I’ll put the conclusions at the top, for those of you who don’t read all the way through:
The options for action — for governments, companies and, yes, each of us — should now be clear, if they weren’t already:
1. Slow and reverse any and all contributions to global warming
2. Minimize, mitigate, deal with, adapt to the daunting and inevitable impacts
3. Do #1 and 2 in ways that build economic benefit
4. Do #1, 2 and 3 in ways that build reputation
(#4 is especially pertinent for companies — but I guarantee you it will impact politicians as well.)
The big story this week, of course, was the release of the Climate Change 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The San Francisco Chronicle relegated its story — headlined In the United States, the West will be hardest hit, scientists say — to below the fold (bumped by a more local uproar):
The findings were released in Paris as part of the fourth assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or the IPCC, formed by the United Nations. It is the result of six years of work and is built on a previous dozen years of study by hundreds of researchers from more than 100 nations.
Science teams worked until after midnight Thursday to reach “unanimous agreement” from the climate experts from 113 countries, according to U.S. delegation member Jonathan Overpeck, director of the Institute for the Study of Planet Earth at the University of Arizona.
The summary report said the warming of the climate “is unequivocal,” now evident from rising temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising sea levels. These conditions support the scientists’ conclusion that climate change is “very likely” not due to known natural causes alone, the report said.
The most sobering of many sobering details is the prediction that we’re in for a long as well as a bumpy ride: Even if we were all start doing everything right from today forward, our past actions will impact climate for 1000 years to come.
Even if nations start to immediately reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases, the past and future gases will continue to contribute to global warming and the rise of oceans for more than 1,000 years, the report said. But it added that cutting emissions could vastly reduce the catastrophic effects.
How staggering? This from the NY Times:
The new report says the global climate is likely to warm 3.5 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit [by 2100] if carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere reach twice the levels of 1750, before the Industrial Revolution.
Many energy and environment experts see such a doubling, or worse, as a foregone conclusion after 2050 unless there is a prompt and sustained shift away from the 20th-century pattern of unfettered burning of coal and oil, the main sources of carbon dioxide, and an aggressive expansion of nonpolluting sources of energy.
And the report says there is a more than a 1-in-10 chance of much greater warming, a risk that many experts say is far too high to ignore.
Even a level of warming that falls in the middle of the groupâ€™s range of projections would be likely to cause significant stress to ecosystems, according to many climate experts and biologists. And it would alter longstanding climate patterns that shape water supplies and agricultural production.
Moreover, the warming has set in motion a rise in global sea levels, the report says. It forecasts a rise of 7 to 23 inches by 2100 and concludes that seas will continue to rise for at least 1,000 years to come. By comparison, seas rose about 6 to 9 inches in the 20th century.
Fortunately, the report has sparked a global call to action:
There was a hopeful feeling in Paris that the new report would pave the way for an agreement that would go beyond the Kyoto Protocol targets for 2012.
Yvo de Boer, executive secretary to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said the European Commissionâ€™s calls for industrialised nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 60% to 80% by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels) were “exactly in line with what scientists say we need”. The question now, he said, “is how do we convince other industrialised countries to sign up to the European rallying call?”
Others echoed the idea that developed nations must take the lead. Kenneth Denman, a Canadian climatologist who led the work on one of the reportâ€™s chapters, told New Scientist that developed countries would be “moral hypocrites if we ask developing countries to reduce their emissions when theyâ€™re trying to catch up with the standard of living weâ€™ve had for the past 50 years”.
“North America has 5% of the global population,” Denman pointed out, “yet we produce 25% of the fossil fuel emissions.” Developed nations must “clean up their act” first, he said.
Comment & reaction
Pre-release stories anticipated the report, but not always correctly.
Cato Institute Senior Fellow Patrick J. Michaels attempted a pre-release cool-down, asserting that
Graphs in today’s summary will show that the rate of global warming has been remarkably constant — about 0.18 degrees Centigrade per decade– since 1975. So, any news report that “U.N. panel says the planet is warming at an increasing rate” (and there will be many) will be dead wrong.
