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Climate Change Ocean Heat Content from 0 to 300 meters (grey), 700 m (blue), and total depth (violet) from Ocean Reanalysis System 4.

Published on August 19th, 2013 | by Guest Contributor

17

New IPCC Report Leaked: Humans Causing Global Warming & Global Warming Consequences Speeding Up

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August 19th, 2013 by
 

Originally published on Climate Progress.
By Joe Romm, PhD

Temperature change over past 11,300 years (in blue, via Science, 2013) plus projected warming over the next century on humanity’s current emissions path (in red, via recent literature, much of which is reviewed in the new IPCC report.)

Temperature change over past 11,300 years (in blue, via Science, 2013) plus projected warming over the next century on humanity’s current emissions path (in red, via recent literature, much of which is reviewed in the new IPCC report.)

The Fifth — and hopefully final — Assessment Report (AR5) from the UN Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) is due next month. The leaks are already here:

Drafts seen by Reuters of the study by the UN panel of experts, due to be published next month, say it is at least 95 percent likely that human activities – chiefly the burning of fossil fuels – are the main cause of warming since the 1950s.

That is up from at least 90 percent in the last report in 2007, 66 percent in 2001, and just over 50 in 1995, steadily squeezing out the arguments by a small minority of scientists that natural variations in the climate might be to blame.

This is a doubly impressive story since, as we’ve reported, Reuters has slashed climate coverage and pressured reporters to include false balance. Leading climatologists who have seen drafts of the report confirm this story’s accuracy.

Of course, nothing in the report should be a surprise to readers of Climate Progress, since the AR5 is just a (partial) review of the scientific literature (see my 12/11 post, It’s “Extremely Likely That at Least 74% of Observed Warming Since 1950″ Was Manmade; It’s Highly Likely All of It Was). The draft AR5 confirms that natural forces played a very small role in warming since 1950, which again means that human activity is highly likely be a source of virtually all of the recent warming.

I say the AR5 is a “partial” review that is “hopefully” the last because, like every IPCC report, it is an instantly out-of-date snapshot that lowballs future warming because it continues to ignore large parts of the recent literature and omit what it can’t model. For instance, we have known for years that perhaps the single most important carbon-cycle feedback is the thawing of the northern permafrost. The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment climate models completely ignore it, thereby lowballing likely warming this century.

No doubt some in the media will continue to focus on the largely irrelevant finding that the equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) may be a tad lower than expected.

In terms of real world warming and its impact on humans, the ECS is a mostly theoretical and oversimplified construct — like the so-called spherical cow. The ECS tells you how much warming you would get IF we started slashing emissions asap and stabilized carbon dioxide concentrations in the air around 550 parts per million (they are currently at 400 ppm, rising over 2 ppm a year, and accelerating) — AND IF there were no slow feedbacks like the defrosting permafrost.

The climate however is not a spherical cow. Every climate scientist I’ve spoken to has said we will blow past 550 ppm if we continue to put off action. Indeed, we’re on track for well past 800 ppm. And a 2012 study found that the carbon feedback from the thawing permafrost alone will likely add 0.4°F – 1.5°F to total global warming by 2100.

So the alarming disruption in our previously stable, civilization-supporting climate depicted in the top figure is our future. On our current emissions path, the main question the ECS answers is whether 9°F warming happens closer to 2080, 2100, or 2120 — hardly a cause for any celebration. Quite the reverse. Warming beyond 7F is “incompatible with organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems & has a high probability of not being stable (i.e. 4°C [7F] would be an interim temperature on the way to a much higher equilibrium level,” as climate expert Kevin Anderson explains here.

Dr. Michael Mann emailed me:

The report is simply an exclamation mark on what we already knew: Climate change is real and it continues unabated, the primary cause is fossil fuel burning, and if we don’t do something to reduce carbon emissions we can expect far more dangerous and potentially irreversible impacts on us and our environment in the decades to come.

As for the seeming slowdown in global warming, that turns out to be only true if one looks narrowly at surface air temperatures, where only a small fraction of warming ends up. Arctic sea ice melt has accelerated. Disintegration of the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica has sped up. The rate of sea level rise has doubled from last century.

Finally, very recent studies of the ocean, which has absorbed the vast majority of the heat, also show global warming has accelerated in the past 15 years. Sadly, the AR5 appears to have stopped considering new scientific findings before the publication of this research.

Ocean Heat Content from 0 to 300 meters (grey), 700 m (blue), and total depth (violet) from Ocean Reanalysis System 4.

Ocean Heat Content from 0 to 300 meters (grey), 700 m (blue), and total depth (violet) from Ocean Reanalysis System 4.

