terms of money and in CO2 emissions for making the batteries. The point is, all new infrastructure is going to involve a lot of CO2 emissions before any energy is generated.

Transport is a particularly difficult problem. I think it is a common problem, but where I live the cities expanded significantly after WW 2, and they expanded with the automobile in mind. The net result is it is most people get around by car. Most people have access to a car, and that is petrol driven. The electric vehicle that might replace the petrol-driven car costs (here, at least) over twice that of the petrol driven car and you cannot really convert them. The reason is the electric vehicle needs a huge mass of batteries to have a useful driving range. Further, as I pointed out in a previous post, we cannot have everyone driving electric cars because we do not have the cobalt to make the batteries, and we still need ships and aircraft, which use a rather small fraction of the oil cut. We have to do something with the rest of the fuel cut. You may have noticed that large electricity production above and how so much comes from fossil fuels. Transport uses about 25% of the total energy production. That means to convert transport to electricity, we need to expand electricity generation by about another 250 GW. That is easy to write down, but just think of all the CO2 emitted by making the concrete and steel to build the power stations. Our current wind power would have to expand by a factor of 5.5 and we have to hope there are no still days. Of course, you may legitimately argue that if we charged batteries at night that would even the base load and you do not need all the additional installation. That is true, except green electricity generation  usually is not optimal for base loads.

My view is it cannot be done the way the enthusiasts want it done. We shall never get everybody to cooperate sufficiently to achieve the necessary reductions because society simply cannot afford it. We need a different approach, and in some  later posts, I shall try to offer some suggestions.

9 thoughts on “The IPCC Orders Action

    There is immense inertia in the planetary climate system. Thermal inertia. Sea current inertia. CO2 sinks inertia. And so on. So the “climate changes” we have seen so far, are mostly changes of systems with small inertia. They are little warnings, rather than the full extent of what we are going to get.
    In other words, all the effects we are seeing so far are just the shiny tip of the gigantic melting iceberg, and when it is disturbed enough, it will do what icebergs do, rotate, shatter or splatter suddenly.
    In particular, small ice bound systems like part of Arctic regions, individual mountains, or mountain ranges have small thermal inertia, so the CO2 forcing is affecting them more readily. They are forecasting what is going to happen. Small inertia climate systems are on track for a 7 centigrade rise by 2100… And that means, therefore, a similar impact on large systems. Large impacts will simply enfold more slowly, but also more irresistibly.
    California may end up like Costa Rica, as the equatorial climate cell extends northward… Meanwhile it should go through the desertic tropical climate zone…
    In practice one should take vigorous countermeasures. Thanks to a craftily engineered confusion between total energy use and electric energy generation, most people do not realize that sun and wind renewables contribute little to the total energy generation (which is mostly fossil fuel, with significant nuclear and dams). So the non CO2 total energy generation needs to be augmented considerably… But that will not happen enough with the present strategy.
    The CO2 crisis is way worse than realized…

    Patrice Ayme
    CO2 concentration keeps climbing up… In all locales (Barrow is at the northern tip of Alaska; Mauna Loa is in Hawai’i). Before the industrial, CO2 revolution, it used to be around 280 ppm…. It will become nonlinear self-accelerating at some point, from massive permafrost melting and reversal of oceanic sinks… By incorporating other greenhouse gases, CH4, NOx, CFlx, etc… one is around 600 ppm… This forcing in turn acts on H2O gas, the biggest greenhouse gas: it’s complicated…
    The Antarctic Peninsula (the northwest tip near to South America) is among the fastest warming regions of the planet, almost 3°C over the last 50 years. Remote East Antarctica, by contrast, has until now been less impacted.

    However, in the third week of March, research stations in East Antarctica recorded unprecedented temperatures. It rained on the coast! (Some of which is north of the polar circle… So it can be predicted East Antarctica may collpase…)

    The warmth and moisture was driven primarily by an atmospheric river – a narrow band of moisture collected from warm oceans. Atmospheric rivers are found on the edge of low pressure systems and can move large amounts of water across vast distances. Nearly all the precipitation of California in winter of 2022 came from just two atmospheric rivers, one in October, and one in December, the latter making it the wettest December ever.

    An atmospheric river in East Antarctica is rewriting record books and expectations about what is possible. Atmospheric rivers in Antarctica? Is Antarctica the new California? This is the new normal, in any case.

    “We need to take action now or 1.5ºC will become out of reach, it will be physically impossible to get there. The report is very clear: we’re not talking about business as usual if we are to address #climatechange“ – #IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Jim Skea at 4 April’s press conference for the release of the latest, 2022 #IPCC #ClimateReport on the mitigation of #climatechange.


    The 2022 California snowpack results confirmed what those of us monitoring the state’s drought had feared: California’s snowpack is now at 39 percent of its average, or 23 percent lower than at the same point last year. This signals a deepening of the drought — already the worst in the western United States in 1,200 years — and another potentially catastrophic fire season for much of the West.

    More from the same NYT article of 4/4/2022, saying what I hgave long been saying, namely that our models are lagging reality, just as the beatific models of tyrants’ characters, in particular Putin, lagged reality:

    Many people have a rather simplistic view of drought as a lack of rain and snow. That’s accurate — to an extent. What it doesn’t account for is human activity and climate change that are now dramatically affecting the available water and its management. As more frequent and large wildfires and extended dry periods batter the land, our most important tools for managing water are becoming less and less accurate. At the same time, our reliance on these models to try to make the most of the little water we have is becoming more and more problematic.

    Droughts may last for several years or even over a decade, with varying degrees of severity. During these types of extended droughts, soil can become so dry that it soaks up all new water, which reduces runoff to streams and reservoirs. Soil can also become so dry that the surface becomes hard and repels water, which can cause rainwater to pour off the land quickly and cause flooding. This means we no longer can rely on relatively short periods of rain or snow to completely relieve drought conditions the way we did with past droughts.

    Many storms with near record-breaking amounts of rain or snow would be required in a single year to make a significant dent in drought conditions. October was the second-snowiest and December the snowiest month on record at the snow lab since 1970, thanks to two atmospheric rivers that hit California. But the exceptionally dry November and January to March periods have left us with another year of below-average snowpack, rain and runoff conditions.

    This type of feast-or-famine winter with big storms and long, severe dry periods is expected to increase as climate change continues. As a result, we’ll need multiple above-average rain and snow years to make up the difference rather than consecutive large events in a single year.

    Even with normal or above-average precipitation years, changes to the land surface present another complication. Massive wildfires, such as those that we’ve seen in the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains in recent years, cause distinct changes in the way that snow melts and that water, including rain, runs off the landscape. The loss of forest canopy from fires can result in greater wind speeds and temperatures, which increase evaporation and decrease the amount of snow water reaching reservoirs.”

    • A big issue is that we have no idea what the weather patterns will adopt as the planet warms. I tis not just a simple matter of the equatorial zones simply moving to higher latitudes and everyone getting a bit warmer. This here, already, we ares seeing tropical cyclones appearing in April – something unheard of twenty years ago. The reason why the Arctic is warming more quickly may be signs of positive feedback. Apart from oceans rising, and everything getting worse, i don’t think we can predict what will happen.

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