Carryover Cooking: Part of the Challenge of Meeting the Paris Agreement

August 8th, 2017 <-- by Richard Rood -->

This entry was originally published on The Conversation. It is an update of an article originally published in December 2014. The point of the article is that the heat already stored, primarily in the oceans, will continue to cause the surface air temperature to rise for some time. It’s like taking a large roast out of the oven. The temperature in the middle of the roast will continue to rise for a while. (Carryover Cooking)

Since the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit warming of the average surface air temperature to 2.0 degrees C, with a stated ambition to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C, there has been a lot of research of what is needed to make the Paris goals possible. (For example, What would it take to achieve the Paris temperature targets?).

What is clear is that meeting the goals of Paris is tough. It is social engineering and geoengineering at a level that is, to me, incomprehensible. We will, ultimately, have to learn to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere – as well as to adapt.

The scenarios that allow us to meet Paris goals are complex.They are a combination of complexity, uncertainty, and unlikelihood that they are a communication nightmare. They help us think about things, but they do not prescribe how to address climate change.

Here is the original article from The Conversation.

If we stopped emitting greenhouse gases right now, would we stop climate change?

File 20170703 17450 gkktjh
Best-case scenario, how much are we locked into?
Kletr/Shutterstock.com

Richard B. Rood, University of Michigan

Earth’s climate is changing rapidly. We know this from billions of observations, documented in thousands of journal papers and texts and summarized every few years by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The primary cause of that change is the release of carbon dioxide from burning coal, oil and natural gas.

One of the goals of the international Paris Agreement on climate change is to limit the increase of the global surface average air temperature to 2 degrees Celsius, compared to preindustrial times. There is a further commitment to strive to limit the increase to 1.5℃.

Earth has already, essentially, reached the 1℃ threshold. Despite the avoidance of millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions through use of renewable energy, increased efficiency and conservation efforts, the rate of increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere remains high.

International plans on how to deal with climate change are painstakingly difficult to cobble together and take decades to work out. Most climate scientists and negotiators were dismayed by President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

But setting aside the politics, how much warming are we already locked into? If we stop emitting greenhouse gases right now, why would the temperature continue to rise?

Basics of carbon and climate

The carbon dioxide that accumulates in the atmosphere insulates the surface of the Earth. It’s like a warming blanket that holds in heat. This energy increases the average temperature of the Earth’s surface, heats the oceans and melts polar ice. As consequences, sea level rises and weather changes.

Global average temperature has increased. Anomalies are relative to the mean temperature of 1961-1990. Based on IPCC Assessment Report 5, Working Group 1.
Finnish Meteorological Institute, the Finnish Ministry of the Environment, and Climateguide.fi, CC BY-ND

Since 1880, after carbon dioxide emissions took off with the Industrial Revolution, the average global temperature has increased. With the help of internal variations associated with the El Niño weather pattern, we’ve already experienced months more than 1.5℃ above the average. Sustained temperatures beyond the 1℃ threshold are imminent. Each of the last three decades has been warmer than the preceding decade, as well as warmer than the entire previous century.

The North and South poles are warming much faster than the average global temperature. Ice sheets in both the Arctic and Antarctic are melting. Ice in the Arctic Ocean is melting and the permafrost is thawing. In 2017, there’s been a stunning decrease in Antarctic sea ice, reminiscent of the 2007 decrease in the Arctic.

Ecosystems on both land and in the sea are changing. The observed changes are coherent and consistent with our theoretical understanding of the Earth’s energy balance and simulations from models that are used to understand past variability and to help us think about the future.

A massive iceberg – estimated to be 21 miles by 12 miles in size – breaks off from Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier.
NASA, CC BY

Slam on the climate brakes

What would happen to the climate if we were to stop emitting carbon dioxide today, right now? Would we return to the climate of our elders?

The simple answer is no. Once we release the carbon dioxide stored in the fossil fuels we burn, it accumulates in and moves among the atmosphere, the oceans, the land and the plants and animals of the biosphere. The released carbon dioxide will remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years. Only after many millennia will it return to rocks, for example, through the formation of calcium carbonate – limestone – as marine organisms’ shells settle to the bottom of the ocean. But on time spans relevant to humans, once released the carbon dioxide is in our environment essentially forever. It does not go away, unless we, ourselves, remove it.

In order to stop the accumulation of heat, we would have to eliminate not just carbon dioxide emissions, but all greenhouse gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide. We’d also need to reverse deforestation and other land uses that affect the Earth’s energy balance (the difference between incoming energy from the sun and what’s returned to space). We would have to radically change our agriculture. If we did this, it would eliminate additional planetary warming, and limit the rise of air temperature. Such a cessation of warming is not possible.

So if we stop emitting carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels today, it’s not the end of the story for global warming. There’s a delay in air-temperature increase as the atmosphere catches up with all the heat that the Earth has accumulated. After maybe 40 more years, scientists hypothesize the climate will stabilize at a temperature higher than what was normal for previous generations.