Reuters notes that climate scientists are “finding it harder than expected to predict the impact in specific regions in coming decades.” This regional uncertainty is not surprising but still quite alarming. Indeed, it is a key reason adaptation to climate change is so much more difficult and expensive than simply reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

After all, if you don’t know where the next super-storm or super-heatwave is going to hit, you pretty much have to prepare everywhere. As a major 2011 study by Sandia National Laboratory concluded, “It is the uncertainty associated with climate change that validates the need to act protectively and proactively.” That study found because of “climate uncertainty as it pertains to rainfall alone, the U.S. economy is at risk of losing” a trillion dollars and 7 million American jobs over the next several decades.

On this point, climatologist Kevin Trenberth e-mailed me:

We can confidently say that the risk of drought and heat waves has gone up and the odds of a hot spot somewhere on the planet have increased but the hotspot moves around and the location is not very predictable. This year perhaps it is East Asia: China, or earlier Siberia? It has been much wetter and cooler in the US (except for SW), whereas last year the hot spot was the US. Earlier this year it was Australia (Tasmania etc) in January (southern summer). We can name spots for all summers going back quite a few years: Australia in 2009, the Russian heat wave in 2010, Texas in 2011, etc.

Similarly with risk of high rains and floods: They are occurring but the location moves.”

The point is, we know that many kinds of off-the-charts extreme weather events will get more intense, longer lasting, and more frequent — in fact, they already are. But we don’t know exactly where and when they will hit, which means adaptation requires pretty much everybody, everywhere to plan the worst-case. Just when you think the Jersey shore is very unlikely to be hit by a superstorm, along comes Sandy.

I very much doubt the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report will move the needle on climate action because of its inadequacies; because the media has scaled back climate coverage and let go of its best climate reporters; and because the fossil fuel funded disinformation campaign will try to exploit those first two problems to make it seem like this report gives us less to worry about, when it simply underscores what we have known for a quarter-century. Continued inaction on climate change risks the end of modern civilization as we know it.

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  • http://xeeme.com/MrEnergyCzar MrEnergyCzar

    There will always be at least one industry paid scientist so it can be said that there is a debate…. when there isn’t…

  • Steeple

    The US has had no Carbon Tax over the past ten years and our carbon emissions are lower.

    Europe has had a Carbon Tax and their Carbon emissions are higher. But it has been a boon for Russia and China who got paid to shut down plants that they were going to shut down anyway. Shocking that something like this could fail in Europe.

    Free markets = innovation and progress

    Govt mandated schemes = mismanagement, exceptions negotiated politically, etc…

    Instead of messing with an economy that is struggling already, how about just directing some focused funding on promising R&D in energy supply and demand.

    • Bob_Wallace

      “Europe has had a Carbon Tax and their Carbon emissions are higher”

      Where are you finding higher CO2 emission levels for the EU? I see a small amount less for the US in 2012 if one looks at only carbon from fossil fuel burning but nothing significant.

      And since it’s the case of taking the US a number of years to catch up with the EU wouldn’t this mean that the “free market” works slower?

      We (the US) still have a higher overall GHG emission rate. What we might be seeing is the impact of natural gas. Lower CO2 but the methane leaks causing higher GHG rates.

      Looks like we need some more government managed schemes to get our methane leaks fixed.

      http://theenergycollective.com/trevorhouser/245991/neck-and-neck-us-and-european-ghg-emissions-trends

      • Steeple

        Pg 28

        The major cause of any recent decreases seems to be Europe’s economic contraction

        http://www.pbl.nl/sites/default/files/cms/publicaties/PBL_2012_Trends_in_global_CO2_emissions_500114022.pdf

        • Bob_Wallace

          The EU’s CO2 output peaked in the early 1990s and has been going down ever since. It probably is down some at the moment due to their economic situation. The US’s emissions also dropped when our economy crashed.

          Interesting link you provided. Did you happen to read down to page 13, figure 2.3?

          That’s the one that shows how US per capita emissions are about double that of the highest emitting EU countries. Easily double that of the EU27. And more than three times that of Italy, France and Spain.

          What was that you were saying about EU and US emissions? Oh, yeah, “Europe has had a Carbon Tax and their Carbon emissions are higher”.

          Funny how your data doesn’t back you up, eh?

          • Steeple

            Apologize if I wasn’t clear. My point is that our emissions are downtrending (gas substitution for coal, other efficiencies) while Europe’s increased, at least until their economies went into long term recession.

          • Bob_Wallace

            You’re looking at page 28? Table A1.2 on page 28 of your link -

            “Table A1.2 shows the change in per capita CO2emissions for 1990–2011 and of population for a numbers of countries.”

            What I see is that the number for the US is higher every single year. Are we reading this table differently?

    • Grad

      Europe has cap&trade system which doesn’t work, because number of CO2 allowances is too high. Price is currently at about 4€/t CO2, but it should be at about 30€/t CO2 (that was the intention, but everything went wrong because of recession).

      Some EU countries have CO2 tax, but it’s insignificant (for example 0.02cents/L of oil, where oil prices are 1.5€/L… so it’s completely ineffective).

      Long term emissions are gradually decreasing, but it’s clearly not good enough (and much of it can be attributed to industry moving to China anyway).

