The debate, such as it was, about “anthropomorphic climate change,” seems to be pretty much over. Most “holdouts” seem likely to acknowledge the scientific conclusions in the not to distant future.
While there is broad international agreement that the climate is changing due to human action, there appears to be much less agreement on whether to adopt the IPCC’s recommendations for action. The logical arguments may be summarized as follows:
- Human interaction is causing unprecedented release of CO2 and other gases, which are leading to increased average global temperatures;
- While there are complex interactions between the climate and other elements of the environment, it appears to be very likely that an increase of more than 1.5°C would have catastrophic effects—causing mass extinction of species, possibly accelerating the warming trend and generally creating an environment the likes of which have not been seen for millions of years;
- Against the great uncertainties of such unprecedented warming, the IPCC has strongly recommended that action be taken to arrest the rise in temperatures and to limit the increase to 1.5°C or less (or, if 1.5°C is “overshot,” to follow with rapid and robust sequestration of the excess carbon.
- The specific recommendation to achieve the 1.5°C limit is to reduce CO2-equivalent emissions by 45% (from 2010 levels) by within the next 11 years and to become “carbon neutral” within the next 30 years.
But the world has not heeded these dire recommendations. So far, global emissions appear to be up 15-20% from 2010 levels. Oops.
Even the G-20 countries that profess the most concern about climate change have accomplished virtually nothing since the IPCC began sounding the alarm. (Yes, they have done a lot of talking and agreement-signing, and have issued proud statements of their commitments to increasing renewable energy sources. But what have they actually accomplished? Not much, especially when compared to the IPCC CO2e reduction mandates.
Here is a good starting point for the discussion—a PowerPoint presentation by an IPCC representative discussing the “Emissions Gap,” the difference between current emissions, future reduction commitments, and what is required (according to the IPCC) to avoid catastrophe.
The IPCC (and most economists) believe that carbon pricing, in one form or another, is the way to go. But that’s also fraught. Here is an article from today’s New York Times and an op-ed piece from today’s Washington Post on the lack of success in Europe.
So, what can realistically be done?