It turns out that it’s Michaels who’s wrong. The IPCC summary states that:
The linear warming trend over the last 50 years (0.13 [0.10 to 0.16]Â°C per decade) is nearly twice
that for the last 100 years…. Best-estimate projections from models indicate that
decadal-average warming over each inhabited continent by 2030… is very likely to be at least twice as large as the corresponding model-estimated natural variability during the 20th century.
While he’s concerned that “a small, but very vocal, band of extremists have been hawking a doomsday scenario, in which Greenland suddenly melts, raising sea levels 12 feet or more by 2100, the Times reports that Even Before Its Release, World Climate Report Is Criticized as Too Optimistic:
several climate experts said the estimate was almost certainly wrong because the panel was leaving out a growing body of data on melting glaciers and inland ice sheets, which are major contributors to sea level rise…. Other experts said the panel might have missed some important new developments, because it set a December 2005 cutoff date for submission of scientific papers and other data.
Since then, researchers have reported that Greenlandâ€™s ice sheet is melting faster than had been thought, that Antarctica is feeding more melt water into the oceans than had been predicted and that the melting of glaciers around the world is accelerating rapidly.
In a brief report in today’s issue of the journal Science, an array of leading climate researchers said recent findings “raise concern that the climate system, in particular sea level, may be responding more quickly than climate models indicate.”
The Greenland concerns are not just a matter of the rate of melt, it turns out, but the dynamics as well (Greenland Ice Sheet on a Downward Slide), which could, according to some scenarios, lead to discontinuous and irreversible climate change, as opposed to gradual and reversible change — the possibility that we may be facing step functions rather than slopes.
Michaels’ concerns may have been measured, but the troglodyte punditry was out in full force, funded by ExxonMobil et al:
Scientists and economists have been offered $10,000 each by a lobby group funded by one of the world’s largest oil companies to undermine a major climate change report due to be published today.
Letters sent by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an ExxonMobil-funded thinktank with close links to the Bush administration, offered the payments for articles that emphasise the shortcomings of a report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
– Senator James M. Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who has called the idea of dangerous human-driven warming a hoax, issued a news release headed â€œCorruption of Scienceâ€ that rejected the report as â€œa political document.â€
– No doubt there will be some who dismiss the IPCC “90% certainty” level as “open to doubt,” but they have no idea of how remarkable that is in science.
– Joel Makower skewers Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberly Strassel’s essay bemoaning self-serving corporate action on climate change:
Shame on all you corporations! Shame for making money while doing the right thing! Shame for doing well while doing good! What were you thinking?
The Journal, of course, is being absurd, not to mention hypocritical. I’d be shocked if any members of its editorial board ever deigned to criticize “war profiteers,” “Katrina profiteers” or “health care profiteers,” never mind the windfall profiteering of Big Oil or Big Pharma.
Makower goes on to highlight the far more cogent capitalist perspectives of investment advisory by Edward M. Kerschner and Michael Geraghty from Citigroup Research – “Climatic Consequences” (Download – PDF), which discusses “the investment implications of a changing climate.”
Kerschner and Geraghty offer up dozens of companies that are well positioned to do business in a climate-constrained world. The companies will benefit from three different implications of climate change:
Physical: Select U.S. natural gas exploration and production companies, farm equipment suppliers, agricultural biotechnology companies, and select U.S. property insurers.
Regulatory: Select electric utilities, engineering and construction firms, capital goods companies, natural gas suppliers, select automobile companies, food processors, fertilizer suppliers, wind and solar power companies, and companies focused on building energy efficiency.
Behavioral: “Climate consultants” offering services that promote efficient energy usage, and companies that facilitate carbon trading.
(You can view an 11-minute interview with Kerschner, chief investment officer at Citigroup Investment Research, discussing his report here. You’ll need to endure a 15-second commercial before it begins.)
– Meanwhile, the AP reported,
Forty-five nations answered France’s call for a new environmental body to slow inevitable global warming and protect the planet, perhaps with policing powers to punish violators.
Absent were the world’s heavyweight polluter, the United States, and booming nations on the same path as the U.S. — China and India.
