Day 6 of COP 14: 6th December 2008
Given my conclusion (see ‘Heading for the third degree’ blog entry below on meeting with Bill Kyte last week) that we are far more likely to hit three degrees of warming than two, I was reminded of a meeting I had in Oxford recently with Mark Lynas. He is the author of Six Degrees which outlines the implications of each degree of warming. At three degrees, they are profound: consider some of the likely effects he describes:
- Permanent El Nino, with worldwide weather shifts
- Collapse of Amazon rainforest
- Eventual total disappearance of Greenland ice sheet
- Near-extinction of tropical coral reefs
- New spreading deserts in western United States and southern Africa
- Stronger hurricanes across the tropics
- Global net food deficit with grain prices soaring
- Crippling water shortages in western South America and Australia
- Extinction for between a third and half of all life on Earth
Much of the talk at Poznan in relation to adaptation has (understandably) focused on the developing countries who will be in the front live of climate change and worst placed to cope. But the likely affects of three degrees on developed countries is being overlooked in the process. With two grandchildren who should reasonably expect to live to 2100 (climate change apart), I find it extraordinary that we struggle to create the political will to deliver a two degree world. Time for intergenerational apologies?
In another earlier blog, I mentioned the sudden collapse in sea trade resulting from the economic meltdown. I was especially interested, therefore, in an assessment given by the EU of the impact of shipping on climate change. It drew on widely accepted research that shows shipping to have a net cooling effect on the average global temperature. This is because the fuels used by ships emit disproportionately high levels of SO2, NOx and black carbon (soot) – which have a global cooling effect. So, presumably, a decline in shipping may actually accelerate global warming? To be fair, this is likely to be heavily outweighed by the reduction in CO2 emissions which will result from the economic downturn.
But if it looks as though rapid development of the shipping industry could be a positive climate offset, think again. First, the atmospheric lifetime of SO2 and NOx is a tiny fraction of CO2, giving only temporary and short-lived relief; and, secondly, these pollutants have a range of other negative environmental and health impacts. For those reasons alone, we will see a progressive tightening of regulations to clean up these very fuels.
Where there’s a will or a war…
I was struck in today’s RINGO meeting by an observation made by Ambassaodor Bo Kjellen, Sweden’s former Chief Negotiator in the UN talks and now with SEI (Stockholm Environment Institute). Discussion had centred on the failure to advance negotiations around Technology Transfer – a critical component of post 2012 mitigation efforts. He pointed out that the seemingly insuperable obstacles in the way of technology transfer for climate solutions bemused him in light of the ease with which military technology can and is transferred around the world when national interests demand. Perhaps when the real global battle to stabilise our climate begins, the current hurdles will be swept away and a different perspective will emerge: balancing IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) against the benefits to the IPR holders of avoiding catastrophic climate impacts?