      To make things worse both cap&trade and carbon tax are, besides being ineffective, very unpopular. People don’t really understand the urgency of climate change.

      The only good news is plummeting cost of renewables. That’s the only bright light at the end of the tunnel.

      • Steeple

        Since it was a political rather than market system, countries were able to either amend their targets or purchase offsets so that they never made any real reductions.

        Plummeting cost of renewables is the only light, and the Carbon Tax had nothing to do with that. It’s just been a big transfer of wealth from the EU to Russia and China,

        • Grad

          Carbon tax is too low, that’s why it’s ineffective. It should be higher, then it would make a difference.

          Feed in tariffs have helped to lower cost of renewables, I think it’s fair to say that. Without EU feed in tariffs cost of renewables would be still years behind what it is now.

  • MikeSmith866

    The absolutely, undeniable truth is we have to put a price on carbon to expedite the conversion from fossil to green fuels.

    Cap & Trade has not worked because of the difficulties in administration and possibilities of fraud.

    The best way to administer a price on carbon is to charge it at the point of purchase. For consumers this means at the gas pump or in the bill from the home heating fuel supplier. For a power plant, a steel producer or other industry it is in the bill they get from the coal or oil supplier.

    The tax collected would be refunded to the people by reducing tax rates or by providing incentives to improve home insulation, buy a more fuel efficient car etc.

    A tax at $40 per carbon ton works out to 8 cents per litre or 30 cents per US gallon..

    Re: the level playing field. Ideally, Canada, Mexico and the US would do this together. Now for other countries like China, their steel and other products would be tariffed with an estimated carbon content at $40 per ton. This would not only include the carbon emitted in production but also the carbon emitted with transportation.

    It might bring jobs back to North America.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Cap and trade worked very well in the US to get rid of our acid rain problem.

      Personally, I don’t care how we price carbon. I just with we would. But I’m not optimistic.

      China is test driving multiple carbon-pricing approaches by trying them out in different provinces. They’ve announced that when they figure out what works best they will use that as the national program.

      • MikeSmith866

        Bob:

        Yes, I read about the success of cap & trade with acid rain reduction but in the same article they said that cap & trade for carbon reduction would not work so well and I can’t remember why.

        Here is an article from James Hansen “James Hansen blasts Cap and Trade”
        http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/James-Hansen-blasts-cap-and-trade-4094663.php

        I agree with his thrust because you saw what happened in the sub prime mortgage collapse. i.e. if we let the banks in on Cap & Trade, the same wind farm will get sold several times over.

        I will confess that Europe has had trouble with applying a Carbon Tax. But overall I prefer it because it is easier to administer. I also like the idea that the person’s receipt or invoice could clearly state the amount of the carbon tax to motivate people to reduce their fuel consumption.

        Yes, I would like to see what works best for China. That might be helpful to us as well.

        I have always felt that a key part of the Carbon Tax is the speeches that go with it. The political leaders must stand up and talk about the droughts, floods, hurricanes and storm surges and relate this to the decline of the ice caps and the increasing global temperature and how we all must do our part to emit less carbon. The speeches are actually more important than the amount of the tax. We are talking about changing people’s behavior and that means telling a story to them over and over again.

      • http://xeeme.com/MrEnergyCzar MrEnergyCzar

        Are they going to scrap plans for all the new coal plants though? Sounds like a delay tactic…

        • Bob_Wallace

          I don’t have good numbers. What I understand is that China continues to build more efficient, “super-critical” coal plants and close less efficient plants. Since they started building ‘state of the art’ coal plants they have closed over 9,000 inefficient ones.

          China has announced a cap on the amount of coal that can be burned per year. Their coal consumption cap will go into effect in 2015 and will be set at the 2011 consumption level which was 6% less than what they burned in 2012.

          Obviously the Chinese could not do what they say that they are going to do. That is true of any country. But China has a very good record of meeting their clean energy targets, meeting them early, and then setting more ambitious goals which they then meet early.

          They recently announced that they expect to peak their GHG (or CO2, I forget which) emission in 2025 when earlier they said that they would not be able to do so before 2030.

          China also canceled construction on a very large new coal plant due to local opposition concerning air quality.

          I have the feeling that the Chinese are quite serious about climate change. Very much more serious than the US Congress and the governments of Great Britain, Canada and Australia.

          • http://xeeme.com/MrEnergyCzar MrEnergyCzar

            You know your stuff Bob, Killer air can’t continue. They’re buying too many darn cars and they aren’t clean like ours for sure… very small percentage are battery powered, barely measurable… thanks

          • Bob_Wallace

            Don’t bet against the EV in China. The government has made a strong commitment to making EVs a large part of the personal car fleet.

            They’ve gotten off to a slow start largely due to a lack of places for people to charge. That’s changing.

            http://cleantechnica.com/2013/03/31/china-restarting-ev-subsidies-says-byd-chairman/

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