This decades-long lag between cause and effect is due to the long time it takes to heat the ocean’s huge mass. The energy that is held in the Earth by increased carbon dioxide does more than heat the air. It melts ice; it heats the ocean. Compared to air, it’s harder to raise the temperature of water; it takes time – decades. However, once the ocean temperature is elevated, it will release heat back to the air, and be measured as surface heating.

Scientists run thought experiments to help think through the complex processes of emissions reductions and limits to warming. One experiment held forcing, or the effect of greenhouse gases on the Earth’s energy balance, to year 2000 levels, which implies a very low rate of continued emissions. It found as the oceans’ heating catches up with the atmosphere, the Earth’s temperature would rise about another 0.6℃. Scientists refer to this as committed warming. Ice, also responding to increasing heat in the ocean, will continue to melt. There’s already convincing evidence that significant glaciers in the West Antarctic ice sheets are lost. Ice, water and air – the extra heat held on the Earth by carbon dioxide affects them all. That which has melted will stay melted – and more will melt.

Ecosystems are altered by natural and human-made occurrences. As they recover, it will be in a different climate from that in which they evolved. The climate in which they recover will not be stable; it will be continuing to warm. There will be no new normal, only more change.

Runaway glaciers in Antarctica.

Best of the worst-case scenarios

In any event, it’s not possible to stop emitting carbon dioxide right now. Despite significant advances in renewable energy sources, total demand for energy accelerates and carbon dioxide emissions increase. As a professor of climate and space sciences, I teach my students they need to plan for a world 4℃ warmer. A 2011 report from the International Energy Agency states that if we don’t get off our current path, then we’re looking at an Earth 6℃ warmer. Even now after the Paris Agreement, the trajectory is essentially the same. It’s hard to say we’re on a new path until we see a peak and then a downturn in carbon emissions. With the approximately 1℃ of warming we’ve already seen, the observed changes are already disturbing.

There are many reasons we need to eliminate our carbon dioxide emissions. The climate is changing rapidly; if that pace is slowed, the affairs of nature and human beings can adapt more readily. The total amount of change, including sea-level rise, can be limited. The further we get away from the climate that we’ve known, the more unreliable the guidance from our models and the less likely we will be able to prepare.

It’s possible that even as emissions decrease, the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will continue to increase. The warmer the planet gets, the less carbon dioxide the ocean can absorb. Rising temperatures in the polar regions make it more likely that carbon dioxide and methane, another greenhouse gas that warms the planet, will be released from storage in the frozen land and ocean reservoirs, adding to the problem.

If we stop our emissions today, we won’t go back to the past. The Earth will warm. And since the response to warming is more warming through feedbacks associated with melting ice and increased atmospheric water vapor, our job becomes one of limiting the warming. If greenhouse gas emissions are eliminated quickly enough, within a small number of decades, it will keep the warming manageable and the Paris Agreement goals could be met. It will slow the change – and allow us to adapt. Rather than trying to recover the past, we need to be thinking about best possible futures.

This article was updated on July 7, 2017 to clarify the potential effects from stopping carbon dioxide emissions as well as other factors that affect global warming.


The ConversationThis article has been updated from an original version published in December 2014, when international climate talks in Lima were laying the foundation for the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Richard B. Rood, Professor of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering, University of Michigan

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What Abandoning Paris Really Means

July 5th, 2017 <-- by Paul Higgins -->

This piece was originally written as a Column for the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. It will appear in the August issue

 

The decision to back away from the Paris climate agreement is harmful to the United States’ interests. It is a setback for climate change risk management and a blow for U.S. leadership. But the move almost certainly makes very good sense politically for President Trump. That reveals a more systematic problem facing the country. Our policy process creates politically imperative decisions that are at odds with the nation’s interest. (more …)

Settling in for the Long Haul: Getting Good News

May 24th, 2017 <-- by Richard Rood -->

Settling in for the Long Haul: Getting Good News

It is difficult to get past the domination of the news cycles by President Trump.

I have gone through my blogs since the 2016 election, and in the grand scheme of things, I am pretty happy with my analyses. I am going to try to make a transition from the analyses in those blogs to more concrete documentation of responses and resources.

Chaos Again

I propose that a usable model to anchor one’s behavior is to frame Trump’s style as chaos management.

With chaos as a management style, deflection, diversion, and disruption become management tactics. We respond at an emotional level, and that allows those waiting for the diversion, the operatives, to go into action. Critical in effective response is to depersonalize that which is dismissive, insulting, and hurtful. The goal is to resist the emotional bait. What we can control is how we evaluate and respond; it is not easy. (more …)

Dilemma: Past and Future of Science in Society

March 12th, 2017 <-- by Richard Rood -->

Dilemma: Past and Future of Science in Society

Dilemma: I like those old Greek words. They suggest hope, or perhaps, hopelessness. It is pretty clear from, say, Aristotle’s Treatise on Rhetoric, that the types of political arguments and of political behavior we see today have been around a long time. That includes attacks on reason, logic, and science. Hope, perhaps, is represented in that this is something that we have seen before. Hopelessness, because there is seemingly nothing that can be settled by knowledge as long as knowledge is in conflict with want, belief, and emotion.