Some positive notes:
In more encouraging news, BP and the University of California announced a $500 million biofuels development grant.
“This is our generation’s moon shot,” UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said Thursday.
Under the umbrella of a new Energy Biosciences Institute, BP’s money will support a major expansion of clean energy research already under way on the Cal campus, at the nearby Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. In addition, new projects will be launched by an eight-member institute governing board representing the company, the two Berkeley institutions and the University of Illinois…. The institute is being described as the world’s first research lab dedicated to long-term production of renewable fuels….
BP’s initiative is the latest signal that investors believe clean technology has far-reaching commercial potential. The Bay Area is the center of such investment, attracting 40 percent of the U.S. venture capital placed on clean technology.
California is still awaiting a decision from the US Department of Energy on whether one of two federal biofuels centers will locate here.
– Several commentators mused on the challenge of generating rapid response to a slowly unfolding crisis. Others are grabbing the bull by the horns. Oliver Tickell argues, in The Green Room:
BBC’s Green Room that the IPCC’s latest report shows it is time to get serious about tackling climate change, with
a set of proposals under the name Kyoto 2, departing significantly from the ineffective framework of the existing Kyoto Protocol. Key features include:
– impose a series of global caps on annual greenhouse gas production
– set aside the country-based approach, replacing it with a unified global approach
– control greenhouse gases at point of production, not of emission; in the case of fossil fuel emissions, control the production of the fuel itself as close as feasible to the mine or well-head, based on the global warming potential of the fuel in question when burnt
– sell greenhouse gas production “Rights” at a global auction open to all bidders
limit the fossil fuel production of any company in any year to the level for which they have obtained Rights
– treat other industrial production of greenhouse gases in the same way, for example: carbon dioxide (CO2) from cement production; and surplus radiative impacts for aviation
– for avoidable diffuse greenhouse gas emissions such as methane and CO2 from forest burning, issue limited Rights to governments on a per capita of population basis
– credit Rights to companies who demonstrably destroy or safely bury greenhouse gases
– use the funds raised at the global auction to address both the causes and consequences of climate change
Taken as a whole, these measures offer a new approach which would achieve the necessary reductions in greenhouse gas production in a way that is economically efficient, fair and equitable. And the climate funds – which could easily reach $500bn-$1 trillion (Â£250-Â£500bn) per year – could be used in many positive ways.
– Wal-Mart is among those not troubled by that problem. Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott unveiled, on February 2, Sustainability 360, “a company-wide emphasis on taking sustainability beyond reducing the companyâ€™s direct environmental footprint to engaging Wal-Martâ€™s associates, suppliers, communities and customers.”
Sustainability 360 takes in our entire company â€“ our customer base, our supplier base, our associates, the products on our shelves, the communities we serve. And we believe every business can look at sustainability in this way. In fact, in light of current environmental trends, we believe they will and soon.
We set three goals for our company:
1) to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy;
2) to create zero waste; and,
3) to sell products that sustain our resources and the environment.
It’s notable that Wal-Mart has taken a big step — announcing bold goals that they don’t yet know exactly how they will meet, or when. Whether you like Wal-Mart or not — and I, for one, am generally impressed with what I’ve seen so far of their environmental initiatives — you’ve got to give them credit for, in Lee Scott’s words, “stepping out — even without all the answers — and aggressively promoting sustainability among all the stakeholders of our company.” Given their scale, what Wal-Mart promotes can’t be ignored by the naysayers or the merely cautious.
The full report
The full IPCC report, the Times reports,
thousands of pages of technical background, will be released in four sections through the year â€” the first on basic science, then sections on impacts and options for limiting emissions and limiting inevitable harms, and finally a synthesis of all of the findings near yearâ€™s end.
Some authors of the report said that no one could honestly point to any remaining uncertainties as justification for further delay.
“Policy makers paid us to do good science, and now we have very high scientific confidence in this work â€” this is real, this is real, this is real,” said Richard B. Alley, one of the lead authors and a professor at Pennsylvania State University. “So now act, the ballâ€™s back in your court.”