The film An Inconvenient Truth was released in 2006 – there have been false hopes in our attempts to reduce the risks and impacts of climate change. It is not impossible, the problem is of our own making, we could effectively address it. But will we?
BBC Weather’s Ben Rich explores the impact of coronavirus on the global climate in a short video. Jacqueline Galvin has produced for the video motion graphics which powerfully remind us of the core emission problem: Getting to net zero by 2050 is not enough.
Greenhouse gas emissions are a problem because we are creating them faster than our environment can remove them. Emissions linger in our atmosphere for years. The bath analogy works because even if we reduce the flow into the bath, the bath can still overflow. As long as emissions are added to our atmosphere faster than they are removed then concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increase and climate change worsens.
The laboratory at Mauna Loa on Hawaii has been measuring CO2 concentrations for decades. Their data shows no reductions during the Covid-19 pandemic, on the contrary the concentration increased by 2.5 ppm. We have not even begun to slow emissions growth.
Collectively the research scientists Dyke, Watson and Knorr have spent more than 80 years thinking about climate change. Last month they asked a rhetorical question and came to an uncomfortable answer: “Why has it taken us so long to speak out about the obvious dangers of the concept of net zero? In our defence, the premise of net zero is deceptively simple – and we admit that it deceived us.” They have published on The Conversation platform which combines academic rigour with journalistic flair bringing serious science to a wider audience:
… the idea of net zero has licensed a recklessly cavalier “burn now, pay later” approach which has seen carbon emissions continue to soar. …. by 2009 it was becoming increasingly clear that it would not be possible to make even the gradual reductions that policymakers demanded. That was the case even if carbon capture and storage was up and running. The amount of carbon dioxide that was being pumped into the air each year meant humanity was rapidly running out of time.
They warn: Current net zero policies will not keep warming to within 1.5°C because they were never intended to. They were and still are driven by a need to protect business as usual, not the climate. If we want to keep people safe then large and sustained cuts to carbon emissions need to happen now. That is the very simple acid test that must be applied to all climate policies. The time for wishful thinking is over.”
It is natural that scientists and policy makers want to believe that we can avoid the worst of climate change and that one “magic bullet” solution after another was adopted and then found wanting. Dyke, Watson and Knorr document these. Every year of delay makes the solution less palatable
It has been estimated that Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage “would demand between 0.4 and 1.2 billion hectares of land. That’s 25% to 80% of all the land currently under cultivation. How will that be achieved at the same time as feeding 8-10 billion people around the middle of the century or without destroying native vegetation and biodiversity?”
As Jo Biden has asserted, this is the critical decade. Fine words will not reduce the painful impacts of climate change, only dramatic emission reductions will. The reductions need to come now.
WTM, as part of its Platform for Change, has published Time for Effective Action to Remove Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Aviation.