Since my transition to the chaos of Trump, I have been trying to find a foundation for analysis. We often search for such a foundation in past behavior and past experience. This leads to what I will call the past-future dilemma, which is, should we try what we have done with success in the past, or does the future require something different? (more …)

A Fee and Dividend but Without the Dividend—How Good Ideas Turn Less Good

March 7th, 2017 <-- by Paul Higgins -->

The fee and dividend put forward by conservative thought leaders recently would cause a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and provide us with a more stable climate system. It would also help most low-income families and take the sting out of any increase in energy and transportation prices, if they happen. We know all of that from basic economics and from decades of intensive research on the climate system (and also my posts here and here).

One of the key obstacles the idea will face is that an emission fee without the dividend would provide a new revenue stream. That revenue stream is highly alluring to those who want to create new federal programs, particularly if they can’t win a more direct argument to obtain the federal funding they need to finance those programs. (more …)

The Conservatives’ Fee and Dividend—The Advantage of a Focus on Emission Prices

February 17th, 2017 <-- by Paul Higgins -->

Last week I wrote about a new fee and dividend climate policy put forward by a group of conservative policy makers (which you can download here or read about here and here). It’s a fee starting at $40 per ton of carbon dioxide that increases over time. All revenue would be returned on a per-capita basis to the American people with checks coming every three months.

The approach would provide serious climate protection, as much or more than anything anyone has tried so far. Yet past policy debates (like the Washington State initiative I wrote about here) suggest there will be criticisms of the approach that have at most a thin basis in reality. These criticisms will be important to avoid (or refute) if this new approach is to receive a fair look. So my next few posts will look at some of the most common misunderstandings likely to arise with this new approach. (more …)

Conservative Climate Policy

February 10th, 2017 <-- by Paul Higgins -->

Earlier this week, a group of prominent Republican policymakers put forward a new climate proposal (you can read about it here, here, and here). The approach is very interesting because it would almost certainly sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is, in my view, among the most effective proposals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions that has been offered.

The approach would start with a price of $40 per ton of carbon dioxide and that would increase over time. The revenue would be returned on a per-capita basis to the American people through a check that arrives every three months.

Putting a price on emissions makes sense. (more …)

Organization, Presence: Adaptive Management in the Trump Administration

February 3rd, 2017 <-- by Richard Rood -->

Organization, Presence: Adaptive Management in the Trump Administration

The transition from the Obama administration to the Trump administration has jolted the climate-science community, indeed, the science community in general. The open reporting supported by social media fuels and amplifies conflict and anxiety. Fears are propagated as facts.

We are at a moment where how we, the community of scientists, organize and respond will be critical to how the U.S. science enterprise appears in 4 years, 8 years, and 12 years. What I am going to do in this blog is to think about how to monitor and manage what, presently, feels like convulsions from one outrage to the next. This blog follows from my EOS editorial Take the Long View on Environmental Issues in the Age of Trump and my previous entry on ClimatePolicy.org, Fear and Loathing, Irony and Deception. This blog will be followed by further analysis as rhetoric and positioning are replaced by actions. (more …)

The Climate Uncertainty Shuffle

January 20th, 2017 <-- by Paul Higgins -->

Quantifying and characterizing uncertainty is among the most important contributions that scientists make to the advancement of knowledge and understanding. Mischaracterizing uncertainty and using it to mislead public audiences is among the most common tricks of those who oppose climate policy.

Scientists work hard to understand sources of uncertainty and to accurately characterize that uncertainty. It is often the central goal of scientific research and, done well, leads to peer-reviewed articles—often highly valued ones—which are the foundation for researchers’ professional advancement.

One great example of rigorous uncertainty characterization is climate sensitivity, which many scientists have worked very hard to understand and quantify over multiple decades. (more …)

Fear and Loathing, Irony and Deception

January 14th, 2017 <-- by Richard Rood -->

Fear and Loathing, Irony and Deception

Several colleagues have told me that my last blog / editorial was a struggle to find optimism. After finishing that blog, I had no sense of optimism. (I expect an updated version of the editorial will be published in the February print edition of EOS.)

During the presidential transition, a number of statements hostile to climate science and climate scientists have risen and, perhaps, fallen. There was the request for names of climate scientists in the Department of Energy. There were the statements about NASA’s Earth observations being cut or eliminated – some sort of merger with NOAA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. There is the ongoing anxiety, in some cases panic, about the collection, management, and provision of climate data by the U.S. government. There are the many concerns about the future of the Environmental Protection Agency. (more …)


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